Years ago I wrote a handout for the Body Image Task Force workshops and events. I later put it on my web ‘zine and found out that various women’s studies classes have linked to it as required reading. I’m glad they are finding it useful and I am happy to share it here.
Body Image Solutions
by Tapati McDaniels
Taking Care of Ourselves
1) Make a list of ten things you would do if you really loved your body. Pick one and start doing it now. As you progress you can choose other things from the list. This is an especially powerful exercise for those women who have been waiting to do nearly everything “until I lose those pounds.”
2) Create a support system of friends who support you in loving the body you have now. You may find that your circle of friends shifts as you seek out people who are supportive and leave behind people who won’t accept your limits on negative body talk or diet propaganda. This requires a commitment to yourself–you realize that you deserve acceptance and won’t settle for less.
3) Surround yourself in your own space with positive images of women in various sizes, colors and shapes. This reminds you that real women represent a delightful variety, not the narrow range shown on TV.
4) Talk back to your TV! Don’t passively let those images sink into your brain, contradict them. This works for sexism of all kinds, racism, etc. Instead of lapsing into a hypnotic state in which you accept everything, consciously reject the ads and the fat jokes.
5) Write letters to networks if something particularly offends you. This can be as simple as a post card, which you have pre-stamped and ready to send so you can act immediately. Past experience has shown that this is highly effective.
6) Write a letter to your body. This may sound silly, but for many women this has been the first time they evey communicated with their body in a way that didn’t involve simply resonding to pain. This also allows you to stop viewing your body as an object that you must control, instead seeing her as a person you are becoming friends with.
7) Insist on informed consent if you do decide to diet or receive plastic surgery. Find out just what the risks are and make a conscious choince. You deserve access to this information and doctors or diet program providers should be willing to give it to you. If they don’t, adsk yourself what they are hiding.
8) Be willing to seek information on your own and continue to attend workshops or events that support you in your effort to take care of yourself. Healing from negative body image is a long process and will require reinforcement and work in many different ways.
9) Set limits with critical people, including relatives. You aren’t stuck with relatives who persist in verbally abusing you–you have the right to limit their access to you, cut it off totally, or build a support system to help you deal with rare visits. You can also insist on having no diet talk in a workplace or other shared environment. You can have supportive friends do role plays with you to practice setting limits.
10) Read books on body image. In particular, Marcia Hutchinson’s book Transforming Body Image is filled with exercises and guided fantasies that have worked well for other women.
11) Be patient with yourself and realize that healing your relationship with your body takes time. Don’t see this as one more thing you must do perfectly.
Challenging the Standards:
1) Commit yourself to changing the narrow standards so every woman can feel good about her body. When we fight for something, we value it more, so this also has an immediate impact on our self esteem.
2) Promote legislation that insures our access to quality health care and informed consent, as well as quality control or licensing for people who sell diets or other weight loss methods.
3) Build alliances with others who are oppressed, and be a good ally yourself by challenging offensive comments or jokes.
4) Join in political action, pickets, boycotts, etc., that fight the hold of the diet industry, media and others who continue to thrive on our negative body image.
5) Support the addition of height and weight to employment non-discrimination policies.
6) Write! Write letters, essays, novels that challenge the Harlequin stereotype, short stories…we need new images to replace the old, new myths to live by. Those who have the talent, use it!
7) Like the personal changes, political change takes time and patience. Over 100 years ago, women first gained access to higher education. Now we take for granted our right to go to college. Change does happen, but not without lots of time and hard work. Avoid burnout, pick a level of political action that you are comfortable with and can sustain over a long period, rather than short, intense involvement that exhausts you. Set limits with coworkers in any activist group you join, so that you don’t end up carrying the show. If you can stuff envelopes once a month, fine, that’s preferable to two months of overwork followed by years of avoiding any involvement at all. If a lot of people do a little work we will do much better than if a few chronically tired people try to do it all. If you can’t give time, give money (or vice versa).
8) Visualize the society we want to create. It is this vision that will sustain you as you make both personal and political changes.
Imagine a world in which no young woman feels she must diet, or vomit, herself thin. Imagine a world without anorexia. Imagine a world in which no woman ever feels guilty about enjoying food (and every woman has enough food for herself and her family). Imagine a world in which beauty contests are obsolete, and instead scholarship awards are based on intelligence and accomplishment. Imagine a world in which women’s bodies are never compared to each other, but appreciated on their own merits. Imagine a world in which women of all shapes and sizes enjoy movement for its own sake rather than as a weight loss method, and are free to wear bathing suits in public–where they are admired rather than ridiculed. Imagine a world in which starvation replaces eating as a sin. Imagine a world in which you do not rank your body as you enter a room full of women. Imagine stomach stapling being perceived with the same horrified reaction that stories of torture provoke. Someday we shall tell stories to our granddaughters that they will hardly believe, just as we can hardly believe that women couldn’t vote, own property or attend college.
ONCE YOU’VE IMAGINED THIS NEW WORLD, CREATE IT!
A different version of this article is distributed by the Body Image Task Force.