Size 0 or Social Zero–Putting the Body Image Battle in Context

Body Image: whenever we talk about it, we talk about the need for girls to have a more positive body image. We talk about the need to love ourselves for who we are. And I’m not going to lie—it IS important to keep body image in perspective, and to remember that there are things WAY more important than how we look.

But that’s not what this blog post is about. I COULD make this blog about the need to accept our bodies, but quite frankly, I could just as easily send you to Seventeen Magazine’s Body Peace Project (which I actually do support) or any number of other blogs, and let them talk to you about avoiding eating disorders and living healthily and loving you. And they can say it all WAY better than I can. So instead, I want to talk to you about WHY we have this amazing battle that we’re fighting…and the reasons why, despite projects like the Body Peace Project and the best efforts of health teachers everywhere, we still don’t seem to be winning.

If you’re reading this blog, changes are, you currently attend high school or at some point in your life did attend high school. Or even better, middle school.  You know what I’m talking about: the awkward years.  The emotionally vulnerable years, when you don’t really know who you are and fitting in at school seems like the most important (and yet, the most difficult) thing ever.  I am pretty sure middle school is just a nicer way of saying “prison” or possibly “torture”, unless you are popular. I’m not railing against popular kids here: let’s face it, in any social situation, there are always going to be people laughing and people getting laughed at, people who are on top and people who are scraping along at the bottom. That’s just how our social hierarchies work.

I’m no expert on popularity among teenagers—anyone who actually knows me is probably well aware that I was an uncoordinated (and, for most of high school, rather un-stylish) nerd through most of my teen years—but I DO know that in general, popular kids are not ones struggling with weight issues. That doesn’t mean they aren’t internally struggling with body image issues, but you have to remember that in social hierarchies, if you want to stay on top, someone’s got to be below you, and it’s only natural to go for an easy target like body image first.

I’m not saying that being short or chunky or (if you’re a guy) scrawny is a bad thing. It takes all types to make the world go round. And if you took a look at the people I hang out with, you’d know that I don’t really base who I hang with on physical stuff. But I AM saying that its not uncommon to be made to feel that way, and all the guidance counselors in the world telling you that beauty is only skin-deep will NOT make you feel more accepted by your peers.

And that’s where the problem comes in.

Yeah, we can point at the media, at airbrushed ads and models who are too thin, and say, “this is the problem”. But it’s not the whole problem, is it? Because really, ads give people what they want. And when everyone and everything around you seems to be saying Thin Is In, well, that’s what you’re going to start to think, isn’t it? This is even more prevalent among girls, who are socialized to check themselves and their success as women against other women—because when you see success as a size 0, going up a pants size can make you feel like a big fat zero.

Maybe the real issue is that our society places too much emphasis on women being “pretty”. As Peggy Orenstein discovered during a focus group for her book Cinderella Ate My Daughter, when parents praise boys, they tend to praise them for being smart, or athletic…but when they praise girls, they praise them for being pretty. And let’s face it, how many movies have we seen where the smart, quirky heroine is just a makeover away from being seen by the hottie she’s been crushing on forever (don’t pretend like you don’t know what I’m talking about, sit down and watch She’s All That or Sleepover or, for my Harry Potter fan readers, A Very Potter Musical, the Yule Ball scene).

WHAT IS THAT TELLING US? That we won’t get seen unless we’re “hot”? That if we don’t conform to some socially constructed idea of feminine beauty, we haven’t got a shot? And it’s not just movies, it’s books and magazines and most of all, it’s the people we see all around us, our parents and siblings and of course, our peers.  And until we start changing the dialogues that we are having with the people in our everyday lives, we are never going to win this fight against negative body image.

This is the part where I feel like I should say something about how we need to change things, but in reality, I think we need to look more closely at how these social ideals got constructed and mass-marketed if we’re ever going to understand them well enough to try to change them. But in the meantime, if you want my thoughts? Maybe we should work on telling girls that they’re just as good for their brains as they are for their butts and their boobs, and complimenting them on their achievements instead of just their looks…because we are not our bodies. And we need to stop letting people act like we are.


~ by Randi Saunders on July 21, 2011.

One Response to “Size 0 or Social Zero–Putting the Body Image Battle in Context”

  1. […] is the pep talk I DIDN’T give back when I published Size 0 or Social Zero–Putting the Body Image Battle In Context…because at the time, I didn’t think we needed one more pep talk. But while that post […]

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