March 4, 2010

Comics, Cleavage, and You (or…well, me)

Posted in Art, Body Image, culture, diversions, Patriarchy, sexuality, Society tagged , , , at 2:06 pm by Eostre

I will state right up front that this is a topic that most people who will read this will only care about in the context of Bigger Things, as a small sign of more widespread cultural attitudes and whatnot. This is perhaps as it should be for those of us in school who spend most of out time thinking about Bigger Things.

But for me, this is something that is close to my nerdy little heart. You see, I love comics. I love reading them, I love monthly issues, I love origin stories and dark reinventions. That’s right, I am coming out of the comic-nerd closet. I don’t just love the Intellectual ones, either. Sure, I am completely up for Persepolis, but I have a gooshy, happy place in my heart for Sandman, The Justice League, and all of their sundry friends. I love the feel of the glossy pages and the bold typeface. 

Being a female comics reader can often be problematic, however. For, although things have vastly improved in the last 20 years or so, women in comics are often, frankly, ridiculous. To start, they are usually drawn with absurd measurements, and their body stats tend to be listed as something like ” 5’10” 102 lbs” (they don’t mention the Double-D boobs and lady-wrestler like muscles, all of which would make her something closer to at least 180, and that’s being generous), and then there are the outfits. This is well-known territory, so I will be brief. Spandex on a man, while still clingy, is nothing like spandex on one of these barbie-zons, with every curve lovingly drawn and accentuated. Yes, comics were for a long time drawn mostly by men for men, and many assume that is still the case. And titillation has long been a staple of comics fare, both within the superhero genre and outside of it.

So the graphic genre has well-earned its reputation for what can at best be called objectification, at worst misogyny (for example, one of the best known female superheroes, Wonder Woman, originated as little more than a thinly veiled BDSM fantasy), and it doesn’t help that many (if not most) women in the genre are attached to some other, stronger, male character (i.e. Batgirl, Hawkgirl, Supergirl, She-Hulk, etc), which, frankly, is one of my main complaints. If I have to look at overly voluptuous women in spandex, they could at least be more autonomous.

Of course, there are exceptions, and they normally come as part of a group (X-Men, for example, have a lovely cast of

She Hulk beating Iron Man at arm-wrestling, the cover for one of the upcoming Girl Comics Issues

 strong female and male characters). And even those who have been attached to other, male superheroes as part of an entourage are getting their own stories and features (I am particularly excited about the upcoming Girl Comics from Marvel).

So, after that not-very-brief-even-though-it-was-meant-to-be introduction, my point. I am willing to put up with some cleavage and porn-face in my comics, because if I weren’t my options for reading them would be nearly non-existent. And hey, feminism is all about making space within patriarchal structures for female voices, using and twisting those structures to make small pockets for women, but in a genre that is becoming more diversified as to who is writing/drawing the stories, the progress is far far too slow. Yes, there are better stories being told about female super-heroes than there were 40 years ago (and a few better heroes joining the canon), but the objectification is still so widespread and pervasive as to be the norm, rather than the exception.

I love the genre (and believe me when I say that super-hero comics are a genre, not a medium) I am too much of a feminist to not cringe at least once an issue, and I wish that weren’t so.

Since this is a topic I am super passionate about, there will be one more post next week addressing the good side of women in super-hero comics, including the ways that existing characters and norms have been used to create space for feminist readings, and the genre/medium distinction. So, as always, STAY TUNED…

January 29, 2010

I’d Rather be Smoking and Skinny

Posted in Body Image, Dieting, feminism, Health, Self Esteem tagged , , , , , at 5:20 am by Gina Messina

In the last seven years my weight has become a major issue for me.  Before this I was a heavy smoker and weighed 115lbs.  I loved to shop, I loved my clothes, and I loved to go to the beach.  I always took care of myself, never wore tennis shoes unless heading to the gym and never left the house without wearing makeup.  And then came the day when I decided that I must quit smoking.   I had been diagnosed with a chronic illness and my doctor was clear that I had to break off my relationship with my best friend…Marlboro Lights.  It was the most challenging thing I had ever done.  I quit cold turkey and admittedly was very difficult to be around for a good thirty days.  But it got easier a little at a time.  I still have smoking dreams and I still miss cigarettes as my constant companion, but for my health it was the best thing I could do.

All that being said, once I did quit smoking, my body reacted.  I had smoked since I was a teenager, for more than half my life, a total of 16 years.  The lack of that constant stimulant in my body was traumatic and I started to gain weight.  It seemed like overnight I went from a size 2 to a size 10 and then I just kept climbing steadily until my current size…dare I say…a 16.  Now I usually wear sweats, I almost never wear makeup and I am always embarrassed of my appearance.  Shopping feels like a total waste of time because nothing looks good on my rotund figure.  I feel so unattractive that I think no matter what I do…clothing, makeup, hairdo…it won’t really make a difference. 

While I had used to live off of caffeine and nicotine, after quitting smoking and ending my love affair with coffee, I didn’t know how to suppress my appetite…and still do not.  While I am healthier for not smoking, I am unhealthy because of my weight.  My chronic illness has kept me from exercising on a regular basis and a grad student schedule and budget has kept me from eating a healthy diet (at least that is my excuse for now).   I wonder if I should just try to accept myself as different from what I used to be or if I should continue to berate myself over my unattractive appearance.  I have failed with diet after diet.  I have claimed that I am simply fighting a losing battle and going to just accept myself as “fat,” I have written myself horribly malicious letters and posted them around the house as a way to encourage me to quit eating, I have hung my size 2 clothing around as an incentive to lose weight, I have told myself that I have a sacred within that I am abusing by continuing my unhealthy lifestyle, and still that number on my scale continues to climb. 

Every night I go to bed thinking about how much I hate my body and every morning I wake up thinking about how much I hate my body.  I constantly look at other women and compare myself to them and wonder what others think when they look at me.  I have had so many blessings in my life and I notice so much tragedy in the world around me, and yet this is what I obsess about. 

Although I thought quitting smoking was the worst thing I had ever gone through, this battle with my weight, self confidence, and body image far exceeds it.    I struggle with myself daily making excuses about my appearance and trying to convince myself that my woes are shallow and unfeminist and then I remind myself that I am just making another excuse for my inability to be self disciplined and my disappointing appearance.  It truly is a never ending battle.  I really would rather be smoking and skinny.

October 5, 2009

Another Cosmetic Surgery Story

Posted in Body Image, Society at 6:26 am by Bast

I started to hate my nose around the time I graduated high school. It began with my mother asking me if I wanted “that bump taken out” like she did. Until she asked that, I didn’t know I had a bump in my nose! She kept asking if I wanted my bump removed, and gradually my dad joined in the chorus. They never said I should get it removed; they just asked if I wanted to. Slowly, the idea began to germinate in my mind. Every time I looked at it, the bump seemed bigger. Had I been delusional before? How could I not notice this huge bump on the bridge of my nose?
My senior year of college, my parents convinced me to have some small moles removed from my face for the sake of symmetry. (One thing I learned from my cosmetic surgery experience is that symmetry = beauty.) Did you know that to get moles removed from an obvious place, such as the face, you have to go to a cosmetic surgeon? Dermatologists won’t do it. Of course, my nose (and my chin, to my surprise) came up in the course of conversation with this cosmetic surgeon. I went so far as to get before and after pictures done (they do this with some fancy computer program; it’s pretty cool). But in the end, I chickened out.
My cowardice turned out to be a good thing—not because I didn’t have the surgery since, obviously, I eventually did, but because my dad ended up having something of a tiff with this particular doctor. (By the way, he was considering undergoing cosmetic surgery as well, but I doubt he wants me to talk about it, so we’ll leave it at that.)
A year, a bad breakup, and a college graduation later, I decided that the time had come. I would be going to graduate school in the fall in a different state where no one would know me. I would start my new life with a new nose. I don’t regret my decision at all. I don’t think it’s any less ‘feminist’ of me than wearing makeup, doing my hair a certain way, or trying to dress in a flattering manner—all of which I’m sure most women do. I’m not saying we necessarily should. Ideally, we wouldn’t even have the urge to do these things because there would be no pressure from society to put so much effort into our appearances. But we still do, and I don’t think I should feel too guilty about it because it isn’t really my fault that I feel so compelled. Societal pressure is a tough thing to beat, and kudos to anyone who can for their own (and, ultimately, society’s) betterment. I’m just not strong enough.

October 3, 2009

My Body Image: Between Perception and Reality

Posted in Body Image, feminism, Resurrection of the Body at 6:25 pm by Cynthia Garrity-Bond

Considered "peasant stock" in this photo

Considered "peasant stock" in this photo

 No matter what shape or size, the words “body image” conjure-up pictures of the self that are like looking into those funny mirrors that distort and expand the body.  With few moments of relative thinness in my life, I too have struggled with a poor self-image. It started when I was a child, who while deeply wanted, was not the hoped for frail and delicate daughter my parents had imagined.  My mother, all 5’ 100 lbs was forever reminding me that I took after my father’s Swedish side of the family, more akin to “peasant stock,” you know, those larger boned women who could birth a baby one day and return to the fields the next—you get the picture.  This is the image I came to accept of my own body, which was far from the wispy, delicate girl I longed to be.

And then my baptism into feminism, with all its corrections of the androcentric world to which I belonged. Of the many hopes within feminism, it was the release from my own body image that I longed for.  I wanted to feel at home and at one with what I was, not what I hoped to be.  Truth be known, it has never happened.

A few years back in my Medieval Theology course we were examining the Catholic doctrine of the Resurrection of the Body through such thinkers as Irenaeus, Aquinas and Bonaventure. In what my instructor thought was an affirmation of the body, she interpreted the doctrine to mean that after death we will take on our bodies as they were in life, meaning, we would look pretty much the same as we did while tromping around on earth.  In contemplating her words I sought clarification.  “So” I asked, “the body I have now will be the body I carry with me throughout eternity?”  “Well, yes” my slight and thin professor responded. Letting her words sink in for a moment I finally responded with a resounding, WTF!”  I gasped.  I don’t want this body to haunt me in the next life, I want Ashley Judd’s, or Jennifer Aniston’s, hell, I’ll even consider an anonymous model from the LL Bean catalog, but not THIS body!”

Now my battle has taken on a more urgent quest.  Instead of losing weight for perfection, I must now consider my health. The legacy of my “peasant stockiness” has no doubt left a lingering affect on me, but I continue the fight between perception and reality.

October 1, 2009

Hi, My Name is Kate, and I Have Body Image Issues

Posted in Body Image, Relationships, sexuality tagged , , at 4:37 am by Eostre

me at ginas            There should be a group like AA for people who have serious body image issues; it could be called BHA, or Body Haters Anonymous. As someone who would have been a lifelong member, I am just now realizing how much of a disease it is.

            I am 24, 5’11”, and weigh in at over 200lbs. That shouldn’t have been hard to say, but it was. I was one of those girls who developed early, was wearing a B Cup by the 5thgrade, and had full curves by the time I was 13. As such I was always larger, and more developed, than my peers. I was dealing with my period and underwire bras at a time in life when most girls are still secretly playing with their My Little Ponies, and kids are cruel about stuff like that.

            So from a very young age I have had some serious issues with my body. We are ingrained so young with the socially constructed ideals of feminine beauty, that I never had a chance.

             I dated a little in high school (way too serious way too young) and much less in the beginning of college, but it wasn’t too long before I took myself out of the running, so to speak. You see, the Evangelical Church has a male to female ratio problem, and there were always far more girls than boys in the social circles in which it was acceptable to date (it being completely out of the question to date a non-Christian) and at my Private Evangelical University there were about 3 girls to every 1 guy. In a climate like that most guys weren’t interested in the smart, sarcastic, chubby girl.

            So when familial stresses offered me an out, I took it, and recused myself from the dating competition. It was easier to say that I wasn’t interested than face the near constant dashed hopes that had characterized my youth.

            All of that to say that it has been some time since I have been on a date, and I don’t know if I even know how to go about this whole dating thing anymore. I have gotten used to thinking of myself as off the market, that I have internalized those attitudes and conceptions.

            Over the last year I have had so many new experiences, I have found a wonderful group of friends, I have been in challenging and humbling classes and my life has stretched and changed in ways that I had never thought possible. I now regularly go to the beach and wear a bathing-suit in public, something I almost never did before. In fact I have worn things that previously I would never have even considered (pink tube top and borrowed black concert dress, I am looking at you!).

            So while I have, in some ways, gotten more comfortable with my body, I still have a hard time seeing it as attractive or desirable. I have internalized the Beauty Myth.  I know in my head that it is a false construct, I haven’t been able to shake it. I still have a really difficult time posting pictures that show my body on sites like facebook (or here, for that matter), and that is just one off-shoot of the internalized problem.

          Coming from any of my friends I would decry this blog, and it is true that I am surrounded by beautiful (and not even remotely similar) women, but a lifetime of negative reinforcement is blocking my way, and I can’t view myself through the same lens that I view the rest of the world. 

            I have been happy, this past year (and I continue to be very happy), and I can’t say that I have felt the lack of romance in my life. But part of me has to wonder, is that because I truly don’t miss it, or because I have given up on looking for it? Perhaps a little (or a lot) of both, I’m not sure.

            My name is Kate, and I have body image issues. I first realized I had a problem a week or so ago, and I am trying to make a change.

September 26, 2009

Why I’m Glad My Hawk Nose Grew Back

Posted in Body Image, feminism at 9:29 pm by Gaia

caroline-march-2008

When I was a teenager, I agonized over my nose. Large, bold, and bumpy, no one in my family could figure out what ancestor it came from. I often wore my hair down so that with a toss of my head I could easily hide it. I was self-conscious and shy, and it was all due, I was convinced, to my terrible nose.

How I suffered over it. Eventually my mom got sick of hearing about it so she’d say, “Well, why don’t you do something about it?” So we went to a plastic surgeon. A month before my 18th birthday, I underwent surgery to remove the bump, narrow it a little, and make the tip slightly finer.

This is probably a bit shocking to a lot of you, but you should understand my cultural context. Where I came from – an affluent town in So Cal – several young people got nose jobs. My two best friends did. So did a boy and a girl in my congregation who were in my grade. It was not that unusual a thing to do.

The experience itself was terrible. Somehow the plastic surgeon convinced me to choose a local anesthetic. Big mistake. The shots inside my nose were one of the most painful things I’ve ever experienced. And then I lay awake and watched them lean over me and file down my nose. When it was all over, my face was swollen to twice its normal size. I had an emotional breakdown after I saw myself in the mirror that night. Against my bruised and swollen face, my new nose looked like a pig nose – my worst nightmare.

But a month after the surgery, I was loving life. My new nose looked fantastic once the swelling left. I felt fantastic. I went away to college confident, happy, and far more outgoing than I had ever been before. I had absolutely no regrets.

Over the years, however, my feminist sensibilities have made me question this decision I made at 17. Did I just fall into that old societal trap that told me that I had to have a Barbie face to be attractive? Was all that confidence false and misplaced? Did I sacrifice my own distinctive look for something merely unobjectionable?

I think the answer to all those questions is probably yes. If I could go back and have a conversation with my teenage self, I think I would try to talk her out of doing it. I would try to help her to realize that one shouldn’t let fashion magazines make a person so miserable for looking a little different. I would try to convince her to focus on all the great features she had, physical and especially non-physical.

But at the same time, I still can’t deny how much the surgery meant to me at that point in my life, how much it increased my happiness in those heady years between 18 and 23 when I felt beautiful, powerful, and completely in charge of my own destiny.

And the ironic thing? My nose grew back. (Apparently this happens sometimes when young people get this kind of plastic surgery.) It took 12 years of gradual growing, but I no longer have that perfectly straight fine tipped nose that filled me with such relief and giddiness. It’s pretty hawkish these days. And I must say, I rather like it. It’s distinctive. It’s strong. It’s what I should have embraced as uniquely me from the beginning.

September 25, 2009

In a Barbie World: Wanting to Want My “Imperfections”

Posted in Body Image, feminism at 12:57 am by Gina Messina

  • Perfection?

    Perfection?

Okay, so let me out myself.  14 years ago I decided to have cosmetic surgery; rhinoplasty or a “nose job” to be precise.  What brought me to this decision? What made me decide to permanently alter my physical appearance? As much as I hate to admit it…a boy.  I was twenty years old, in my first serious relationship and had been dating this boy (he was adult age, but mentality wise…well, you get it) for about a year when he told me that he couldn’t marry a girl with a nose like mine.  As you can imagine, I was devastated.  Up until that point I felt pretty confident in myself.  Overall I was happy with my appearance; however that one comment turned my negated my confidence and left me feeling ugly.  At his prompting I ended up in surgery and with a new nose that wiped away my father’s genetic marking.  A few months later I caught him with another woman and our relationship was over.

From that point on, body image became a major issue for me.  I contemplated other cosmetic surgeries (although I never went through with any) and obsessed about my weight which has gone up and down (but mainly up) over the years.  I became completely consumed with the “ideal” image of woman and trying to attain that overall physical appearance.  I wondered why I couldn’t be one of those Victoria Secret models. 

I would like to say that 14 years later, as a strong standing feminist, I am over this body image issue and even regret my decision to have cosmetic surgery; but I cannot.  I often contemplate what would life be like if I had not had cosmetic surgery.  Would my now husband had found me attractive and asked me out in the first place?  Of course I want to think that I should have never had the surgery, I want to regret it, but the surgery has given me one less thing to obsess about with my body image.  It just seems impossible to appreciate any of my attributes when I am bombarded with messages that my unique characteristics are “imperfections.”

Every which way you turn society is demanding “perfection” from women in their appearances.  However these demands are nearly impossible to achieve.  I’d like to share some facts about women and body image that I find disconcerting:

  • The average American model is 5’11” and 117lbs.  However, the average American woman is 5’4” and 140 lbs. 
  •  The “ideal” woman that is portrayed by models is 20% underweight.  A study in 1995 showed that 70% of women who looked at models in a magazine for three minutes felt guilty, ashamed and depressed.
  • 40-50% of American women are trying to lose weight at any given time.
  • 25% of women in college have an eating disorder.
  • Nearly half of women smokers choose to smoke to control their weight.
  • 53% of girls are unhappy with their bodies by age 13; this percentage grows to 78% by age 17.
  • In a sample of high school students, females had a much higher level of dissatisfaction with their bodies.  While males reported receiving information of health and diet from their parents, females reported magazines as their primary source.
  • Barbie, as in the Barbie Doll, is 5′9” tall and 110 lbs.  In real life this weight and height would measure a BMI of 16.24 and severely underweight. Her proportions, 39” bust, 18” waist, 33” thighs and a size 3 shoe, would cause her to walk on all fours; it would be impossible to walk upright.
  • In 2007, women had nearly 10.6 million cosmetic procedures; that’s 91% of the total 11.7 million cosmetic surgical and nonsurgical procedures were performed in the United States.  (See  http://momgrind.com/2009/01/28/women-body-image/)

Every day when I look in the mirror I see the small scar on my nose and I am reminded of how I have betrayed my own beliefs, I feel shame and guilt, like I am not a true feminist.  I feel that I have participated in this ongoing abuse of the woman’s self image.  I want to want my nose back and appreciate my “god given” attributes.  However, do I regret the nose job?  Would I go back and change things if I could?  Nope.