Emphasizing the Value of Being a Woman, Not Just a Body (For a Week, At Least)

By Melissa Anacker '12, Contributing Writer

“Fat Talk Free Week” is about more than addressing “Fat Talk.” It’s also about how women devalue themselves based on their physical bodies. The idea that our bodies are not good enough as they are is problematic, and the issue is about so much more than words.

Beauty standards are everywhere in the media. Billboards, T-shirts, magazines, TV shows, blogs, porn and the internet in general. We don’t even notice their messages they send because they are so permeated in our everyday life. Even if we do notice these damaging messages we may not think there is much that we can do about them. All we can do, we might think, is try our hardest to stay thin, fit and pretty.

We are told subtly—or not so subtly—that we need to look a certain way to attract boys. The messages even extend to tell us how to look to attract other girls, and how to get our friends to keep liking us.

Amid all of this focus on our image, we are told it is a turn-off for us to be so self conscious (see “What Turns Men Off,” Cosmopolitan’s latest article on sex appeal). In short, we are made self conscious of our own self consciousness...all in order to fit into guys’ sexual ideals! The media constantly makes us feel like we’re falling short. And piggybacking on these self- esteem destroying messages is the idea that a woman’s sole purpose in life is to please a man.

At Scripps we may pride ourselves on knowing better, or not wanting to fall into the same trap as those girls who spend their extra time shopping for the right shade of lipstick or trying to shed those few extra pounds. We tell ourselves we’ve escaped this trap by studying a topic we really love, by pursuing an academic life that will lead us to a career we really want.

But do we know better? I spend plenty of time worrying about my hair, or how messed up my acne is, or worrying whether I am thin enough or too thin, even if I don’t say it out loud. Which is why it’s important to make “Fat Talk Free Week” about more than words.

Being “Fat Talk Free” is about reclaiming your body. Last year’s activity of posting a photo on the wall in the field house, listing something you love about yourself or your body, made me smile every time I walked into the field house. I secretly wished they would keep it up all year long, as a reminder that there are so many things to like about my body. Last year’s pictures reminded me to stop obsessing about the little—or “big”—details that upset me every time I look in the mirror.

I was reading articles for my thesis when I stumbled upon a psychology article which studied how women internalize beauty standards. The article, titled “That Swimsuit Becomes Her,” pointed out how women began to judge and view their bodies as objects to be made sexually appealing with the right combination of clothes, makeup, diet and fitness.

“That Swimsuit Becomes Her” was underpinned by a feminist philosophy known as Self-Objectification Theory, which is associated in the study with eating disorders, depres-

sion and sexual health for women. So what is this really about? It’s about every woman’s right for her body to be her own, not a sexual object. It’s about the right for every person to feel good in her (or his, or their) own skin, whether or not they fit into an external standard.

The article raised my consciousness about my own body consciousness and emphasized the most important message we can take from “Fat Talk Free Week:” we need to find new ways to claim our bodies as our own. Your body is unique and individual, your physical manifestation in this world. More important than how we look is how we feel. After all, even if we live up to the media’s beauty standard, does that mean

we win? If we see ourselves as an object and only appreciate ourselves for living up to a sexual attractiveness ideal, are we really any more worthwhile? And if we feel we are, whose standard are we living up to, Cosmopolitan’s or our own?

So yeah, maybe Cosmo has a point. Be self conscious about yourself consciousness. But don’t do it to avoid turning anyone off. Do it, during Fat Talk Free Week at least, to find out how much “fat talk” is really coming from you. Do it to notice how much “fat talk” is coming from outside sources. Notice your self consciousness and eventually you just might notice you’ll be okay ignoring all those “Do’s and Don’ts,” and just be.