Body Image Issues? There’s and App For That

January 23, 2015

We all know that social media and mobile application usage are so prevalent today. I mean there are apps for everything from helping you fall asleep to ones that help you locate the nearest restroom. I can’t even count the number of apps I currently have downloaded to my phone.  It seems like everyone is into technology, which makes it even greater that there are a number of apps on the rise that help teens and young people deal with mental health issues like eating disorders, anxiety, and depression.

I’ve always felt that social media networks and apps are great ways to meet people where they are, especially young people. Nowadays, young people are constantly on their phones, laptops, and other devices, so why not use that to promote health? A recent NPR article discusses various apps such as the free CodeBlue app, which will allow teens to alert members of a designated support network with a text message whenever they feel acutely depressed. DoSomething.org even has a Crisis Text Line which teens can text 24/7 and receive a quick response from an actual trained specialist who can provide secure counseling and referrals. Around 1 in 4 teens have a smartphone and most teens use texting to communicate with others, so I think these apps and help lines are fantastic for providing assistance to people in need any time and any place. It should be noted that apps cannot always be a substitute for in-person mental health support. As the NPR article points out, many people who need mental health care often can’t or won’t seek it because of high costs, stigma with receiving care, and other obstacles. These free apps can hopefully break down some of those barriers.

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These apps have the potential to help people cope with body image issues like low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy, and eating disorders. People often do not think of these issues as mental health concerns but it certainly is. Some people don’t even view mental health as a key part of overall physical health because the connections between mental health and physical health may not always be clear.  However, anxiety and depression, for example, can lead to insomnia, extreme fatigue, and general aches and pains, among a host of other problems. I wonder what kinds of technology will be available in the future to assist those struggling with mental health problems. What do you think about the apps mentioned earlier and others from the article? What disadvantages or challenges, if any, can you imagine could arise from using these apps?

No Body is Perfect

December 3, 2014

I recently came across an article that was published last year about a campaign called “Because Who is Perfect? Get Closer.” A Swiss charity, called Pro Infirmis, which focuses on people with disabilities, created the campaign as a way to break the traditional mold of the mannequins we typically see and to illustrate how every body is beautiful in its own way.

Three men and two women served as model for Pro Infirmis. What is interesting is that their professions ranged from an actor to a blogger and they all had different disabilities. Urs Kolly, for example, is a Paralympics gold medalist who lost his right leg below the knee while serving in the military. My favorite part of this campaign was that measurements of the models were carefully taken to create the mannequins and then the mannequins were dressed and placed into shop windows on the main downtown street in Zurich, Switzerland’s largest city. Check out the video below to get the models’ reactions to seeing their mannequins for the first time and the reactions of people seeing the mannequins in the shop windows. I think it’s heartwarming to say the least.

One moment that resonated with me in the video was when one of the models said, “It is special to see yourself like this when you usually can’t look at yourself in the mirror,” as I could see several of the models touching their mannequins in awe. I do not have a physical disability, and I will be honest in saying that I’ve never thought about how a physical disability could affect someone’s body image or how most mannequins exclude people with disabilities. When I used to think of changes with traditional mannequins, it typically just involved including people of size but this campaign has changed my views. Around 15% of the world’s population lives with a disability. With this information and with this Pro Infirmis campaign, I’m now reflecting on how people with disabilities are excluded in other ways when it comes to traditional beauty standards. What are your thoughts? Has this campaign changed your views, in any way, about the connections between body image and physical disabilities?

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8umFV69fNg&w=260&h=250]

The Gap Between Ideal Beauty Standards and Real Women

October 9, 2015

Great strides have been made in combating the unrealistic image of women in the media through campaigns, such as the DOVE Real Beauty movement, and through individual advocates, such as model Erica Jean Schenk who was the first “plus-sized” model to appear on the cover of Women’s Running.  However, the main image continued to be portrayed to young women through social media is that of tall, skinny, and lanky as being the ideal beauty standard. This creates an unrealistic expectation for many young girls growing up in today’s world and this message is perpetuated by the Miss America Contest, which although advocating for education, intelligence, and community service as desirable attributes continues to judge contestants based on ideal beauty standards and how she looks in an evening gown or a bikini.

In fact, when looking at the BMI of Miss America contestants versus the average American women throughout the decades, there is a large discrepancy between how contestants look and the average women looks. Using information from this study, the educational website PsychGuides.com found that the only decades where the two had similar body types were the 1940s and 1950s, and since then, Miss America contestants have grown thinner and thinner while the average American women has gotten heavier. Read More Here

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This contributes to young women feeling inadequate in terms of how they look and can lead to body image issues and feelings of shame about themselves as a women. It is sad when intelligent, capable, talented, unique young women are unhappy with themselves as a woman because they do not fit this unrealistic beauty standard. Women come in all shapes, sizes, styles, and personalities and this diversity should be embraced. Who wants a world full of robotic “ideal” women?

There is so much more to being a worthy person than your outward appearance and I challenge you to:

BE BOLD, BE BEAUTIFUL, BE YOU

body image

Sexuality and Body Image

October 5, 2015

What comes to mind when you think about your body and how it relates to your sexuality and sexual experiences? I’m willing to bet (depressingly) that quite a few people would relate the two concepts with words such as “embarrassed,” “shame” and “not good enough.” If I’m wrong in using these words to describe your particular narrative, then great, keep doing your thing boo-boo. But unfortunately, this is the reality for a lot of people in a culture where we are conditioned to feel that our bodies are never good enough. Not only are our bodies never good enough, we believe that we must strive to look like the photo shopped people in magazines and print advertising, all of which are portrayed to have a completely unattainable body type.

The problem is, these images are so pervasive that we are made to feel that these body types are actually attainable since they’re literally everywhere. When we see nothing else in popular culture and media other than these ‘perfect’ body types (i.e. thin, toned, usually “curvy in all the ‘right’ places” for female-identified individuals; muscular and tall for male-identified individuals, and not to mention, ‘white’ for all identifies), we think these are the standards of beauty that everyone desires to obtain as well as desires to ‘get with’. When we don’t fit in these body-type categories, we pick ourselves apart and highlight the things that are ‘undesirable’ until there is not a shred of self-love left.

So what effect does this have on your sexuality and sexual experiences? Well, it can completely ruin them for one thing. When you’re worried about how your stomach looks when bending over your partner, you’re not focused on the sensations and pleasure you could be getting from that experience. When you’re worried about what parts of you jiggle when rolling around in bed, you’re not focusing on connecting with your partner. When you’re worried about not having completely shaved legs, pubic area, armpits, or back, you’re not able to focus on how it feels when your partner touches those areas. It goes even further and deeper when we delve into trans folks’ body images, how they navigate their partners’ reaction to them and th10.5 - 1eir bodies and how it relates to their identities. All these issues have a powerful pull over where our minds go when we’re engaged in sexual activity, and usually, that isn’t a good thing.

In the last few years, we have seen a big push in the body positivity movement. People are speaking out about false notions of what is conventionally attractive and desirable. 19 year-old Samm Newman brought national attention and dialogue to social media bias in what they deem ‘appropriate’ on their platforms. Instagram deleted her account after she posted a picture of herself in a bra and boy shorts (pictured below, far left), saying the picture violated their community guidelines about nudity. Samm rightly took to other platforms of social media to point out that her picture was exactly the same, and much tamer than a lot of pictures you usually see on Instagram (examples beside Samm’s picture), and that the deleting of her account was discrimination against fat people who love their bodies the way they are.   10.5 - 2

Samm’s account was quickly reinstated after the attention she received, with Instagram releasing a statement that said the deleting of her account was a “mistake,” when we all know it wasn’t. It is certainly not a mistake that the above pictures were allowed to stay on Instagram (still), and that there are literally millions more like them that don’t seem to violate their policies.

What we’re seeing play out here is media creating our culture’s regulations about who is allowed to be proud of their bodies and who should be ashamed. As a product of our society, sexual confidence is inextricably linked to how we feel about our bodies and how we think our partner(s) view them. So how are people supposed to feel confident in themselves if the world is telling them they have no reason to feel it? How is someone supposed to tune out a lifetime of schema of what a desirable body looks like and begin to love every inch of themselves when we’re constantly being fed these images of unattainable perfection? The first step is simply realizing these perceptions are given to us by outside source, and that there can be a totally10.5 - 3 different view of ourselves that comes from within us.

On a personal note, I can illustrate this point that the outside sources become our inside voices. I did an interesting thing a couple months ago when about 15 girls got together for one of my best friend’s bachelorette parties. I told everyone I was making a rule that whenever someone said something negative about themselves, someone else needed to call it out and correct it or say something positive. It was shocking the amount of times someone called others out, because with a group of 15 girls, the negative comments seemed to ALWAYS be there. If it wasn’t something about how someones arm looked fat in a picture, it was about how their hair looked bad, or their stomach was poking out too much in their dress. A lot of the girls said they hadn’t realized the amount of times a day they say negative things about themselves. It’s ridiculous the lengths that we go to to point out of flaws in ourselves, and the amount of times we criticize and beat ourselves down for things that are completely natural and normal to 99% of the population. So, the take away here is to realize when you think negatively about yourself, try to take active steps to think a different way about it, realizing that outside sources shouldn’t dictate your personal self worth. This takes time and practice. It takes a lot of effort to break down years and years of learning to hate your body. But trust me, when you start accepting and loving your body, your self-image, confidence and sex life will be a lot more fulfilling. So treat yo self to some body positivity!

Science, Technology, and Transsexual Identity

September 6, 2015

Growing up in the 1950s, I remember being fascinated by Christine Jorgensen, who is described today as the first person to become widely known as transgender. So when I first taught LMC’s 3304: Science, Technology, and Gender eight years ago, I chose to look at how scientific discoveries had impacted the human awareness of gender. As I planned the class, I knew I wanted to go beyond Charles Darwin’s binary division into male and female. I was also excited about four recent studies: Sexual Selections: What We Can and Can’t Learn About Sex from Animals by Marlene Zuk; Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation: The Definitive Guide to the Evolutionary Biology of Sex by Olivia Judson; Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex by Alice Domurant Dreger; and Changing Sex: Transsexualism, Technology, and the Idea of Gender by Bernice L. Hausman.  Learning more about the science and technology involved in aligning one’s body with their gender identity, I decided to revisit this icon from my childhood to learn more about the personal reasons an individual might choose this path. In fact, like most cisgender people, I can honestly say that I didn’t “get it.”

While I don’t remember anything lurid about Jorgensen’s transformation – my parents were contemptuous of the tabloid press, so I must have learned about her from mainstream publications such as Time and Life – her obituary In the New York Times reveals her courage facing awkward questions:

Rather than withdraw from public attention, she turned the notoriety to her advantage with a series of lucrative tours on the lecture and nightclub circuit. Her nightclub act featured the theme song, ”I Enjoy Being a Girl.”

”I decided if they wanted to see me, they would have to pay for it,” she said.

The obituary, though, also reveals sadness in her life. In addition to fielding questions of a highly personal nature, she was prevented from marrying a man because her birth certificate identified her as male.

Her obituary doesn’t say anything about the violence that transgender people experience, and nothing I read about Jorgensen indicates that she was ever threatened by violence. Such violence is real and often deadly. I learned about the violence that transgender people face when I read Crossing: A Memoir, in which the economist Deirdre McCloskey tells of her transformation from Donald (the name McCloskey was given at birth and known by for fifty-two years) to Dee (the name she adopts as she is going through hormone replacement, facial reconstruction, electrolysis and sex reassignment surgery), and finally Deirdre, the name she adopted  once she felt she fully transitioned into a woman.. McCloskey angrily addresses the violence that transgender people face:

A sincere by detected attempt to jump the gender border from male to female . . . creates anxiety in men, to be released by laughter if they can handle it or by a length of steel pipe if they can’t. A 1997 survey claimed that 60 percent of crossgendered people had been assaulted. Deirdre knew a gender crosser who had been beaten by four young men outside a bar even in peaceful Iowa City.

McCloskey published her memoir in 1999, sixteen years before Caitlyn Jenner appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair and before transgender characters gained increased visibility in mainstream film and television. . I assumed that things were getting better for people who chose scientific and technological solutions to bring their bodies in accord with their gender identity.

I was surprised to read an Op-Ed piece in the August 22, 2015 New York Times. Written by Jennifer Finney Boylan, a transgender woman who teaches English at Barnard College and is the author of Stuck in the Middle with You: Parenthood in Three Genders, it describes the violence experienced by many transsexual women of color, looks at the deaths of eleven transgender women, and refers to news reports “about the deaths of at least five more trans or gender-nonconforming people.” Boylan ends her editorial by noting that transgender people of privilege have an easier time making the change:

My mother told me that love would prevail, and for me it has, as it often does for people in this country, people who can find themselves insulated from injustice by dint of race or class or education or accident or accident of birth.

For many trans women, though, especially those of color, something other than love prevails: loss. Did their lives matter any less than mine?

At a time when people can use science and technology to change other things about themselves, why is their decision to use that science and technology to live as another gender such a big deal? The hostility that individuals face when they choose to change their gender reveals that the issue has less to do with science and technology, and more to do with our deep humanity, or lack thereof.

-Carol Senf

#NappyHair

August 24, 2015

As I was strolling through the Internet a few months ago, I came across an article entitled “13 People Who Totally Have Nappy Hair”. Fascinated, I clicked on title and redirected to the blog Tea & Breakfast. Not quite understanding what I was witnessing, I continued scrolling until I had reached the 13th person. This person, whose eyes had the customary black square shielding her identity, had long straight blond hair and fair skin and had a hashtag making reference to her “nappy hair”. Obviously, I was missing something, because none of the 13 people featured in this post had nappy hair. Matted, frizzy…perhaps, but nappy…nowhere close. So, why were these women who were non-black with various colors of straight and thin hair, make a term that describes black hair, a negative depiction for them having a bad hair day.

Now, you are probably wondering what type of hair is to be considered nappy hair and why can’t any ole body say they have nappy hair. Well, I will explain it to you as eloquently as Wikipedia and life experience would allow me. So, without further ado, let me paraphrase what my trusted comrade, Wikipedia told me about black hair. The Afro-textured, black hair, is a term used to refer to the natural hair texture of certain populations in Africa, the African diaspora, Australia, and Asia, when this hair has not been altered by hot combs, flat irons, or chemicals such as perming, relaxation, or straightening. The overall effect is such that, despite relatively fewer hair shafts compared to straight, wavy or curly hair, black hair appears and feels denser and is described with adjectives such as “woolly”, “kinky”, “nappy”, or “spiraled”.

This explanation does not correlate with the images I saw in this article and leads me to the thought that throughout history, black women have waged a war with our tresses. We have altered its natural state in order to conform to European standards of beauty and have singled handed, along with our mothers, aunts, cousins, sisters, and friends supported, and continue to support a $500 billion hair care industry. We have lost ourselves and found our pride in loving our natural hair in all of it wooliness, kinkiness, and nappiness. From twists to braids, from blow-outs to hair weaves, black hair is uniquely ours for better or worse, so when I see #nappy hair, I can’t help but to feel “some type of way”.

So, to answer the questions that I posed earlier about what type of hair is considered nappy hair, my answer, none of the hair seen in the images below:

NappyHair1               NappyHair2               nappy hair

And to answer my second question, any ole body can call themselves a tree, but it doesn’t make them a tree, and eventually, I would hope that someone will explain to them what a tree is; and what it means to be a tree. The struggles a tree have to deal with on a daily bases to remain standing even when their leaves aren’t always blowing in the same direction.

I digress. #nappyhair is an interesting phenomena that I hope goes away soon, because although me and Sheila, my hair, don’t always see eye to eye, she is beautiful and uniquely mine. Besides, she nor I appreciate being compared to someone having a bad hair day, especially when we are who we are.

Challenging the Stereotype

August 4, 2015

Know what it takes to be on the cover of a magazine?  All too often, it’s a thin (but curvy) woman or a well-built (and hairless) man.  And don’t forget that they’re probably wildly famous.  Lately, several magazines have challenged this stereotype, and have celebrated diversity and healthy body images to boot.  In recent issues of Women’s Running and ESPN Magazine’s Body Issue, athletes and models who don’t fit the typical mold have been featured on the cover, and have spurred fantastic conversations on health and beauty at every size.

August’s issue of Women’s Running highlights Erica Schenk, runner and model.  Editorial staff were excited for their role in inclusion of all body types.  I love that the editor stated that the only qualification to be on the cover was to be a person who runs.  True, all kinds of bodies run, not just the fit appearing ones.  Schenk states in her cover interview, “Women of all sizes deserve to be praised for good health and have a presence in the media.  Some women believe that since they have curves they can’t run or shouldn’t run. Running is for every body anytime.”  Whatever your chosen activity is, the focus here is to do it!

In similar fashion, ESPN’s Body Issue has Amanda Bingson, Olympic hammer thrower, on one of its 6 covers.  Amanda, like Erica, is an active woman with –gasp– rolls.  In her interview, Bingson embraces her skills and embodies confidence, stating “I’ll be honest, I like everything about my body.  Now I just think, “I’m just going to throw far because I’m confident with myself and I don’t have to worry about what I look like anymore.””  In last year’s Body Issue, Prince Fisher of the Texas Rangers had a similarly great attitude, saying, “You don’t have to look like an Under Armour mannequin to be an athlete.  Just because you’re big doesn’t mean you can’t be an athlete. And just because you work out doesn’t mean you’re going to have a 12-pack.”

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It’s inspiring and comforting to see a variety of people succeed in the activities they love.  And that it’s becoming more of a norm.   How awesome is it that we’re now seeing so many more body shapes positively represented in the media now than we were even just a few years ago?  While there is still body shaming in athletics today (just ask Serena Williams), it’s looking more and more like the publishing world has recognized that customers want to see themselves represented in their magazines and on their covers.  That influence has a ripple effect on many of those who feel they don’t have the right “look” to be active, be heard, or be body confident.  They are now seeing themselves on the covers, seeing themselves as one of the many people who can enjoy being active without needing to look like a fitness model.

What’s our takeaway on this one?  Don’t just accept your body, love it.  Love what it does for you, love what it will do for you.  And as Bingson notes, “Whatever your body type is, just use it.”

Leveling the Playing Field: On Beauty and Sexism at the Women’s World Cup

June 7, 2015

Tuesday, 9th June 2015 marked two historic moments in soccer.

First, 37 year-old Brazilian midfielder Formiga became the oldest player to ever score a goal in the FIFA Women’s World Cup, nudging the ball past Korea Republic’s goalkeeper, Kim Jungmi.

Then, in the 53rd minute, Marta stepped up to take a penalty and scored her 15th World Cup goal, setting a new record for the most goals scored by a player in the tournament’s 24-year history. Marta, a 13-year veteran of the Brazilian soccer team, is an exceptional player who has won the coveted FIFA World Player of the Year award no fewer than 5 times.

Yet the celebrations following Brazil’s record-setting game were short lived. Just days after Marta and Formiga made history, another Brazilian stole the headlines, but this time, it was for all the wrong reasons.

On June 14th, Marco Aurelio Cunha, the coordinator of women’s soccer for the Confederation of Brazilian Football, told Canadian paper The Globe and Mail:

“Now the women are getting more beautiful, putting on make-up. They go in the field in an elegant manner. Women’s football used to copy men’s football. Even the jersey model, it was more masculine. We used to dress the girls as boys. So the team lacked a spirit of elegance, femininity. Now the shorts are a bit shorter, the hair styles are more done up. It’s not a woman dressed as a man.”

The FIFA Women’s World Cup is a month-long display of the very best in women’s soccer around the globe. From breathtaking displays of skill and tactical acumen to edge-of-your seat penalty shootouts, the tournament showcases incredible female athletes who have reached the top of their game, not just by being the most technically gifted, but by overcoming enormous social, cultural, and financial hurdles. Athletes in this tournament have reported being denied access to proper training and preparation, having their team cut so the money could support a failing men’s team, and being banned from playing for being a girl, among other injustices. Cultural attitudes towards female soccer players have created huge barriers to girls and women participating in the sport, stunting its growth from the grassroots level all the way up to the international stage.

It’s encouraging, then, that the scale of the 2015 Women’s World Cup – in terms of attendance at games, viewing figures at home, and media coverage – seems to indicate that women’s soccer is on the up here in the US and many other participating countries.

Yet Cunha’s comments underscore just how far these women still have to go to be taken seriously as athletes. In a tournament where two of his own players break records, Cunha thinks the only aspect of their game worth mentioning is how good they look on the field.

And Cunha isn’t the only one. In 2004, FIFA President Sepp Blatter infamously suggested that one way to raise the profile of the women’s game was to dress the players “in tighter shorts.”

The pressure on players to appear more aesthetically pleasing for the fans is unique to the women’s game, and it underscores a prevailing assumption that female athletes are only worth watching if they have sex appeal. In addition to carrying the weight of representing their country and making their fans proud, female soccer players also face extra scrutiny about their appearance, a burden not placed on their male counterparts. Instead of focusing on players’ many stellar accomplishments on the field, Cunha and Blatter choose to reduce world class athletes to their looks alone, reaffirming the tired and sexist notions that women’s sports are inferior and that audience interest is contingent on the sexual attractiveness of the players.

The Women’s World Cup final between the Japan and the US attracted over 20 million viewers. That’s more than the NBA finals and the Stanley Cup finals. We’ve reached a point where the Women’s World Cup has gone mainstream in the US and in many other countries, yet still the men in charge of FIFA and the national governing bodies would have us believe that fans care more about a player’s beauty than her prowess with a soccer ball.

It’s time for Blatter and Cunha to recognize that the growth of the women’s game is not dependent on how hot a player looks in her kit, it’s dependent on increased funding for youth programs, sustainable salaries for professional players, and robust pipelines for women seeking careers in coaching and development.

-Aby Parsons

From Tomboy to Uber-Femme

June 30, 2015

Before leaving for my Peace Corps service as an English language teacher in the country of Turkmenistan, I was the classic “tomboy” who didn’t take any stock or effort in how I looked. As an undergraduate, I was the girl that wore medical scrubs. Not because I was studying medicine, but because they were comfortable. I never wore make-up and generally made no effort to make myself “pretty” for myself or others. That all changed when I returned home to Atlanta after my 27 months of service.

Turkmenistan is a country in Central Asia (one of the ‘stans). It’s an incredibly interesting place and I encourage you to learn about the government, human rights, and the Pit of Hell. It’s a place where I truly experienced my highest highs and lowest lows in life. It truly is my second home, complete with family, and I can’t wait to return.

One of the most interesting aspects of my experience was because I was reminded every day of being a female, something I had never encountered before. I spent my mid-twenties in Turkmenistan constantly causing surprise that I wasn’t already married. I had to cook for and serve men before eating the leftovers with other women and children. I couldn’t look men in the eye in the street. I had to wear long dresses every day. I didn’t dare show any chest without expecting and accepting the consequences. I couldn’t interact much with my male students without them being mercilessly teased. I wasn’t allowed to sit in the front seat of cars without an epic argument. Everything I did was informed by being female.

When I returned home to Atlanta, I couldn’t buy enough high-heeled shoes. I wore dresses nearly every day, bought good make-up for the first time in my life, and generally wouldn’t leave the house without being completely done up. I had basically changed from “tomboy” to “uber femme.” It was a hard transition and it took months for me to be able to make eye contact with men I didn’t know. My family understood my reservations with men, but thought the original Emily had disappeared when I bought pink clothes!

Ever heard of Judith Butler? She’s a critical theorist who focuses a lot of gender and came up with the idea of gender performativity. Butler is notoriously difficult to read so you can learn more about this theory on Wikipedia. The general idea is that every day we perform our gender. As a cis female, I perform my gender when I wear a pretty dress, apply make-up in the morning, or choose to swing my hips just a bit more when walking.

What caused this dramatic shift from pre-Turkmenistan “tomboy” to post-Turkmenistan “uber femme?” It wasn’t until I took a Queer Theory course during my graduate degree that I had a chance to dissect my experience.

Every day in Turkmenistan, my female-ness was shoved in my face, but I couldn’t perform my gender like I had been taught. I chose not to wear make-up because of the extra unwanted attention it would garner. I would never swing my hips just a bit more because I would get more catcalls than I was already receiving. If I wore something that didn’t cover my chest fully, I knew what the consequences would be. Upon the opportunity to reflect upon my experience, it dawned on me. During my time in Turkmenistan, I was constantly reminded that I was female, but I could never perform it like I had been taught in the U.S. When I came back and regained my U.S. identity, I was able to perform my cis female identity and I did this with gusto!

My pendulum shift of how I performed my gender showed me that while we still have a long way to go in this country, I have the ability to wear pink and high heels and still be a total badass. I can enter a professional meeting wearing a skirt and make-up and be taken seriously. This allowed me to embrace my cis female identity like never before. I was glad to be in a space where I could be both “pretty” and smart.

I’ve been back for six years now and have settled somewhere in the middle between “tomboy” and “uber femme.” I enjoy wearing make-up, but sometimes forget in the morning and couldn’t care less. I like wearing high heels, but only very comfortable ones that won’t hurt my feet too much. I encourage my nieces to wear their pretty pink tutus and kick ass rather than just look pretty. While I don’t tend to wear pink anymore, I’m not judgmental of those who do. We can embrace our female identity and still run the place and that’s pretty great.

I do look forward to the day when females are breaking glass ceilings with their heels and men can then borrow those heels to break their own ceilings and everyone’s happy. I have hope that this time is coming, but will embrace whatever I want to wear in the meantime.

Have you ever had an experience that made you look differently at your assigned gender or your adopted gender?  How often are you reminded of your gender and how much does it affect your everyday life?  How do you perform your assigned or adopted gender every day?

Emily Dolezal, International Student Advisor, Office of International Education

Disclaimer: While I describe a very difficult part of my Peace Corps service, I wouldn

 

#TakeBackTheBeach

Welcome to summer at Georgia Tech, or wherever you might be reading from!

The start of summer brings positive energy, sunshine, and a slightly relaxed (or is that just me?) vibe as we continue through our day to day lives.  For many, summer also means pressure.  I can’t walk through a grocery store without seeing at least a few magazines featuring easy ways to get my body beach or bikini ready.  I get that summer often brings vacation and time outside, but I question the implication that my body wasn’t already beach or bikini ready.  The mindset that there’s a specific way my body should look before I head out for vacation is just another example of how engrained concepts of body image are in our everyday lives.

http://www.refinery29.com/womens-body-image-survey-2015#.laqy10:qHtw

http://www.refinery29.com/womens-body-image-survey-2015#.laqy10:qHtw

I was interested in learning more about this idea of “bikini body” and what it means for those trying to achieve it. I was quickly drawn to a recent article on Refinery29 titled “What Millennial Women REALLY Think About Their Bodies” by Kelly Bourdet.  1000 millennial women were surveyed about feelings and expectations surrounding their bodies.  The information is fascinating.  Of those surveyed, 54% say they are mostly happy with their bodies, while 7% say they are completely satisfied with their bodies.  I found this to be higher than I expected, and a positive step in the direction of self-love! Quickly following, however, is the statistic that 80% of respondents avoid activities because they are self-conscious of their bodies.  The highest reported activity avoided? Going to the beach.  Interestingly, they also asked respondents what things cause the most “body panic” – both vacation and beach season were in the top three.

Most poignant to me were visuals of responses to “How would you describe a ‘bikini body’?” and “How would you describe your body?”  In amongst positive messages of individuals viewing their bodies as perfect or okay, were strongly negative statements that their bodies were fat, average, overweight, or ugly.

The “bikini body” descriptors were, perhaps, not shocking – summer, thin, toned, and wish all made the list.  I was very surprised at the amount of specific body parts mentioned in this portion.  Abs, waist, big boobs, body, and stomach were all highlighted as the things that made a bikini body recognizable.

http://www.refinery29.com/womens-body-image-survey-2015#.laqy10:qHtw

http://www.refinery29.com/womens-body-image-survey-2015#.laqy10:qHtw

We may also assume that just having these isn’t enough, or we’d all be “bikini ready”, but there is a connotation of these body parts and how they should look in order to be prepared for fun in the sand.

The pressure to look a certain way, even for a day at the beach, may seem miniscule, but these kinds of expectations can have a long lasting impact.  It is telling that 80% of women surveyed avoid certain activities because they are self-conscious of how they look, that we need to conceptualize what it means to be ready for summer.  Exploration of the roots of body guilt or shame, the ways in which we assume of each other, and what we accept as the norm are all things is necessary.

Refinery29 continued their conversations with a campaign called “Take Back the Beach” filled with stories of how women looked past the “bikini body” expectation and ways in which you can feel good about yourself on vacation! I won’t say it’s rid of cultural expectation, but it’s a great place to start.

How will you take back the beach, the lake, your vacation this summer? Do you feel pressure to look a certain way in the summer time?

#takebackthebeach

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