Soft Bellies & Hashtags: The Good Side of Social Media

Hello, Internet darlings!

Social media can sometimes be a dark, negative place. Obvious, stated. As easy as it is to scroll down into an Instagram or Twitter hole and not come up for hours, I think we all know that may not always be the best thing for ourselves or our time. Research on the impact of social media on our mental well-being is a growing field, but there’s still so much to be explored as the digital landscape grows and morphs.

But as you can very well tell from the title, I’m not here to get into the negatives. One of the most exciting things about social media, from my perspective, is that creators and activists can share their work without having to depend entirely upon traditional media sources. In particular, I’ve been interested in and excited by the images you can find on social media, which help fill in the diversity gap that still exists in more traditional outlets. Don’t get me wrong—traditional media sources, from advertisements to magazines to television shows, are making improvements. Fenty Beauty made headlines at its launch last year not only because of its celebrity creator, but because it celebrated diversity at every step, from its product range to the accompanying campaign images. But for every big step forward, we still have a loooong way to go. Thankfully, activists and creators are stepping up to the plate via social media. Let me introduce you to a couple of them.

Browsing Megan Jayne Crabbe’s Instagram account, @bodyposipanda, was my first foray into body positivity on social media. Growing up, Megan struggled with an eating disorder. Discovering the body positive community transformed her life, and she started her account to share what she’d learned. She uses her account to not only share quotes, illustrations, and reflections, but to make space for beautiful, loving photos of herself and other women. They are photos that may not find a place (yet!) in raditional media, but that deserve to be seen. (P.S. If after browsing Megan’s account you haven’t got enough, consider reading her fantastic book. I recommend it times one million.)

Another wonderful woman you should know is writer Keah Brown. Just over a year ago, Keah shared a few photos of herself on Twitter (see below!) with the tag #disabledandcute. As she told Teen Vogue, “I started it as a way to say I was proud of the growth that I made in learning to like myself and my body.” The hashtag took off, and other individuals with disabilities shared their own selfies and photos. People with disabilities are given hardly any space in entertainment and other media, and as Keah further explained, when they are, they are often turned into caricatures. With every selfie, #disabledandcute challenges those portrayals. (P.P.S. Keah has an upcoming book entitled The Pretty One, and I can’t wait for it to hit shelves).

At the end of the digital day, social media is what we make of it. If something makes you feel bad about yourself, unfollow! But if you, like me, crave images that display diversity in beauty, they are out there. And they deserve a place in your feed.

xoxo

Marie

“Never Leave Yourself”: Western Media and Body Image in Fiji and San Andrés, Belize

Hello, Internet darlings!

Palm Trees
Photo by Sang Huynh on Unsplash

I apologize for my digital absence in recent months. I have been devoting my writing time to putting together a book proposal (!!!) for a book I would like to write and have published someday. Along the way, I have come across some really interesting research, and I wanted to share what I found with you.

One of the topics I have been investigating is body image. Each person’s body image (how you see yourself and how you feel in and about your body) is influenced by a variety of factors, and each person’s experience with body image is unique. However, media is often cited as having a powerful—and negative—influence on an individual’s body image.

A commonly referenced study, when discussing the negative influence of media on body image, is one that occurred on the island of Fiji. In 1995, television was introduced to the island, and with it came Western television shows, like “Beverly Hills 90210.” Fijian culture had traditionally valued and encouraged hearty appetites and “robust” body shapes.  Dieting was considered to be rare. However, three years after television had been introduced, 69% of the teen girls in the study had reported dieting to lose weight at some point, and 74% reported they felt “too big or fat” at least sometimes. This was perceived to be a major change, and Western television seemed to be part of the cause. You can read more about that research here and here.

My interest in the Fiji research led to to a related study that occurred in San Andrés, Belize. Similar to Fiji, San Andrés newly had an influx of U.S.-made media at the time of the study. What’s more, female beauty was highly valued in the culture; beauty pageants played a central role in the community. However, eating disordered behavior and attitudes were relatively rare. Why was that?

The researcher believed that part of the reasons girls in San Andrés were able to take in the media without being negatively impacted by it was a concept passed down by the older generation of women that in English translates to “Never Leave Yourself.” What that means is you protect and look out for yourself; you do not “leave yourself” by doing something—or letting someone do something to you—that is not good for you. While the concept was likely originally used in regards to unwanted sexual contact, the younger generation of girls had broadened it to include general self-care and protection. The researcher explained that in regards to food and body, “Not leaving—and further caring for—the self required eating when hungry, stopping when full, sleeping when tired, and not over-exerting oneself in exercise . . . These criteria for protecting and caring for the self were notably monitored by internal experience, not external measurements.” Meaning, the girls generally listened to their own bodies regarding what they needed, as opposed to being guided outside sources, such as diet advice or media imagery. In fact, since most girls were so in touch with their bodies’ needs, they tended to find the concept of eating disorders “almost incomprehensible.” You can read more about this research, including direct quotes from the girls, here.

This is not to say that the girls of San Andrés were without any challenges, including in the arena of body image. Unfortunately, at the time of the study there was a developing expectation of thinness among employees in the tourism industry, and its possible that such a standard could have an increasingly negative impact on girls’ attitudes and behaviors regarding their bodies as the industry grows. However, it appears that their guiding philosophy, of never leaving yourself, had generally protected them from the potential negative impact of Western media.

it’s so, so valuable to learn about other cultures, including how people in those cultures handle issues we all deal with. I think we sometimes take for granted that media is going to have a negative impact on the way we feel about our bodies until drastic changes in what is presented to us are made (if they are made). But these girls have shown that there is another possibility, for which I am incredibly grateful.

xoxo

Marie

12 Quotes to Guide You on Your Body Image Journey

We all have bodies. Me, you, that person over there reading that other blog. That much is clear-cut. But for at least some of us, that’s about as straightforward as it gets. Having a body, and living life in said body, can be weirdly complicated.

Kari Shea Flower Reflection.jpg
Photo by Kari Shea

My struggles with having a body have revolved around weight and appearance, or rather, my beliefs about those things. Starting around the time I left elementary school, I became convinced that I needed to be thinner to be popular to be happy. Unsurprisingly, that belief had a negative impact on how I treated and felt about myself, body included.

Thankfully, I now know how very wrong I was, about all of it. But still, living in a world where we’re bombarded with images of women’s bodies and messages about them (often not from the woman herself), it’s hard not to feel, at the very least, a little weird about being in your own living, breathing, changing, 3D body. I am at a place where I want to develop a healthy relationship with mine. Where it no longer feels like a strange, sometimes annoying attachment to my brain, and just . . . . feels good. And like me. At least most of the time.

The best thing I have figured out so far is to simply commit, over and over again, to the exploration of what makes me feel whole, good, and like myself. As part of this process, I decided to seek out (and share with you) wonderful words from wise women on beauty and having a body. Some of these quotes are long and can be referred back to as needed, and some are short, so you can repeat them back to yourself in a moment where you need them. To change the soundtrack, if you will. Hopefully, at least one will resonate with you and help you on your own journey.

“People often say that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder,’ and I say that the most liberating thing about beauty is realizing that you are the beholder. This empowers us to find beauty in places where others have not dared to look, including inside ourselves.” – Salma Hayek

“I am obsessed with becoming a woman comfortable in her skin.” – Sandra Cisneros

“I felt free once I realized I was never going to fit the narrow mold that society wanted me to fit in.”– Ashley Graham

“You’re a human being—you live once and life is wonderful, so eat the damn red velvet cupcake.” – Emma Stone

“Everybody has a part of her body that she doesn’t like, but I’ve stopped complaining about mine because I don’t want to critique nature’s handiwork . . . My job is simply to allow the light to shine out of the masterpiece.” – Alfre Woodard

“I say if I’m beautiful. I say if I’m strong. You will not determine my story. I will.” – Amy Schumer

“Someone recently asked if I had any dieting tips for other teenage girls. Try and reverse that. ‘Do you have any dieting tips for other teenage boys?’ . . . I mean, come on. I don’t diet! I’m thirteen! Nobody my age should be dieting or trying to change themselves because society says so. And seriously, I’m thirteen!” – Rowan Blanchard

“Body acceptance means, as much as possible, approving of and loving your body, despite its ‘imperfections,’ real or perceived. That means accepting that your body is fatter than some others, or thinner than some others, that your eyes are a little crooked, that you have a disability that makes walking difficult, that you have health concerns that you have to deal with — but that all of that doesn’t mean that you need to be ashamed of your body or try to change it. Body acceptance allows for the fact that there is a diversity of bodies in the world, and that there’s no wrong way to have one.” – Golda Poretsky

“I’m not going to sacrifice my mental health to have the perfect body.” – Demi Lovato

“. . . my mother again would say to me, ‘You can’t eat beauty. It doesn’t feed you.’ And these words plagued and bothered me; I didn’t really understand them until finally I realized that beauty was not a thing that I could acquire or consume, it was something that I just had to be. And what my mother meant when she said you can’t eat beauty was that you can’t rely on how you look to sustain you. What does sustain us . . . what is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and for those around you. That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul.” – Lupita Nyong’o

“If I wasn’t five-foot, I wouldn’t be who I am! My size is a huge part of me. You just have to appreciate those kinds of things. So I wasn’t born with long legs—who cares. You just have to embrace it. Being body positive is really important to your overall happiness.”– Sabrina Carpenter

“It’s important with all of the messages that might tell you otherwise that you have that in yourself to say that ‘I am beautiful. I am smart and I’m amazing.’” – Laverne Cox

If you have any favorite quotes—on body image or anything else!—please feel free to share them in the comments below.

xoxo

Marie

In the Media—Refinery29’s 67% Project

Hello lovelies,

I came across something awesome happening in Girl World this week, and I wanted to share it here in case you hadn’t heard about it yet. Refinery29—an awesome women’s website that features everything from cultural commentary to nail-art ideas—started an initiative called “The 67% Project.” The idea behind it is this: 67% of women in the U.S. identify as “plus-size,” wearing a size 14 or up in clothing. However, those same women are only represented in 1-2% of images in the media. Here’s how Refinery29 is addressing this problem through the initiative, in their own words:

“During the launch week, 67% of the bodies you see on our site, in our newsletter, and on our Instagram and Snapchat channels will be plus-size. To do this, we’ve made significant changes within Refinery29 to fully represent the 67% this week, and beyond. For the last six months, we’ve been shooting stock photography and redesigning illustrations to more accurately reflect the women who make up the majority of our country. And we’re partnering with Getty Images to make this collection available to other outlets that wish to join us in closing the representation gap.”

Refinery29.png

A sample from Refinery29’s homepage today, 10/2/16.

Browsing the site this week, I realized that every time I saw a photo of a plus-size woman, I immediately assumed that the article was about either plus-size fashion or body positivity, because often, that’s the only time plus-size women appear in women’s publications or media. However, that wasn’t the case on Refinery29 this week; images of plus-size women appeared alongside a variety of articles, from “3 Health Benefits Of Being Nice” (pictured above)to “31 Days Of Halloween Beauty Inspiration.” Refinery29 is treating these women not as a niche but as the norm—because that’s what they are.

Though the launch week of The 67% Project ends today, I’m excited to see where Refinery29 goes from here. Beauty in the real world is incredibly diverse, and having media that reflects that diversity is good for all of us. I am thankful that Refinery29 has taken this big step in the right direction.

Read more about The 67% Project here.

xoxo

Marie

Facebook Removes “Feeling Fat” as a Status Update Option

You guys may already know this, but about a week ago, Facebook removed “feeling fat” from its status update “feeling” emoticon options.  This was sparked by a Change.org petition written by Catherine Weingarten anFacebook feelingsd the local-global initiative Endangered Bodies.  You can view the full petition (and Facebook’s response) here.

Part of the argument for the change was that such a status update makes fun of people who are overweight or have eating disorders, but the more important part, in my opinion, is that fat is not a feeling.  Because it’s not.  I used to think so, until I read Jess Weiner’s amazing book (which I will reference over and over again on this blog, so get used to it!) Do I Look Fat in This?:  Life Doesn’t Begin Five Pounds from NowThe reality is that “feeling fat” is always a cover-up for another feeling.  Perhaps you’re disappointed in yourself for not working out, so you say “I feel fat.”  Maybe you’re sad that someone you care about or admire rejected you, so you say, “I feel fat.”  The underlying emotions are a bit scarier to reveal, because doing so would make us vulnerable.

I know what it’s like to blame problems or negative emotions on feeling/being fat, uncool, or ugly.  The reality is, however, that when I was blaming my problems on surface-level descriptors, I wasn’t facing the real problem:  I was too insecure to believe I deserved happiness, and therefore, I wasn’t seeking it out.

I’m so glad Facebook removed the “feeling fat” emoticon option, but the more important result of this petition is the conversations it has started.  Fat is not a feeling, nor is it as scary as we make it out to be.  (Believe me, I’ve been all over the spectrum, weight-wise, and there is no direct correlation between thinness and Good Things.)  Personally, I’d love to see Facebook remove “feeling stupid” and “feeling ugly,” because I think they are similarly problematic.  Ultimately, however, I hope we become more comfortable with feelings – and fat – so that we don’t need to rely on superficial, problematic correlations.

What do you think?  I’d love to hear your opinions on the Facebook change as well as the larger issue of fat as a feeling (or not).

xoxo

Marie

HelloGiggles: “The Very Real Problem of ‘Fat Talk'”

Hello, dear readers!

Just wanted to share a recent writing success:  one of my essays, entitled “The Very Real Problem of ‘Fat Talk,'” has been published on one of my absolute favorite websites, HelloGiggles!  I feel SO blessed (the site was cofounded by the incomparable Zooey Deschanel, after all).

The crazy thing is, theHG Fat Talk seed of inspiration for this article came years ago, first from one of the books that I read in high school which inspired me to write – Do I Look Fat in This?: Life Doesn’t Begin 5 Pounds from Now by Jessica Weiner – and then by some observations I made as a freshman on campus (and blogged about in the past!).  Persistence pays off!

As much as “fat” may be a throwaway word in our culture – one glance at the tabloid headlines in the checkout line will tell you as much – it truly does have some serious negative consequences.  But the good thing is, the more we become aware of how we talk about our bodies and those of others, the more we can change our language (and then our perceptions) for the better.

So check out the essay here, and let me know what you think!  Agree, disagree, whatever, I’d love to hear your thoughts on “fat talk” and how it is used in our culture (or not).

xoxo

Marie