Is Body Image Overrated?

Are these bodies "really" that diverse? Dove Real Beauty Campaign Ad.

Are these bodies “really” that diverse? Dove Real Beauty Campaign Ad.

In her book Becoming Women: The Embodied Self in Image Culture (2014), Carla Rice reconfirms the commonsense notion that North American popular culture—filled with images of thin white women—damages women’s self-esteem by sending narrow messages about what women should look like. Because the mass media’s standard of beauty excludes 99% of ladies, it encourages them to develop such issues as body dysmorphia and eating disorders. Rice predictably lobbies for more diverse pictures of women. About a decade ago she served as a consultant to Dove, helping that company develop its “Real Beauty” advertising campaign. It was begun in 2004 after surveys revealed that only 4% of women consider themselves beautiful. Rice urged Dove to appeal to women’s desire for acceptance rather than judgement, admitting that the final (highly controversial) advertisements continued to feature attractive women with flawless skin.

Jo Spence and Tim Sheard, Exiled, 1989. From Narratives of Dis-ease (1989).

Jo Spence and Tim Sheard, Exiled, 1989. From Narratives of Dis-ease (1989).

Yet Dove was late to the party. For decades artists and scholars have intervened in dominant image culture, offering alternative images of fat, sick, differently abled, and lesbian bodies, among others. Artist Jo Spence is well known for scrawling “Monster” across her chest, taking photographs of her cancer treatments in an effort to reclaim and de-medicalize her suffering body. Such transgressive images are much more effective than those produced by Dove, though they have less popular circulation.

While I agree that the current beauty standard is ridiculously limiting, and support the display of diverse female bodies, I think that image culture receives too much attention and has in fact become a scapegoat for women’s body problems.  Continue reading

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From Sexy to Safe: How Being Fat Might Save My Life (Guest Post by Crystal Fraser)

Crystal 2007: Slim and Sexy in Las Vegas. Photo Credit: Crystal Fraser

Crystal 2007: Slim and Sexy in Las Vegas. Photo Credit: Crystal Fraser

I was walking down a dark bike path, cell phone in hand, noting the sound of every step and scuffle strangers made on the cold, wet pavement. I was in Ottawa undertaking the final phase of my archival research for my PhD dissertation and this was the evening of a particularly long and intense day; we had been in lockdown in a federal building after the murder of Nathan Cirillo and the dramatic events that unfolded at Parliament’s Centre Block. On uber-high alert, I consistently reminded myself why I needed to pay such close attention to every detail of my surroundings. “Okay self. First: last news update. There may be suspects still at large. Fuck. Second: You are an Indigenous woman and statistically have a one-in-three chance of being sexually assaulted. Fuck. Third: No one better mess with me. I have an umbrella, a set of keys, and a large purse and I am not afraid to use them. Double fuck.” Trying to dismiss all of the above, I attempted to rationalize the uncertainty of my situation. “Listen here self: you don’t have to worry about that strange man walking behind you. You’ll be safe you cause you are FAT! Hahahaha – joke is on him! Wait…what?” Continue reading

Appearance Makes the World

Being looked at is a powerful, identity-forming experience. Diego Velazquez, Rokeby Venus, c.1647-51, National Gallery, London.

Being looked at is a powerful, identity-forming experience. Diego Velazquez, Rokeby Venus, c.1647-51, National Gallery, London.

So what have I been up to lately? You can spot me most mornings wearing sensible shoes and sporting thick eye bags as I push a stroller—my adorable son is inside—to the café, the spray park, the public library, the grocery store, or the Shopper’s Drug Mart. Much to my surprise, Sebastian  attracts a lot of attention from just about everyone: male construction workers, female baristas, old ladies with boney fingers that like to poke chubby cheeks. Every single day, I hear the following phrases at least five times: “What a beautiful baby!” “Look at those eyelashes!” “What big blue eyes!” He is going to break all the girls’ hearts when he is older!” While I enjoy the first three comments, I bristle at the last one. I do not want my baby to be sexualized and/or hetero-sexualized in this fashion. He might grow up to be gay, trans, asexual, shy, or awkward. At least I hope so. These options are better than the proffered vision of him as an ultra-masculine sex bomb barreling through life, moving from one lady to the next. But I digress, for the main issue I want to discuss today is how this public reaction to my son’s appearance is literally creating his world. Continue reading

One Year After My Figure Show: Guest Post by PDDs

PDDs backstage during her Figure competition in June 2012.

PDDs backstage during her Figure competition in June 2013.

At this time last year I was working towards my goal of competing in the Figure category of the 2013 ABBA Bodybuilding show. The past 11 months have been filled with many ups and downs as well as some nearly epic fails. Yet somehow, I’ve managed to succeed!

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Selfie Madness

I took this selfie when I was alone in Paris in 2012, apparently in need of validation.

I took this selfie when I was alone in Paris in 2012, apparently in need of validation.

When I was downtown the other day, I saw three teenagers posing in a shopping centre, throwing gang signs—probably learned from a music video—while taking a group selfie. My first reaction was pity. How on earth could a trip to a seedy mall be considered a significant event worth recording? Then I realized my mistake. The resulting photograph was not the point. It was the act of performing for and taking the picture that was important to the teens, enabling them to transform a mundane occurrence into something meaningful. By taking a selfie the truants had both insisted that their lives held value and documented their solidarity. In addition to shaping their own identities, they had refused the dominant narrative of the mall by producing an image instead of consuming one. Maybe. Perhaps my analysis is a little naive? Discuss amongst yourselves.

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