16 July 2010

Body Image

I'm a women/gender studies minor. It had to come up eventually.

The topic of body image is a very popular one in the American culture today due to an increased awareness of eating disorders and general body dissatisfaction in women and men alike (though mostly in young white females). By now, we all know how ridiculous the media's "ideal" body is. We've seen the "life size" Barbie dolls that wouldn't be able to stand up on their own. We know about the wonders of Photoshop, and we've seen at least one video of how models are airbrushed to "perfection." We know the reality of teens suffering from anorexia and bulimia; we've seen pictures of the bones protruding from their bodies. And yet we still have this stubborn mental image of a perfect body: the tall, lean woman with perfect skin, long hair, and plump breasts. Not only is this the image of perfection, but it is also the image of beauty.

So what of the girls who don't identify with this image? They aren't tall, they aren't lean, and their skin is far from perfect. They come to see this image of beauty as the only one, and, if they don't look like the image, then they are not beautiful--they may even be ugly.

The biggest problem with this image is the weight of the "perfect" body. Models are almost always incredibly skinny; when was the last time you saw an ad with a fat person--or even a normal size person for that matter-advertising your favorite jeans, cereal, or makeup? Tune into any fashion show and you'll see it: unnaturally skinny women. So, if only tiny women are allowed to model popular--subjectively beautiful--clothing, then how can the rest of us possibly hope to achieve beauty if we weigh more than they do?

Yes, there has been much coverage, and backlash, on the modeling industry. People know about it. But simply knowing does not change this image of beauty that has been ingrained in our minds and in our culture so thoroughly that we can't even imagine a different kind of beauty. Consciously or not, women still compare themselves (and other women) to that image of perfection, as do men. I can't go a day without hearing someone belittle their body, saying "I'm too fat," "I eat too much," or even something like "I hate my body." Many times, I do this to myself. I know how damaging it is to my self-esteem, yet I continue to do it.

So how can we break free from this nasty image of perfection and the damaging self-criticism that comes from it? I can't pretend that I have an answer that would free our women from this media-driven image. Many are trying to change the image of beauty in our society by including a few "curvy" models to the lineup of skinny women. However, these women are scarce--the exception rather than the rule.

On a more personal level, I plan on changing my perspective. I have to stop belittling my body. It's my body, and I've just got to live with it (maybe even learn to love it). I am working out: not only to lose weight but to gain more energy and get stronger. I am trying to eat healthier foods with an understanding that it will help my body function better, which will in turn make me feel better.

I know that there is a long road ahead of me. I cannot change my entire way of thinking overnight. But, with a lot of work and willpower, along with a few inspirational women, I can change the way I think and feel about myself. Am I beautiful? Not yet. But I am trying.

07 July 2010

Not-So-Irrational Fear

On Sunday, July 4, 2010, at 10:40 in the morning, I was attacked outside of my home. I had been at my boyfriend's house, but I stopped in at my apartment before work to pick up a few things. Since I had to be at work at 11, I was in a hurry and wanted to park in the first spot that I saw, which happened to have a boy (about 11 or 12) sitting on a bike in it. I decided that it wouldn't be too much to ask to get the kid to move back up onto the sidewalk, so I pulled up next to the car in front of him, put on my turn signal, and honked my horn  at him. He didn't move, not even to look. The old man on the sidewalk saw me with my turn signal on and motioned to the boy to get out of the street. As the boy was moving, I slowly started to back into the spot, watching the boy carefully.

Once I was safely parked, I locked up the car and got out. As I shut the door behind me, I became aware of a blue car stopped in the middle of the road, facing the other direction. The man in the driver's seat started yelling at me almost as soon as my door shut. "That's my kid," he yelled. "What were you gonna do, just back up into him?" I assured the man that I had no intention of hitting the kid, but he got out of his car and continued yelling at me. Apparently, I was "getting smart" by telling him that the kid was safe, so he decided to put me in my place.

The man grabbed the side of my neck, and in an instant slammed my head against my driver's side window. Momentarily blacking out, I fell to the ground. Shocked and terrified, and already beginning to cry, I started to pick up my keys, sunglasses, and water bottle. However, he was not finished. He continued to yell at me as I picked myself up off the ground. When I got to my porch, crying and ready to call the police, he decided that he wasn't done with me. He yelled about vandalizing my car and then chased after me. Thankfully, I had already gotten the door unlocked. I got inside just in time, slamming the door behind me.

At this point, I was terrified. Crying and shaking all over, I called the police and then my mother. She quickly made a few calls, and my neighbor Tina came over to take care of me until the cop came. My father also called to make sure I was alright, and my boyfriend and future-mother-in-law came to get me. I told the police what I could, but since I was watching the kid so carefully, I couldn't describe the man or the car in much detail. I didn't get the license plate number. All I knew was that I had never seen the man before, so he probably doesn't live in the neighborhood.

Even though I knew that the cops probably wouldn't find anything, I took pictures of what happened. I photographed the bruise above my eye, the scratches on my neck and head, and the scrape on my hand. I took a picture of my car visor, which had been broken. The scratches on my window proved impossible to photograph. If he is ever caught, I have evidence of the attack.

But that can't make me feel safe. Ever since it happened, I have been stiff and sore, unable to move my muscles normally. I fear going out by myself, or even going home. Going out in public also unnerves me; there are so many people around that I feel out of control. Just in Wal Mart, I see many people that look like my attacker, which makes my heart beat faster and sends me into a panic. I can see how people suffer from terrible post traumatic stress disorder and how something like this can change a person's life. I am afraid for my safety and for my life, but I am also afraid that I won't be able to function normally in society. Fear can paralyze a person, sometimes for the rest of their life. I can only hope that this doesn't happen to me.