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National NOW Times >> Fall 2002 >> Article

Even Feminists Struggle with Body Image

NOW Foundation's Love Your Body Day Offers Positive Answer

by Carmen McDonald, Communications Intern

"I have always felt insecure about my body, but I never felt strange about that. All the women I know feel insecure about their bodies." This was a comment made by one of my sister NOW interns as the 16 of us gathered together to discuss our body images in light of NOW Foundation's Love Your Body Day this fall.

Grand Prize Winner of the 2002 Love Your Body Day poster contest, designed by R. Scott Reyes. See the other winners and enter the 2003 contest on the Love Your Body Day web site.
Grand Prize Winner of the 2002 Love Your Body Day poster contest, designed by R. Scott Reyes. See the other winners and enter the 2003 contest on the Love Your Body Day web site.

At first I was taken aback, but the more I thought about it, the more I could agree. I have always derided myself for not being thin enough, and if anything, it is a daily part of my life rather than something I am alarmed about. In fact, it would feel odd not to have any insecurity about my body. These must have been shared thoughts, for suddenly we found ourselves indignant. How absolutely unfair that we live in a society in which it is so common for women to feel uncomfortable with their bodies that it would actually feel strange to us to be confident and free from self-loathing!

While we all have memories of better days, when we were taming the tundra in our big wheels, covered in grass stains and eating Twinkies with wild abandon, they certainly passed quickly. For most of us, that carefree attitude ceased to exist, even intermittently, as soon as we hit early adolescence, during which we were introduced to the seemingly harmless world of teen magazines.

As we browsed the pages over and over again, we were inundated with all these new things that we were supposed to care about. We began to compare ourselves to the faces and bodies that graced these magazines, and most of us found ourselves coming out rather short. We also started to take note of various strategies such as sucking our stomachs in when we were talking to boys, or picking the best bathing suit to compliment our shapes. Amazingly enough, we were not aware of the obvious madness of 12-year-old girls worried about disguising their hips.

The lessons, habits, and negative body images that take root in us as adolescents have clung to us throughout young adulthood, and at the least have stifled our ambition, and at the worst have caused self-disgust, self-deprecation and eating disorders.

"Sometimes I worry when I am with someone if he wishes I am just a little bit thinner or cuter," admitted one intern.

Another young woman shared that "Whenever I come home for a visit from college, the first thing my dad comments on is whether or not I have gained weight, as if that is what matters the most. I try not to pay attention to it, but it has made me feel pretty self-conscious about my body."

All of the 16 young women in the room were bright, capable feminists who understand that this common dissatisfaction with our bodies is manufactured by culture and the media (including Hollywood and TV advertising). And while the measures we take to try to match these media images are destructive and dangerous, we cannot manage to escape them.

"It's sad that we can't think of a single female role model who does not have a perfect body or is praised primarily for her beauty," sighed one intern.

Another added: "I would like to see a woman who is a healthy size 12 on television being portrayed as attractive and desirable."

The wounds inflicted on our self-esteem are deep and wide, which is why a celebration like Love Your Body Day is so needed. It is an opportunity for us to gather with others and declare that it is not normal for women to feel uncomfortable, dissatisfied and insecure with their bodies. It is a day in which we can decry the images that the advertising industry feeds us about how women are "supposed" to look and act and instead join together to embrace and rejoice in the genuine beauty of all women!

Although the official Love Your Body Day took place on Oct. 16, 2002, the NOW Foundation encourages women and girls to celebrate on any day of the year — it's always the right time to begin a lifetime of loving ourselves.

"The advertising, diet and beauty industries want you to see only what's wrong with your face, your hair, your body," said NOW Foundation Executive Vice President Karen Johnson. "Tell them to stop selling low self-esteem, because you're not listening anymore."

Order a Love Your Body Day kit and get: ideas for planning an action; sample house party invitations; flyers for actions and teach-ins; and fact sheets on advertising and health, eating disorders, children and advertising, date rape, size discrimination, domestic violence and more. You can request a kit online or by calling 202-628-8669, ext. 117.

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