Writing for BuzzFeed: “5 Books to Guide You on Your Body Image Journey”

Hello, my digital cuties!

I wanted to share my most recent publication with you. I wrote an article for BuzzFeed entitled “5 Books to Guide You on Your Body Image Journey.” It’s mostly exactly what it sounds like! But it’s also about why books are so important to me, and how they helped me find my way in life at a very critical juncture. 5 Body Image BooksWriting this article was a test in perseverance. I actually started working on it months ago. Granted, I got a little bit distracted by life for a while. I don’t like that I do that, but sometimes I do. When I came back to working on it, I found myself struggling to move forward. I liked the introduction I had originally written—that stayed mostly intact for the final version—but I got stuck on the descriptions of the books. I found myself delaying writing them, and then when I did write a couple of them, I didn’t feel anymore confident about where the piece was headed.

But I kept showing up, and I finally realized what wasn’t working for me: the book blurbs I had written were kind of boring. I felt so passionate about the books I chose and the authors who wrote them, but that was not coming across on the page. I had written the book descriptions the way I thought I “should”—in second person,  focusing solely on the subject matter of the book. Basically, my own miniaturized version of Amazon summaries. It hadn’t occured to me to do them differently. In part, I was just going off the many other book lists I’ve read. I also wanted to let the books stand on their own, and for readers to get a clear sense of what they’re about, so they could decide if they wanted to read them.

But realizing what wasn’t working for me opened up room for new idea. Since my introduction was so personal, more than usual when I write an article like this—it actually made all the sense in the world to be more personal in the descriptions as well, and share how each book impacted me in the moment they came into my life. Once I figured that out, I suddenly had all this momentum. I was able to finish up the article pretty quickly, and I was proud of how it turned out.

Which is all to say that this experience is a good reminder of what I have learned to be true over the course of my writing career: you just have to keep showing up. When you’re working towards a goal, sometimes progress feels slow, or the solution to a problem might not be immediately apparent. But if you meet that resistance with persistence, you will get where you’re trying to go. I wholeheartedly believe that.

If you’re looking for a new read or interested in becoming more educated on body image and related issues, check out the article. And if you’re moving, climbing, (sometimes) trudging towards a goal, just know that I’m right there with you.

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