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The Paradox of Discussing Body Image

Posted by Nick Brothers |
Nick Brothers, Managing Editor of The Free Weekly

Nick Brothers, Managing Editor of The Free Weekly

By Nick Brothers

It must suck to be a woman sometimes.

I realize I’m trivializing an entire struggle, but everyone seems to have an idea for what women need to do, look like, say, what have you. When it comes to discussing women’s body image, it should really never have been a topic in the first place.

I’d like to point out that I’m a super average white American male. I don’t have much room for talking about something like women and cultural body image, but I’ve thought on it, and I’d like to share my perspective.

While discussing cultural body image is overall a healthy thing to address, doing so seems to paradoxically hurt itself when promoting viral content. I have a haunting idea that maybe all this discussion is just fueling the fire that started the issue. There’s something we don’t realize going on when we share and promote such things:

We’re still treating women like hood ornaments, dammit!

Every time a blog post talks about how models are too skinny, and “don’t represent real women” or when a viral video gets shared across Twitter, Facebook and the known universe about plus-size models in an ad with the headline such as, “Do these models bother you?” those bait readers into feeling guilty. I just don’t think that’s the way such things should be approached. Besides, the notion of “real” is arbitrary at the least.

Then there’s the very real Upworthy.com headline, “4 Women Head to the Beach and Drown a Bunch of Stupid, Wrong, and Outdated Standards of Beauty.” The video features some plus-size, curvier women in swimsuits talking about being comfortable in their skin and cultural beauty standards. I don’t have any issues with the video, but I think sites like Upworthy get a little overzealous with their headlines and try to get you to feel negatively before even knowing what the content is about.

It scares me to think what the media coverage of bodies is inherently saying to the impressionable youth. It’s just too easy to subscribe to other people’s thoughts when you’re growing up. Perceptions of what “beautiful” means are often times subconsciously formed.

The main problem here is that pretty much most of the time we — as a culture — tend to place the value in women in their appearance versus their attributes. How often do you hear a TV interviewer say that someone looks beautiful or their hair looks gorgeous first before going on to talk about the things they’ve accomplished? Isn’t that sort of saying a woman’s appearance is their defining trait?

So please, can we stop trying to figure out what the female body should look like? The concept of “sexy” doesn’t need to be determined. However, as long as magazines keep publishing content such as “100 Sexiest People” that only feature one body type, it will keep needing to be discussed. Then again, if nothing was said we could potentially slip into accepting 5’9” 110 pounds as the norm — which is dangerous.

Ideally, the media could just portray all kinds of women without making a big fuss about their size. Wouldn’t it be great if we lived in a world where there wasn’t a distinction between “model” and “plus-size model”?

3 Comments

anna July 10, 2014 at 9:01 am

It all starts at a very young age. Just watch grownups engaging children in small talk. With a little boy its “what sports are you into” or “you are so adventurous!” With a little girl its “your hair is so pretty” or “you have such a pretty smile”. We don’t realize that we are doing it but we are equating their worth by their looks right from the beginning!
There is a book called “How to talk to little girls” by Lisa Bloom that every mother (and dad) of a little girl should read.

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Sandy July 11, 2014 at 4:07 am

Yes it would be great if we lived in a world where no one made a fuss about the size of women’s bodies – it would be a whole lot more peaceful! BUT as long as magazines are run by people who have distorted body image themselves (if they’re not outright full-blown eating disorders) who pander to advertisers who profit by making women feel crappy so they’ll buy the junk products they’re selling…. we have to keep talking about it – thanks :)

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