Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Reshaping Body Criticism

Bodysnarking, a new term coined by Hannah Seligson, brilliant author of New Girl on the Job, is ugly. Thanks to the proliferation of gossip rags, tabloids, and blogs like Gawker and Perez Hilton (who I refuse to link to), everywhere we are becoming hyper-critical of the shapes around us. What was once a problem of women comparing themselves to magazine images silently in their bedrooms has escalated to online chatter of trash talk on Facebook and Flickr. Bodysnarking is the term to describe the everyday sarcasm-laced jibes directed at women everywhere, from the cafeteria to the corner office.

As Emily Gould described in her recent Times article, she began snarking at people in her blogging, and in turn, people began to snark her back, until she couldn't leave the house for fear of criticism of her everyday looks and clothing. It's everywhere, and it's contagious. A few weeks ago, I was in the locker room at the gym, flexing my biceps in the mirror to see my fitness progress, and I saw a woman walk by with a pear shaped figure. Before I knew it, my mind began to pick apart her appearance in her bathing suit as she headed for the whirlpool. When I think about that, I'm appalled at myself. How can I be an advocate for women, if I'm part of the problem?

And it's not just those quiet remarks we make to ourselves about passers-by and how we would wouldn't be caught dead with jeans that tight. It's the consumption of media that turns people of all walks of life into Exhibit A in Appearance Court. I used to enjoy reading Perez Hilton, scanning his ridiculous scribbled lines over celeb faces over breakfast in the morning. And one day, I realized that by visiting the site, I was adding to his traffic, producing more ad revenue and fame for him, which in turn, only pushes him (and bloggers like him) to continue to pick apart the appearances of women on a minute level. I stopped reading his site over a year ago, because I resolved not to be part of the viciousness.

The mean comments I had in mind for the woman at the gym were a wake up call. Instead of snarking, I've given myself a challenge: if I find myself in a hyper-critical mode, I make myself find something good about the woman I'm picturing. Instead of thinking of the girl in the too-short skirt as tacky, I'll admire her straight posture. Instead of remarking on a woman's weight, I'll think of how great her hair looks.

It's hard to adjust one's thinking when one is constantly bombarded with images on television, the Internet, and even the magazines in the supermarket checkout line of women who are being picked apart for failing to be completely flawless. A lot of emphasis today is put on accepting ourselves as beautiful no matter what we look like. We should be placing equal emphasis on accepting and appreciating those around us.

Via the Women's Dish

3 responses:

Anonymous said...

I just came across a link to your blog in an article from the Brazen Careerist.

This kind of appearance and character bashing is upsetting to me, but at times passing judgement is almost reflexive--Granted, I don't say these things out loud. Still, my thoughts leave me feeling guilty, too.

At the same time--in your opinion--do you think the kind of acceptance you describe can be dangerous? By encouraging people to accept themselves for how they are & by accepting others, are we giving self-improvement a negative connotation? Are we saying it's okay to have an unhealthy lifestyle and be obese? How do we find balance between accepting people for who they are and still encourage them to be better?

KEHutchinson said...

Id girl--Thank you for pointing this out. Yes, there are people out there who are unhealthy weights, but for a wide variety of reasons. I think a lot of people look at overweight people with a sense that they are large because they can't control their eating habits. This isn't true in a lot of cases. People can gain weight from thyroid problems, quitting smoking, stress, limited mobility due to any number of conditions...

I've mentioned before that in the past two years I put on 30 pounds, and I was pretty upset about it, until I realized that I had stopped being super skinny (size 0-2) and become normal sized (6-8).

I don't think negativity is the best way to help people who could use improving their weight; I think most people are hard enough on themselves.

But primarily what I was speaking to in the post was the fact that we pick apart even normal or good looking people, and that needs to stop. There's a site somewhere I discovered people making fun of my blog photo, and you know what? I think it's a great photo. But it's easy for someone else to look at the same photo and get off saying my nose is too big, or my eyes look vapid, etc.

Anonymous said...

Part of the problem is that the typical American lifestyle makes it very easy to have a less-than-ideal body. It's very easy to be not even close to ideal. You have to be very disciplined if you want to avoid the pitfalls of excessive calories and insufficient physical activity. This could be why those who do take themselves seriously find it easy to criticize those who think less about their physical health. It makes them feel superior. And I'm just as guilty of snarking as anyone else.

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