feminism and body image

recently, i’ve had a number of interesting and sometimes heated discussions about plastic surgery. according to one view, plastic surgery is an artificial way to prop up a twisted body image – one that is only available to those who can afford it. according to another view, undergoing plastic surgery is not much different than wearing jewellery or nice clothes – and if one can afford that kind of thing, why not enjoy it? in connection with this, it was interesting to read one of hugo schwyzer’s comments on the topic of body image (you have guessed it – hugo is my favourite blogger!)

here are a few snippets from his entry back in march:

… feminists are equipped with tools to identify the lies about the body that permeate the media and the broader culture. They can, particularly when given “body history”, see the historical origins of our obsession with certain kinds of unattainable body types. Above all, the most valuable thing about studying the history of the body is this: you learn that women have not “always felt this way.” …

… few if any young women mention concerns about weight or appearance in their diaries (she used hundreds of diaries written over a century and a half) before the 1920s. There are specific historical reasons — Paul Poiret’s sheath dress, the coming of the automobile, industrialization and the need for “sizes” in pre-made clothes — that contribute to this sudden upsurge in anxiety and self-loathing. And when we discover that there was a time, not so long ago, when women didn’t feel this way about themselves, we lose that sense of hopelessness that there is no possibility for change.

… Discussing one’s physical flaws and detailing one’s anxieties is a normative part of growing-up for a great many young women. Feminist classrooms and feminist blogs can provide a safe place for that sort of sharing to take place. But the goal of feminist spaces is not merely to provide a safe place to vent. Our goal has to be to help our sisters resist the cultural, social, and often familial messages about their bodies that leave them so unhappy.

… feminists can remind everyone — over and over again if need be — that the demands of the culture (or of spouses) for a certain body type are unrealistic, unreasonable, and can be successfully resisted. Rather than end discussions with a sigh and a “That’s just the way it is, some things will never change”, feminists can point out counter-examples, usually of women who have refused to comply any longer with the tyranny of slimness (or the tyranny of voluptuousness, or whatever.)

Of course, here’s the kicker: if you’re going to preach self-acceptance, you’ve got to be doing everything you can to be self-accepting …

From a feminist standpoint, learning to love one’s body isn’t just about boosting one’s own self-esteem. It’s about providing an example to other women who need to know that self-acceptance is not a chimera, but a viable reality.

thanks, hugo.

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

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