by Olivia Hayes
WRIT 1622: Re-Reading and Re-Writing Culture | Professor LP Picard
Mom’s Chocolate Cake
2 cups sugar
1 cup self-deprecation
DARK COLORS ARE VERY SLIMMING
I had my first boyfriend during my junior year of high school. I had been going to school with him since kindergarten, as was the case with most of the kids in my class of 100 students. He had never shown any interest in me until Homecoming of junior year. I had just gotten a tiny new navy blue dress to go with my tiny new body. I had been running cross-country that year, and after being the last to finish after two races, I started “kicking it into gear,” as my coach would say. I changed my diet and ran a little extra after practice; inevitably, I lost forty pounds in three months. As a result, that navy blue dress bumped me up an entire rung on the social ladder. I was no longer an “in-betweener.” Instead of being the girl that the boyfriends of my really pretty friends simply got along with, I was considered one of the pretty friends. All of a sudden, I sat next to Garrett Lowe (the second cutest guy in school) at lunch, and I stood in the second row during football games, right behind the senior it-girls.
No, this wasn’t like in a romantic comedy when the invisible girl takes off her glasses and swings her hair around in slow motion with a soft light around her, everyone stopping to watch her. No. Because I was there all along, they saw me. I had established a role as a funny-almost-cute girl that everyone knew but never asked to dance. I was always there, as a stock character in a high school drama, but now I was in a leading role.
The fantasy didn’t last forever, like it usually does in the high-school type romantic comedies that I wished I were in. The end of senior year brought freedom and heartbreak, as well as a busy schedule. The unconditional love I thought I was in showed its true colors, and my fragile, naïve teenage mind was not equipped for such a blow. Cross-country ended, and I replaced the exercise with locking myself in my room, writing paper after paper for college applications, going through bag after bag of chips—thus commencing another round of self-hatred and embarrassment. How had I allowed myself to fall back into old habits? I was horrified that my transformation wasn’t permanent, and even more afraid of the thought of returning to a role that is now called, thanks to Hollywood, the Designated Ugly Fat Friend (DUFF). My self-worth had become completely and exclusively defined by my appearance.
¾ cup HERSHEY’S Cocoa
½ cup guilt
The dilemma we face is that a cycle of negativity and body shaming is never-ending. The evidence is everywhere—from social media to classrooms to advertisements. In a recent social experiment on Tinder, an eighteen-year-old girl replied to compliments by agreeing with them (Warren). For example, if a man said that she was gorgeous, she responded by saying, “I know,” or “Yes I am, thank you.” Almost every time she replied by agreeing, the man immediately modified his compliment or replied with a rude comment. They called her “vain,” “full of herself,” even a “bitch.” It seems that a man can compliment a woman or call her beautiful, but the second she agrees with him and sees herself positively, she is scorned and rejected. This is also seen when women compliment each other. I actually can’t remember the last time I accepted a compliment without reservations or qualifications. Someone might say that they loved my legs, and I would respond by saying, “Oh thanks, they are too muscular, and my thighs never look good in jeans.” Or they might tell me that they love my hair, and I would retort with a comment on how difficult it was to tame, or how I wished it were lighter.
A study done at the University of Pennsylvania showed that 45% of women who were given compliments rejected those compliments (Han). Only 20% accepted the compliment, and the other 35% evaded the compliment altogether. As reported by Diane Mapes at Today, a psychology professor at Northwestern University, Renee Engeln, says that women are taught to love themselves, but not too much. According to Engeln, we are expected to exude confidence yet, in our actual verbal interactions, act humble. She says that we live in a culture in which women are discouraged from being confident, as confidence comes off as arrogant and even unfeminine. As young girls mature, they are exposed to more and more women who exemplify and manifest their hatred of their own bodies. Girls learn very early that it is socially acceptable and actually standard to ridicule themselves. They are told by women around them and by societal norms that they shouldn’t acknowledge their worth.
1 cup milk
¾ cup rejection
TERMS OF ENDEARMENT
Here are some things I’ve heard from important people in my life:
- “You have a really pretty face.”
- “Cuddling with you is so great. I hate cuddling with skinny girls.”
- “I don’t understand what’s so hard, like, just work out more.”
- “You look so skinny, so pretty.”
- “It’s so weird that Soph is so small. Are you sure she’s your sister?”
- “When was the last time you worked out?”
- “You know what they say, ‘Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.’ I’m sure you’ll understand that in the future.”
- “I don’t think you should be looking for a boyfriend right now. I wouldn’t want you to get your heart broken because he doesn’t like you.”
1 teaspoon self-disgust
THINK LOVELY THOUGHTS
Young girls are particularly influenced by what people around them say and do in relation to their appearance. A study by Gleason, Alexander, and Somers shows just how important the things women hear are to their future self-image. These scholars analyzed how three different types of teasing correlate to a child’s body image during adolescence. They found that girls who were teased are much more likely to have a negative body image later on in life than their male counterparts. They also found that girls’ body image was significantly more negative if they were teased in any of the three manners studied. These three types of teasing were defined as teasing about appearance, teasing about weight, and teasing about competence. The results showed that women equate competence, appearance, and self-esteem with body image and that teasing leads to horrifying results: 81% of girls had dieted by the age of 10. Young girls are taught that their body is a measure of their worth and that in order to be competent young women, they need to change their bodies.
Unfortunately, this never goes away. In a study performed by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 91% of women were unsatisfied with their bodies and had taken action to change. Of these women, 75% had some type of eating disorder. When we think of an eating disorder, we usually envision the much recognized anorexia and bulimia. However, only 10% of women with an eating disorder suffer from either of these. An eating disorder is any of a range of psychological disorders that is characterized by abnormal or disruptive eating habits. What most women experience is an unhealthy relationship with food. They might count calories incessantly, have feelings of massive guilt, or have an unnecessary abundance of food-related conversations. All of these are signs of an eating disorder. This also means that
- 91% of women feel insignificant and incompetent because of their body;
- 91% of women have destructive thought patterns; and
- 91% of women walk around the mall wondering if people notice how large their thighs are or if people are looking at their minor double chin, just like I do.
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon insecurity
The media consistently infiltrates the minds of young girls with images and ideas of what a woman should look like. Women are expected to be thin and tall and have large breasts, smooth skin, big lips, full eyelashes, and long legs. When a woman doesn’t match these specific guidelines, they are treated as inferior to the women who do have these attributes. Magazine advertisements are a great example of this. Advertisements in men’s magazines generally show sexually attractive women who are skinny, busty, long, and glowing. Sex is selling the product. However, in women’s magazines, we do not see pages upon pages of images of chiseled men in articles, advertisements, or essays. Instead, we see the same images of stick-thin models with large breasts and big butts. Sex isn’t selling the product to women. Women’s desires are selling the product. We have created a culture in which women are so obsessed with appearance that the beauty of other women acts as a motivating device. We aspire to be like the women in magazines, and we want men to desire us as much as they do these golden girls.
One of the most disturbing things about the media’s definition of beauty is how it gives a one-dimensional representation of women. Advertisements like the GoDaddy commercials allow women to become commodities to be obtained. These commercials depict women who are, by American standards, exceptionally beautiful. In one particular GoDaddy ad, the woman in the commercial is referred to only as a “GoDaddy girl.” She is never named, and she has no speaking lines. However, she does have plump lips covered in red lipstick and a practically see-through white shirt that covers a fraction of her torso. Across the chest, the shirt reads: “GoDaddy.com.” Without knowing the context of the commercial, one might think that it is an advertisement for a pornography website or some sort of company that sells sex. However, GoDaddy sells Internet domain names: although these have absolutely nothing to do with sex or the female body, the GoDaddy advertisement suggests that a woman’s value is measured by her body.
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon scrutiny
MOTHER KNOWS BEST
My mom is five feet tall. She has a tiny build, and she’s one of the only people I know who can fit into petite sizing almost perfectly. She’s a runner. She runs marathons, half-marathons, 5Ks, 10Ks, and she has participated in four triathlons. She goes to Crossfit every day for an hour in the morning, and for the rest of the day, she enlightens my family with a detailed description of her workout. As much as my mom emphasizes her health and fitness, her obsession and unhealthy relationship with food has set a precedent for the relationship I have with my body. At most meals I eat with my mom, there is a discussion of the amount of nutritional benefit in the meal and maybe a comment about serving size or calorie amount. There is usually some questioning of whether or not I should eat bread or if I should substitute the broccoli for the mashed potatoes. Every meal, every conversation revolves around weight, food, and exercise. The last time I was home, the four members of my family sat down for a spaghetti dinner. Only three of us ate spaghetti. My dear mother had a giant mound of kale drenched in spaghetti sauce. I absolutely admire my mother’s ability to take her health and wellbeing into her own hands; however, it becomes a problem when I am constantly infiltrated by ideas about what a perfect body, meal, or workout is. I understand that her issues are just as significant as mine, but the wall of insecurity is the only obstacle in our otherwise strong relationship.
1 cup flour
1 cup conformity
WHAT A BOY WANTS
This obsession with physical appearance goes far beyond a relationship with food, exercise, and being thin. Women change their bodies to conform to society’s “rules,” and this is not a new phenomenon. For thousands of years in China, women bound their feet to adhere to the standards of beauty defined by their culture. This consisted of breaking bones in the feet of young girls and then wrapping their feet in tightly bound shoes or bandages. Girls were expected to bind their feet between the ages of four and six, when their bones were still considered soft. The “ideal” length of a woman’s foot, after breaking and bending, was three inches. This intense ritual and procedure often caused painful and dangerous infections. In many cases, and without modern technology, these infections led to death. Foot binding was a means for a woman to get a husband in a higher class. Men were said to enjoy smaller feet, as they made a woman look as if she could dance lightly on lotuses. It was a sign of vulnerability, softness, and femininity.
In the African country of Mauritania, women are considered to be more desirable as they gain weight. Before marriage, beginning with pre-adolescence, women and girls are force-fed. “Leblouh,” the word used to describe this forced-feeding, is a necessary tradition for a woman to find a husband. Women are considered to be from wealthier families if they weigh more. In Mauritanian women, force-feeding and the side effects of obesity can cause death. While this practice seems foreign to us in our world, one enveloped by thinness, the excessive eating in Mauritania is comparable to our excessive starving in the US. This unhealthy and even dangerous practice is yet another manifestation of the female body as a commodity. Regardless of whether a woman lives in China, Mauritania, or the US, her worth is constantly being equated with her body, which creates self-destructive habits.
1 cup butter
1 cup self-loathing
Unfortunately, like many other girls, I learned very early on that I shouldn’t accept my body. I was surrounded by women who didn’t love themselves the way they should. I was taught that the extra rolls or jiggles that I carried with me were not what a proper woman should have. I understood that I should be concentrating on my appearance at all times.
As I walk through campus, I can’t help but imagine the thoughts of the people around me. If I get even a glance from someone, I assume they are directing their eyes at my chubby cheeks or the less than flawless stomach hidden under my t-shirt. In the dining hall, I am constantly analyzing and comparing my choices to those of my friends or the thin girls in the corner. In relationships, including the one serious relationship that I have had, my own self-doubt and loathing has caused me to hesitate. I am always on edge. I know that the dissatisfaction I have with my body is the result of a society obsessed with appearance, but that doesn’t make it feel any less real or any less hurtful. The deep-seated notion that thinness equals love, acceptance, intelligence, and aptitude follows me everywhere, a looming shadow.
Featured Image © De Visu | Shutterstock.com
A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR
Throughout my life, I have struggled with body image. In my first year at DU, college proved to be an even more difficult environment to feel comfortable in my own skin. Joining a sorority, being introduced to a slew of new people who were judging me for the first time, and trying to reinvent myself made for a pretty harsh result. When my WRIT professor offered an assignment that gave us free-reign to write about something that touched us personally (and would also have some meaning to the public), I couldn’t think of a more fitting topic than my struggle with body image.
For the entirety of my childhood and adolescence, my mom has been both my adversary and my coach in my battle for self-confidence. I wrote this piece at a time when I was having to deal with all of this on my own for the first time. Being without her added a whole new set of challenges and an opportunity to gain independence. It was difficult, but I learned a lot by writing this piece.
One of the biggest challenges I had in writing this was becoming comfortable with publicizing my biggest insecurity and vulnerability. I think it has helped people from different areas of my life to be able to read this and learn more about me; and it has helped me to regard the subject as less of a taboo. What I really hope to pass on to readers from this paper is the little bit of comfort I obtained from writing it. I hope some can relate and others can build an understanding and appreciation for the constant struggle that some of us face.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Olivia Hayes is a sophomore from Glenwood Springs, Colorado, majoring in public policy and sociology. She is a PR Director for the Roosevelt Institute, a public policy club, and enjoys skiing and playing soccer. She also loves Kid President and Kanye West, although she knows they are two very different people with two very different views of the world. Her favorite quotes are these words of wisdom from Kid President and Kanye: “It is everybody’s duty to give the world a reason to dance” (Kid President); and “Believe in your flyness” (Kanye).
“11 Facts About Body Image.” Do Something.org. Do.something.org, 2014. Web. 10 Feb. 2015.
Gleason, Jamie H., Amy M. Alexander, and Cheryl L. Somers. “Later Adolescents’ Reactions to Three Types of Childhood Teasing: Relations with Self-Esteem and Body Image.” Social Behavior and Personality 28.5 (2000): 471–79. Print.
Han, Chung-hye. “A Comparative Study of Compliment Responses: Korean Females in Korean Interactions and in English Interactions.” Working Papers in Educational Linguistics 8.2 (1992): 17–31. Print.
Mapes, Diane. “Why Women are Terrible at Accepting Compliments.” TODAY Health & Wellness. NBC, 1 Jul. 2013. Web. 30 Nov. 2015.
Strochlic, Nina. “China’s Last Foot-Binding Survivors.” The Daily Beast. The Daily Beast, 2 July 2014. Web. 22 Nov. 2015.
Warren, Rossalyn. “This is What Happens When Women Actually Accept a Compliment from a Man Online.” BuzzFeed. Buzzfeed, 1 Jan. 2015. Web. 10 Feb. 2015.
Wedoud, Mohamed Yahya Abdel. “Women Fight Mauritania’s Fattening Tradition.” CNN. Turner Broadcasting System, 12 Oct. 2010. Web. 10 Feb. 2015.