This past weekend, I got a haircut. I’m not talking one of those haircuts where you get an inch trimmed off, and it doesn’t look much different than when you entered the salon. I got a hair cut. Now, my hair is six inches lighter, and considering how thick my hair is, I feel so much more freedom! I love making these huge, drastic changes in length and color. I think when I am older and grey, I will be one of the ladies who dyes my hair pastel purple and doesn’t care if anyone gives me funny looks. At least that’s my hope.
As insignificant as it is in the big picture, this haircut really got me thinking about women and body image. About the ideals of what is beautiful, acceptable, and preferable. I have spent a few days thinking about it and doing some reading, and it’s the thought I would like to share with you guys on this fine (but chilly) Thursday.
Where does one begin when talking about body image and self-esteem? I can tell you this: I remember comparing how I looked to how other girls in school looked when I was in either Kindergarten or First grade. I was about 6. I don’t remember anything specific, I just remember noticing that the older girls were way prettier than I thought I was, and noticing that I was taller than a lot of my classmates (a fact that caused a lot of teasing and would be 100% the opposite by the time I graduated high school). From that point on, I don’t think a time has passed that I haven’t compared how I perceive myself to how other women look. It doesn’t help that pre-teens and teenagers can be really cruel with how they tease others, and the things I was teased about still bother me sometimes, even though I am a completely different person now, look totally different, and am far removed from those years. Even when I wish I was a kid again, I would want to skip those cruel years.
By the time I was 18, I definitely felt that I was overweight and had a goal of losing 15 pounds. It didn’t happen, and has only gotten worse in the last 10+ years. The reason I mention this is that I look back on photos of myself in high school, and no, I wasn’t skin and bones, but I was beautiful. I didn’t feel that way at all. And I don’t always feel that way about myself now. I spend more time beating myself up over how I look than I do on finding things I like about myself. It can be debilitating at times.
And I am not alone. In 11 Facts about Body Image, I learned some really sad things. The thing that stuck with me the most is that there was a study that found that 91% of women are unhappy with their bodies. This causes many of them to diet (which can often have its own set of troubles) in order to gain an “ideal” shape. However, this article also noted that only about 5% of women naturally possess the mainstream “ideal” body shape. Women definitely aren’t the only ones affected by this.
One of the podcasts I frequently listen to (and encourage others to listen to as well), is Stuff Mom Never Told You. It is a podcast by two women, in which they discuss all kinds of topics, generally relating to women, but not always. They had a podcast on May 5, 2014 called “The Body Shaming Epidemic”, in which they discuss the issues surrounding shaming people for what their body looks like, both fat and thin. I would say that fat shaming has probably been around a lot longer than thin shaming, but I could be completely wrong about that. It just seems like people who are overweight have been the focus of criticism more often than those who are thin. It causes us to get this idea that there is really only one right body type, and even though that ideal has changed throughout the ages, what is “in” now seems to be the only thing people desire.
This podcast cited a few studies, all of which had some really interesting information, and it actually makes me really sad, and makes me want to work harder to overcome my own issues with my body image. There was a study of children that found that they had a weight bias by the age of 5. So young! I feel like children shouldn’t be concerned with whether a particular body shape is good or bad, but they certainly already had opinions. Those opinions don’t really seem to change as we get older. We view overweight people as less desireable and that they lack control. This causes so many negative thoughts for people who feel that they are overweight. Even if they lose the weight, those feelings don’t go away overnight.
These biases and shaming pit women against each other, instead of allowing ourselves to work together so everyone can be healthy and happy,and supporting each other as we reach our goal of being healthy. As the podcast mentions, it is essentially a way for women to figure out the best way to be objectified, because the goal isn’t to be healthy, no matter what size, the goal is to be the “perfect” size. Generally, those ideals are set by society, and much of it relates to what “men” find attractive. I put men in quotes because my husband thinks I’m beautiful and doesn’t agree with society’s ideals, but apparently there is a group of men out there that are tastemakers when it comes to what size and shape is ideal for women. Most women will never meet these ideals, which leaves them feeling undesirable and defeated.
Feeling defeated isn’t a great place to start on a journey to being healthy. I will admit, I am now beginning to be more interested in how to be healthy than how to be thin, even though if I had three wishes from a genie, one of them would be to be the same weight I was senior year of high school again (but without the baby fat). I have come to terms with the fact that my body shape will never allow me to have a thigh gap, or to be a model. I will always be short and have wide hips.
As I was looking for ideas on how to cut my hair, I was looking for haircuts that would work for my face shape, and it made me really self-conscious of how I look. Now that the cutting is done, I find myself second guessing my choice, because I have nothing to hide my round cheeks and “problem areas” with. I feel more exposed. Even though I get tons of compliments that my new hair suits me, I still can’t get that nagging voice out of my head.
I hope that the more we talk about these issues, the easier it will be to overcome them. My hope is that someday, when I have a daughter, I can teach her to love herself for who she is. I hope she can put being healthy above being ideal.