Welcome to Body Image Week

When I was 12, what I wanted more than anything in the world was surgery to pin my ears back.

Picture me: hair cropped to my (slightly) pointy ears, braces, glasses, pale and scrawny as could be.  I earned straight As in class, but knew that any academic success was fruitless. Unless I was beautiful, I’d never be happy. Ever. This fact had been made abundantly clear.

Every day, as I gazed into the mirror of my parents’ hall bathroom, I’d run through the list: Can’t change my skin, can’t change my eyes, can’t change my teeth… but maybe I could fix my (slightly) pointy ears! My horrible, disgusting gargoyle ears! If I could just get those taken care of, maybe the rest would follow and I’d finally be seen for who I was inside.

This thought became an obsession. It was the dawn of widespread internet access, and I learned about ear pinning surgery, the procedure that could “cure” me. A doctor would open flaps in my ears and sculpt the cartilage away, shaping them so they’d lay flat against my head. There would be stitches, and annoying follow-up visits, and pain – sure – but then I would be normal. I begged my mother for the procedure. Not only did she flat-out refuse to allow cosmetic surgery, she denied that my ears were unusual at all. (She was right, but I didn’t know it then). She also reminded me how money works. Even if I were allowed to have the surgery, the amount of money it would cost would mean I’d have to give up my adored music camp that summer: no solos, no seeing my long-distance friends, none of the things I looked forward to all year. She seemed sure that would put things in perspective.

Music camp?!” I roared through hot, self-pitying tears. “What’s the point of singing if everyone hates me because I’m ugly?!”

I was willing to give up my song for a tiny physical change.

What strong, dark feelings for a person who’d only been on the planet 12 years. I was so caught up in wanting to be found attractive that I would have traded anything – my grades, my talent, the things that made me happy  – just to feel OK within my body. And this happened despite loving, supportive parents. It happened despite being involved in sports that taught me my body was strong and useful. It happened even though there wasn’t actually anything wrong with me. And it will almost certainly happen to my children someday. That knowledge angers and terrifies me, and makes me want to go back in time and hug myself… and then change the entire system.

Have you ever skipped a day of school or social event because you just felt too unattractive to be seen by other people?

Do you suck your tummy in, sometimes even when you’re alone?

Have you ever doubted you were lovable because of how you look?

I have. I do.

And that’s why this is body image week.

As I’ve grown up, life has helped me move way past the ears crisis. I love living in my body now, and even when it’s bloated and tired and sporting a bad hair cut, I try to be kind to it. I speak from the heart when I say that I find everyone beautiful in some extraordinary way. And I focus on the idea of physical “beauty” not because I think it’s more important than minds, hearts, or souls, but because we as humans live in bodies. The way we feel about the form we inhabit can’t help but color the way we move through the world. Owning that truth, and figuring out how to improve our view of ourselves, is worth at least a week of thought.

So here are the re-blogs and new pieces you can expect in the coming days:

Tuesday: In which I find out I am considered “plus size” – The first piece I ever wrote for this blog, about how I originally became furious with the fashion and media industries for skewing perceptions of beauty

Wednesday: All women are real women – As I delved deeper into the positive body image community, I started finding some sneaky phrases chipping away at  the true message of the “self-love” movement

Thursday: Beauty is truth, truth beauty: models from my community – After reading a study showing that the more we look at diverse body types, the more accepting of them we become, I decided to compile photos of the beautiful people from my community. What I learned from them changed everything.

Friday: Finally, I’ll be asking for help. I’ve always wanted to share Thursday’s “model community” project more widely – but I’m nervous. By Friday, I’ll have written the draft of the piece I plan to submit to a few bigger online forums, and I’m hoping to crowd source a review of it from you amazing writers.

_______

To wrap this up: I’m playing with the idea of extending Body Image Week into two weeks, as I’ve had some offers for guest posts. In my experience, when I talk with people about body image, what moves me the most is when we all make ourselves vulnerable and reveal the times we’ve struggled with loving ourselves – that shared experience is, strangely, so uplifting. If any of you feel like sharing your story (or action plan for change, or just a righteous rant), email me at jennieunc@gmail.com.

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42 responses to “Welcome to Body Image Week

  1. Love this, Jennie, almost as much as I love your ears which I just fell hard for now. There is so much to share about how we see ourselves and you are doing it with compassion and joy. This is healing work, girlfriend. More soon.

    • My ears are tingling – they’ve never felt so adored. The way you phrased that just melted me. Thanks for the love and good words! We’ll keep it rolling – the world also needs much more of your openness to knowing people, taking in their stories, and making others care about them so deeply.

  2. Would you believe that this isn’t just a woman’s issue? And that I look at myself in the mirror and sometimes hate what I see? Thank you for being brave enough to share this without coming across as cliché or patronizing. Go Jennie!

    • I believe it completely, but thank for for standing up and saying it! I feel like men deal with the pressure to look a certain way as well as the additional stigma of not admitting that it affects them. Telling the truth is always brave. Go Ken!

  3. Looking forward to this Jennie – and well done for being so brave to talk about your struggles! I am actually pretty lucky and haven’t really had many body issues – my issues have been more mental health based than physically. I consider myself lucky to never have worried about how I look.
    I would like to see a guest post from a man on body issues – it would be interesting to read about.

    • I’m glad you’re along for the ride, and love knowing that you pretty much escaped this particular link of the mortal coil. I know you’ve had other things to trouble your mind, but it’s such a victory when a woman isn’t phased by body image insecurity – I want to see more and more of us saying that! And you know, a male blogger did write a response to one of the pieces I’m going to re-blog when it first came out, so I’ll ask him about sharing that here as well.

  4. Body image is so very different in Brazil than it is in Australia. Australia’s not bad, skinny is not worshiped, not overly at least, but the whole image thing is a hell of a lot healthier in Brazil. People love their bodies here regardless of size. Hard to explain, but “sexiness” and “sensuality” is not shape, rather how you use and present it.

    • I find cultural interpretations of beauty fascinating, as well as how much the general population in each country cares about meeting the “ideal,” whatever it is. I would love to hear more about your personal experience there, because in my mind I had Brazil labelled as pretty image-obsessed. I’ve heard so much about the huge market for plastic surgery there. Please enlighten me! Embracing sensuality as an aura instead of a specific shape or size is something I always want to find more of.

      • Oh, it is image-obsessed. It’s just that that “image” is not fixed, nor is it devoted to the young. Some of the sexiest women i have ever seen in my life (not kidding) have been mothers well into their 40’s here. If i had to guess its all about presence, but there is an openness here regarding sexuality not exampled in Australia, or dare i say, the US.

        • That sounds really, really fun. Shouldn’t bodies be for enjoying, for playing, for experimenting? Hard to do that when people keep telling you what you’re doing is unattractive or inappropriate for your age.

    • I’m thrilled that you’ll be part of Week 2! I think mothers have a whole different take on body image, have both used their bodies to the maximum by creating life, and experienced the changes that brings.

    • I can’t wait to share your picture again when we get to the community photo project day. “More confident at 63 than ever before” – that’s self-love gold! 🙂

  5. I’m so happy you’re doing this on your blog! I love your style and authenticity – you have such a gift for connecting without ever condescending, which is really special, and makes a theme like this even more powerful. Case in point: You’re one of the only people I’ve ever ‘met’ who says they see something beautiful in everyone, and I believe it!

    Can’t wait to read the rest of the posts, and excited it might carry into next week w/ guest bloggers! (I’m guessin’ you might have a new weekly/monthly feature on your hands, my friend.)

    P.S. – Totally jealz about music camp. 😉

    • I’m so happy you’re here! I really appreciate your feedback, it’s super kind – though it would be hard for me to be condescending since I definitely don’t have this thing licked. But I figure knowing what’s what – even if there’s sometimes a divide between what I think mentally and how I feel emotionally – is a start. When I look in a mirror, I try to treat myself the way I’d treat any of my friends.

      P.S. If I make it a monthly feature, will you write for it?

      P.P.S. We can re-create Music Camp anytime. I spent a lot of it dancing around my dorm room belting Celine Dion.

  6. Good lord, this week apparently will open up every old wound of mine from Age 0 to now. I look forward to the purge…. My ears were too big, my teeth were too bucked, my arms were too skinny, my chest wasn’t big enough, you name it….it’s open.

    • I believe in the purge! I wrote so many versions of this post, because there were so many examples I could have given. The time I permed my hair specifically because my crush said girls with curls were prettier… and then he told me it looked stupid on me. How the girls in my dance class used to call me “Horse Legs” because I had muscular calves, and so I hated them. On and on and on. It was actually really refreshing to revisit these stories, because they don’t have any power anymore… except to draw others into telling their stories, and letting them go, too.

      You know, beyond us all being easier on ourselves, I wonder how much teenage bullying would be avoided if there weren’t such clear cut examples of “hot” and “not” for kids to point to?

  7. Fantastic week ahead! Thanks. I despise our media pushing air brushed models on teenagers, on adults, setting some imaginary unattainable upon us.. I love brains, smarts, intelligence, personality, when I’m old and wrinkled in an old folks home id rather be beside wonderful storyteller, astronaut, scientist, homourous types than a barbie doll.

    • Oh, how I love this comment. It’s amazing how the attacks come at every age – just as you’re settling into yourself, thinking the worst is behind you, you start reading articles about how women “disappear” in middle age – can’t get helped in stores, no longer have doors held for them, etc.

      I’m with you. There’s a reason there are no senior citizen Barbies on the shelves, and that’s because the things that make older people beautiful can’t be molded in plastic. If embracing that means becoming invisible to some people, I don’t think I need those people’s attention, anyway.

  8. I’m looking forward to reading this week’s post. I’ve explored it a bit on my own blog, but never to this extent. I’d also be interested in reading a guest post by a man about body image – I think it’s something that is sometimes overlooked for men. Health is so subjective, and I think that’s the only thing that should be important – you can be healthy at any shape or size, no one knows what’s going on underneath. I also can say that I can find beauty in a lot of people…I’d love to get to the point one day where I can see it in absolutely everyone. It’s a goal to work toward. 😀

    • I am so glad you’re here. I’m happy to tell you that we will have a male poster next week – possibly two! – because I know some stellar dudes.

      Hmmmm. now I’m wondering whether I might be able to find a guest poster – say someone who plays WOW – who might be willing to write about body image and the evolution of the portrayal of women in video games… just a thought. 🙂

      As for seeing beauty in everyone, it certainly makes the world a nicer place to spend time. It’s not something I practice or do intentionally – I just tend to notice people’s amazing hair, or gorgeous speaking voice, or perfect posture, and gravitate to those little things that make them stand out.

      • Hmm, it is an interesting thought 😀 I’ll do some research and throw out some ideas, see what you think? 🙂

        Maybe it’s just my general outlook on people anyway, but I tend to find beauty in people from their personality, no matter what they look like, so my perception of their outer matches the perception of their inner, whether it’s good or bad. I find people a lot who aren’t conventionally beautiful that I think are absolutely gorgeous.

        • I think that sounds awesome! Feel free to email me at jennieunc@gmail.com – I’d be stoked if you were part of this. 🙂

          As to the rest of your comment, I agree. My personal trainer friend says that he works with some people who are objectively gorgeous, but he finds them very unattractive because of their personalities. Another friend told me once that, in her opinion, “The heart is the muscle that’s most attractive when toned.”

  9. Jenny, I adore the image that accompanies this piece. So beautiful in it’s simplicity and diversity.

    Big kudos to you for your honesty, AND for your desire to change “the system”. We are all worth SO much more than our outward appearance. I love that you (and many others) work to validate and CELEBRATE that!

    • I’m glad the image resonated with you. It felt more powerful to me than using photos of actual people – although I will get to that on Thursday, as you well know!

      Thanks as always for your kind words. I have received just a little push back on this topic, with folks asking why my message is “we’re all beautiful,” instead of “physical beauty doesn’t matter.” It’s because I’ve seen way too many awesome people be eaten up with worry over how they look, and that affects their lives. I think if we can each reach a place of peaceful acceptance about our bodies, we can re-purpose all that mental energy and time spent on worry to much greater, more positive ends! But first we have to put the dragon to rest. (And then CELEBRATE!!)

  10. This is great Jennie. One of the things I’ve always found fascinating over the years is looking back at photos of myself – when I thought I looked awful – and realizing that I looked pretty good! 🙂 Time and perspective, huh? I’m so glad you’re tackling this issue. ~Terri

    • Right?! You’re so spot on with this. What a bunch of time I wasted agonizing about how I looked! And there’s also being older, and having a life that’s just bigger and fuller – these days, with work and hobbies and romance and travel, I have much more interesting things to focus on than my poor, maligned ears. 🙂

  11. Jennie-darling!
    I’m late to the party, but you know I’m ALL ABOUT this topic and exploring our struggles with body image, self-love, self-esteem, etc. I’m so very tickled that you are providing such a healing space for this conversation to unfold. because even though I love my big, gorgeous body, I haven’t always felt that way. I can’t wait to gobble up all the deliciousness in this week’s posts and am starting that in three…two…one… (I LOVE you so much, sister. XOXO)

    • If you just got here, things must’ve just kicked off! I do know this one’s close to home with you, and I also know you’ve seen some of these already, the first time they came around. But I’m beyond glad to have you back again! Sister-love back at you, fabulous lady.

      • Awww…my sweet sister-friend. I had a heck-of-a week with work so far this week so that’s what kept me from coming over and dancing through your yummy posts like I ordinarily do every few days. So, I’m glad to be back in the groove and happy that I got my dose of Jennie! Hugs from one of your biggest fans! XOXO

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