Bodylove Chapter Two

Below are my thoughts and notes from reading chapter two. Please feel free to leave yours in the comments.

From the book Page My comments
Chapter 2 Survey Questions   17   The highlighter marks are from the previous owner. I’m really sorry that she doesn’t like her hips and thighs. I also thought it was interesting that she felt constantly self-conscious about her appearance and often checked the mirror, but thought that physical attractiveness was only somewhat important in people’s daily lives, and strongly disagreed with the statement that “good-looking people are usually happier and more successful.” I hope reading this book helped her adjust her emotions and behavior to be more in tune with her beliefs and values.
 
mirrors suck! 18 My whole life I’ve struggled to look at myself in mirrors — or at photos of myself — without suffering really harsh negative self-judgment. I’ve also suffered the agony and indecision of getting dressed for work. At a certain point a few years ago I realized I was displacing fears and anxieties about so many things onto my appearance, and thus, trying to control things that were outside of my influence — like other people’s opinions — by making sure I looked “perfect.” I’ve done this my whole life. I remember my mother’s helplessness before my temper tantrums as a child when she could not get barrettes to hold my hair into the exact shape I’d determined would be acceptable. A few months ago my morning anxiety was through the roof, for a variety of reasons, and I remembered someone I used to know who suffered the same problem, to the point that she was in danger of losing her job because of the constant tardiness caused by her wardrobe indecisiveness. She decided that she would choose an outfit that was acceptable to her the night before, including all details — jewelry, socks, etc. — and that in the morning, she would put on that exact outfit, with no second-guessing or self-criticism allowed. I started doing that and it did make a dent in my anxiety, and made the morning go much more smoothly.
 
“the most important person minding your body is you.” 19

One helpful strategy I use is to imagine that others are thinking about me in the way and to the degree that I think about them. Sometimes this backfires because, like all of us, I’ve been trained to judge others by their appearance! But usually this serves to remind me that I don’t care very much about how other people look, what they’re wearing, how much they weigh or what they eat, and probably they’re too busy judging their own selves to worry much about me. I also try to remember that other people’s perceptions don’t really affect my life all that much. By this point I have a pretty good idea of my boss’s expectations, and while of course I’d like to have the good opinion of my co-workers and others I encounter through the day, none of them really have the power to impact my life in any enduring negative way. This helps me feel less self-conscious and anxious.

The discussion about distorting the size of body parts reminded me of something I read, I think in Charisse Goodman’s book The Invisible Woman — that large women often tend to have a mental image of themselves as smaller than we actually are. She suggested as a possible explanation the fact that large women almost never see representations of women our size doing the things we do every day, and the women shown doing those things are always thin (and white, and young, and etc.). Goodman suggested that this discrepancy leads to a mismatch between our mental picture of how we look and the reality. I also think the mismatch contributes to the discomfort I mentioned before with looking at mirror or photographic images. I always get this feeling of “I can’t possibly look like that!” I wonder if this happens for women with sex dysphoria too, since women who don’t look stereotypically feminine, and don’t do the feminine beauty rituals, are also seriously underrepresented in the media and sometimes hard to find in life as well.

 
negative effects of poor body image in all areas of life 20

How often the perfect is the enemy of the good, and we are not allowed to appreciate the good that is. A few years back I asked myself whether looking the way I think I should, would have changed anything important about my life? In answering that question I had to face some of my own denial and own up to the fact that my life circumstances are due in some large part to choices that I’ve made, mostly for very good reasons. My work and financial situation reflects a lifelong disidentification with capitalist patriarchal values and definitions of “success,” as well as social prejudice against fat and unfeminine women, as well as the good fortune I had in being able to get a good education. I don’t want the love of people who’ve rejected me because of how I look, and I cherish the affection of the special few who know and appreciate the real me. I really have used appearance as a scapegoat quite a bit, focusing on it because everyone else seems to believe it’s controllable, when so many other things are out of control.

How do your fears and negative judgments about your appearance hurt you? What would you do if you felt and thought differently? How would looking different have changed what matters to you about your life?

 
Understanding the Problem 21

Can’t really say this too many times: “poor body image has very little to do with how you actually look.”

Why do “beautiful women have the same insecurities as anyone else”? Because keeping women insecure about our looks keeps us dependent on male approval and undermines our ability to act in our own best interest! Thanks, patriarchy.

 
Entire discussion of diagrammed relationships between physical attractiveness, body image, and self esteem 22 This is arguably the most important section in the book because it contradicts the relentless mainstream message — including lots of liberal feminist messages — that changing how you look will change how you feel. Data is our friend.
 
Playing the Beauty Game 24 We know beauty when we see it? On the contrary, I think we are trained to see certain human traits as beautiful from a young age, and the consistency of ratings of appearance more likely reflects people’s internalization of cultural beauty standards than their attempts to identify for themselves what aspects of appearance they appreciate, and whether they think attractiveness should be as important as it is in the culture.
 
“girl watching is a national pastime.” 27 For whom?
 
“Psychoanalysts should note that genitals were never mentioned.” 27 She’s referring here to the allegation that women have penis envy. Unfortunately, the pornification of US culture and the ongoing scope creep of patriarchal beauty standards have led to women expressing genital dissatisfaction, both those whose vulvas are not sufficiently porntastic, and those who would indeed like to trade their vulvas for penises and the social freedom and advantages that come with them.
 
“Studies show that…Pretty women date more often and tend to marry earlier than their plainer sisters.” 28 This item rates a genuine “WTF?” from the radical feminist reader, for the unquestioned assumption that dating and marrying males are unqualified goods for women in patriarchy.
 
“if the contents are wrapped well, we assume the contents are also wonderful.” 29

Freedman does not address this, but this attitude has very old roots in the culture I was raised in. Calvinism taught that ugliness, disability, and mental illness were visible proof of sin and, conversely, beauty and good health were evidence of God’s favor. Though modern, mainstream culture would probably disavow these beliefs, they still carry, for example, into moral judgments about fat people being weak, lazy or gluttonous, negative attributes which have also been applied through history to other disadvantaged groups. Chapter 3, “The Dark Roots of American Optimism” in Barbara Ehrenreich’s book Bright-Sided is one of the best and most accessible discussions of the impact of Calvinism on modern US society that I’ve read.

Freedman also points out here that all stereotypes have both positive and negative aspects. I think that what’s important is to explore our own beliefs and seek data. What is the reality? Are pretty people happier or more successful? Is your definition of happiness and success the same as everyone else’s? Is there a cost to being “successful” that you’re not willing to pay, regardless of your appearance?

 
Exercise: Challenging Looksism in Yourself 30 My responses here are based on having made it to middle age with years of exposure to radical feminism and body positivity. I wish I had a record of my responses at the time I initially read this book!

  • Because of my looks I have empathy for people who don’t fit.
  • Pretty women are just like other women; some of them are wonderful, some not so much.
  • I think my body is OK the way it is.
  • I wish my body hurt less.
  • When I look good it’s because my clothes are comfortable and suit my style.
  • Unattractive women don’t exist. There are just women who meet conventional beauty standards more or less well.
 
magazine exercise 32 I went down to Walgreen’s and looked at the February 2017 issue of Essence. I only made it to page 16 before hitting terminal on the disgust meter, but I looked at six full-page ads for women’s beauty products in those 16 pages, containing text like “ageless, radiant glow,” “strong is beautiful” (for detangler), “bold, sexy lashes,” and “younger, youth-activating, smoother, radiant skin.” These ads were all accompanied by photos of extremely young women with light to medium dark skin tones, straight hair, and caucasian features. The single ad targeted at males featured a large photo of a white man with the currently requisite scruffy facial hair, and the only text read “Polo Red: Men’s Fragrance by Ralph Lauren.” I put the magazine down and went home.
 
mirror baseline data 36

My guesses are that I look in the bathroom mirror at home one time per day before leaving the house, the washroom mirror at work 1-2 times per day while washing hands, and the rear view mirror in the car on weekends when I am driving. I don’t own any specialty mirrors and I look for probably 10 seconds at a time.

When I look in the mirror, it’s always from the neck up, and I’m most often checking that my hair looks neat. I’m self-conscious because it is thin. I also sometimes look at the spider veins on my cheeks — sun damage from living in a desert climate and hating sunscreen and hats. I’m mostly checking for a minimal level of social acceptability and I usually see what I expect, which is, yep, that’s how I look, ouch, oh well.

 
cognitive therapy techniques 37 It never ceases to amaze me how two people can react so differently to the same event. I’ve had pretty good success with thought reframing when I’ve made a practice to consciously apply it.
 
“I’ll wear my fabulous African jewelry…” 40 If you don’t have recent African ancestors, maybe rewrite this one? Maybe something like, “I’ll smile ruefully, say, ‘Yeah, it’s a bad hair day!’ and then shift my focus to listening to what my friends have to say.” Bad haircuts happen to me all the time because I am not assertive at Great Clips, but my friends still like me and I still have a job.
 

Bodylove series posts

Introducing the Bodylove Series
Bodylove Chapter 1
Bodylove Chapter 2

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