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Stef's Rants 2005 series #1 "body image"

Requested by sistercoyote

This seems to be more a disconnected series of small thoughts about body image than a rant per se.

When people (probably especially women) think of body image, and when they think of their bodies, it seems to me that they tend to think first and foremost about what their bodies look like to other people. Why don't more people think first about their bodies in terms of how they work? In the end, shouldn't it be more important that your senses are capable of delivering pleasure to your brain than that your shape is capable of delivering pleasure to someone else's brain? Shouldn't it be more important to you that, even if parts of your system aren't working as well as they used to or never were entirely right, the rest of you does function and lets you do what you can do, lets you be who you are?

In one fat acceptance book I read, I learned that some fat people who feel good about themselves tend to have an internal body image (in the sense of how their body looks) that is smaller than their actual body is. Normally, psychologists say that having a distorted body image is bad, but the author says that this is a good thing because it allows these people to go out and be active in society without feeling extremely different from other people.

I really don't understand the increase in plastic surgery among entire subcultures of well-to-do and not-even-that-well-to-do (it's not just for movie stars any more) folks. My favorite movie critic, Roger Ebert, looks like he has recently had a bunch of plastic surgery. To my eye, he looks really unnatural now. I just don't understand what people get out of artificially smoothing themselves.

I watch too many nature shows on TV. Sometimes when they're talking about a herd animal and about how they tend to push out herd members that are different because the herd instinct is uncomfortable with individuals that don't blend in, I think that human beings are herd animals. We make little groups and push out everybody who looks different. And from an individual psychology point of view, it seems very easy to be utterly terrified of feeling different from everybody else. (Note that feeling different from the mainstream, but having a set of people who share your values or traits, is not the same thing as feeling different from everybody, and it's the latter that I think is terrifying to a lot of people.)


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 27th, 2005 08:22 am (UTC)
re: Roger Ebert

He was seriously ill in 2003 and he lost a lot of weight in a uncontrolled manner due to the illness.

That's why he looks so weird now.
Jan. 27th, 2005 02:00 pm (UTC)
wow, I guess I hadn't heard that. THanks, Johno! (long time, no see!)
Jan. 27th, 2005 03:41 pm (UTC)
Hm. But he has also lost weight deliberately. Here is what he said in his review of Super Size Me:
I approached "Super Size Me" in a very particular frame of mind, because in December 2002, after years of fooling around, I began seriously following the Pritikin program of nutrition and exercise, and have lost about 86 pounds. Full disclosure: Fifteen of those pounds were probably lost as a side effect of surgery and radiation; the others can be accounted for by Pritikin menus and exercise (the 10,000 Step-a-Day Program plus weights two or three times a week). So of course that makes me a True Believer.
Jan. 27th, 2005 01:28 pm (UTC)
When people (probably especially women) think of body image, and when they think of their bodies, it seems to me that they tend to think first and foremost about what their bodies look like to other people. Why don't more people think first about their bodies in terms of how they work?

My body image has been twisting in fascinating ways, lately. I'm going through rapid changes which, taken in isolation, are generally considered to be bad: swelling like a balloon, to the point where I can't tie my own shoes; developing dozens of livid purple stretch marks; losing my mobility and my stamina to the extent that walking up two flights of stairs can leave me panting.

But of course, taken together, all of these changes are signs that my body is performing the function of gestation perfectly. My advancing disability and increasingly bizarre appearance are signs that things are going well. It's been a salutary and educational experience for me, given that my more permanent disabilities have historically given me a lot of trouble with both the "what my body looks like" standard and the "what my body can do" standard.
Jan. 27th, 2005 03:48 pm (UTC)
Ayup. That all makes a lot of sense.

I do think it's interesting that pregnant women almost all think of their apperance as "bizarre," since pregnancy is a very natural process that women are designed to do. I suspect some of it is because body image doesn't catch up with the rapid changes.
Jan. 28th, 2005 02:03 pm (UTC)
I suspect some of it is because body image doesn't catch up with the rapid changes.

I think that's a lot of it. I mean, I have actually had visible growth - visible not just to me, but to curiousangel - occur over the course of just a couple of days. "Hey, it's Saturday, and I'm noticeably larger than I was on Thursday." Three months ago, I could still button my jeans. Now my belly begins two inches below my breasts - there's an abrupt "shelf" there. There's nothing gradual about this!

Also, no matter how natural it is, I think it will always strike me as bizarre to see my skin moving because there's something alive and moving underneath that isn't me.

But another part is that women don't necessarily have much access to pregnancy before they get pregnant. I had never seen a pregnant woman naked before I became one, and I'd never felt anyone else's baby kick before I felt my own. For all that it's a natural process, it's one that women are often very private about.
Jan. 28th, 2005 04:45 pm (UTC)
That makes sense!
Jan. 27th, 2005 02:02 pm (UTC)
This was a very interesting read for me, Stef. Thank you!

Jan. 27th, 2005 03:31 pm (UTC)
I wonder if body image isn't a wholly manufactured concept? At least, it's a concept with too much of its foundation in the notion that women need to be beautiful. So of course it's externally-focused; it's not really a counter to the beauty myth, just a layer on top of it.

The notion that it's healthy to have a distortedly small body image bothers me, because this idea is totally caught up in the notion that fat CAN'T be okay. In my mind, it's vastly better to see yourself as good, functional and exactly as fat as you are. But given the nature of "body image" in the first place... maybe it's not that important.
Jan. 27th, 2005 03:56 pm (UTC)
I think part of body image isn't manufactured - it's part of human consciousness, and the consciousness of other high intelligence creatures, to be able to recognize themselves in a mirror. That means having some kind of image of one's body.

But the part about judging whether one's body conforms to standards of appearance is highly manufactured, I think.

I agree that it's better to see yourself as good, functional, and the size you are. But probably the next best thing is to see yourself as good, functional, and a size that makes you feel like you fit in.

I don't think it's about fat per se - I also know small women who hate the patronizing they get because they are small, and who are shocked when they can't fit into the sizes of clothes that are for sale in mainstream outlets. And I wouldn't be surprised if some small women have body images of being bigger than they are. (Not necessarily fatter, but closer to the physical norm.)
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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