More Than a Body? Let’s Prove It.

Have you ever noticed this thing that girls do to each other that guys never do? When you see your friends, you may say something like, “You look so cute!” or “Have you lost weight? Looking hot!” or “I love your outfit!” When a friend posts a picture online, girls will always post “Pretty! Look how skinny you are!” or “I cannot get over how beautiful you look!”

Now reverse the scenario.

How often do guys greet each other with “Dude, I love that outfit!” or “Have you lost weight? You look so good!” How often do guys comment on other guys’ photos with “Did you do something new to your hair? Looks awesome!” or “Looking really handsome, bro!” or “I seriously can’t get over how hot you look!”

It’s funny when it’s reversed, right? This happens because we live in a world where girls are taught that they are to be looked at above all else, while boys can be lots of things. We talk to little girls about their pretty dresses. Their toys are sexed-up dolls and dress-up kits. We can’t watch the news without a “fashion police” segment on what lady celebs are wearing and how they look in it. Most diet pills and diet foods are targeted directly at women. Many girls and women are featured on TV, in movies, or magazines purely as props to be ogled. In children’s animated movies, female characters are barely represented and when they are, they are wearing just as little clothing as women in R-rated films. There are almost no movies in theaters right now that feature women in leading roles of any kind, doing anything other than being looked at.

No wonder disordered eating has skyrocketed in recent years, with hospitalizations for little girls with eating disorders up 100 percent in the last decade. And cosmetic surgery increased 446 percent in the last decade, with 92 percent of those voluntary procedures (mostly liposuction and breast enhancement) performed on females – many younger than 18. And self-objectification is leaving even the youngest of girls and the oldest of women with fewer cognitive resources available for mental and physical activities, including mathematics, logical reasoning, spatial skills, and athletic performance.* No wonder women and girls face such immense pain and stunted progress today. If we listen to the profit-driven lies in the world, we are bodies to be looked at, judged, and constantly in need of fixing.

So today, let’s reverse the trend. Here are 8 ways to do it:

Let’s compliment the ladies in our lives for more than their looks.

So often, well-meaning people and organizations trying to help boost girls’ self-esteem will say “You are beautiful just the way you are! You are so beautiful – don’t change a thing,” and expect that that is what we need to hear to gain confidence. But flip the script – when was the last time you heard someone trying to help guys fix their self-worth issues by telling them how handsome they are? It doesn’t happen often, because guys are valued for more than how well they decorate the world. Looks-based compliments don’t get us very far. They reinforce that our looks are super important and they can be easily brushed off as “flattering lighting” or “a good hair day.”

Dig deep next time you want to give a compliment. If you give a looks-based compliment, pair it with a character-based compliment. Don’t skip out on the looks-oriented compliment, but don’t always stop there, either! Say something nice about who they are, what they do, and how much you care about them outside of how they look. Try to make a resolution to compliment girls and women for more than those easy comments on pretty hair, weight loss, clothing, etc.  While those compliments are nice, we can do better. When we minimize other females to just their bodies, we forget to remind them of their beautiful talents, characters, and gifts! We are more than bodies, so let’s make sure to remind each other of that powerful truth. 

Let’s talk to little girls about literally anything besides their pretty dresses.

Ask her what books she is reading, what sports she is playing, what job she wants when she’s older, who her favorite teacher is, what her favorite subject is, who her friends are, what she likes to draw, what she likes to do for fun, who her heroes are, what her favorite joke is, etc. The list is endless! Those conversations will be valuable to her and will help her remember she’s a lot more than just a pretty face – especially when the toys and media marketed her way are trying to incite her insecurities and make her believe “sexy” and “pretty” are her only goals. Check out the awesome organization we’re part of to talk back to media and toy makers about what Brave Girls Want and get involved! 

Let’s stop photoshopping ourselves out of reality.

Today, we see women presented to us all hours of the day in every form of media that are Photoshopped out of realityOver time, many of us come to hold ourselves to that unattainable standard that appears so normal and unquestioned as we physically Photoshop ourselves out of reality with products and procedures. What does our world look like for little girls growing up today?  And how much pain, energy and time will they have to put into physically Photoshopping themselves out of reality? We raise that bar of what “normal” looks like for ourselves, our daughters, and strangers on the street when we take part in our own physical Photoshopping. Here’s an outrageous idea: What would happen if confident, beautiful women decided to forego painful and expensive anti-aging procedures, breast enhancements, all over hair removal or permanent makeup? How could that change the way their daughters and friends perceived  their own “flawed,” lined, real faces? Their own varied-looking and perfectly functional breasts, thighs, and arms? How could simply owning and (treating kindly and speaking nicely about) our so-called “imperfect” bodies affect not only our own lives, but those over whom we have influence? Is it possible to slowly but deliberately change the perception of these “flaws” as something to hide and fix at any cost to something acceptable and embraceable in all their human, womanly real-ness? We say yes.

Let’s stop the endless fat-talk. 

The mother-daughter relationship can be either incredibly helpful or dangerously harmful to a daughter’s body image. We stress the message that we are all more powerful than we realize and our influences matter. If you say something negative about your body or your looks, SHE WILL HEAR. It will negatively affect her view of her own body. When a mother, grandma, sister, friend, or teacher speaks negatively about her own body or the bodies of others, she is teaching those under her influence more than she knows. The lie she reminds others of is this: We are all bodies to be looked at, fixed, and judged. And while we cannot shame or blame anyone for perpetuating that profit-driven lie that surrounds us our whole lives, we know there is a better way. For every girl or woman, please you know you are capable of much more than being looked at. It’s a message that will change your life and allow you to do and be and live in a world that needs you. Once you believe it, you will radiate that truth to those around you. Read this awesome post for more.

Let’s turn away from the stuff that hurts.

Set a goal to cancel out any media choices that tell you lies about what it means to be a female. Walk out of theaters, cancel subscriptions, find a new TV show to love. You’ll thank yourself and you’ll be an amazing example to strangers in the theater, friends on the couch next to you, and media execs with money to lose. Further, start paying attention to the way women are presented in movies – it’ll blow your mind. If they are there as more than just a body to be ogled, the movie will pass the simple Bechdel Test:

1. It has to have at least two [named] women in it

2. Who talk to each other

3. About something besides a man

If that movie doesn’t pass the test, at least talk about it with those you see the movie with. Facebook it. Tweet about it. Speak up. And if you want to re-sensitize yourself to what all the media you are consuming is doing to you? Try a full-on media fast that’ll change your life. Like Naomi Wolf so awesomely put it, “While we cannot directly affect the images [in media], we can drain them of their power. We can turn away from them and look directly at one another. We can lift ourselves and other women out of the myth.”

Let’s flip the script.

Lean on Caitlin Moran’s rule of thumb for whether something is worth getting all worked up about: Are the men worrying about this as well? If they’re not, you can surely bet the reason you’re worried is because a profit-driven industry has been begging you to obsess about that flaw until you spend all your money to fix it. Surgical implants? All-over hair removal? 500-calorie diets? All lady problems. Maybe it’s time to rebel against the system that profits from giving us anxiety over the roots in our hair all the way down to the tips of our toenails. Try this: literally flip the script. When you’re reading a magazine, the news, a book, watching a TV show or movie, etc., imagine what it would look like if the genders were flipped. Would a man pose like that in that ad? Would that journalist describe a male politician in that way? As media consumers, we see SO MUCH sexist, objectifying, limiting stuff every day and it starts to appear normal and natural very quickly. When you flip the script, you begin to be re-sensitized to how media puts women “in their place” as objects to be looked at. And it’s OK to be mad about it! 

Let’s put that body-hating voice in our heads on mute.

Too many girls and women have a constant script of mean thoughts about themselves running through their minds. Recent studies show us that girls who don’t like their bodies become more sedentary over time and pay less attention to having a healthy diet. If you think you’re gross and worthless, why would you take care of yourself? On the flipside of that, research has found that girls who respect their bodies are more likely to be physically active and eat healthy. They are more active and make healthy lifestyle choices way into the future.** Set a goal to stop letting negative things about yourself constantly float through your mind. Start with a day, a week, a month, whatever you can do, and make it a permanent practice!

Let’s remind each other what we’re capable of.

You are capable of much more than being looked at. Do you know who you are? Have you grasped the powerful role you can play in a world so badly in need of your unique talents, wisdom, and light? Are you aware of your unique mission at this point in your life? You’ve got something great to do, that only you can do. And if you are here to be looked at, to appear, to survey yourself, instead of do an inspirational work that only you can do, you are not fulfilling your mission. Cheesy? Yes. True? Oh yes. More true than you know.

Need more help developing body image resilience that can help you overcome your self-consciousness and be more powerful than ever before? Learn how to recognize harmful ideals, redefine beauty and health, and resist what holds you back from happiness, health, and real empowerment with the Beauty Redefined Body Image Program for girls and women 14+. It is an online, anonymous therapeutic tool that can change your life, designed by Lexie & Lindsay Kite, with PhDs in body image and media.

*Fredrickson et al. 1998; Fredrickson & Harrison, 2004; Gapinski, Brownell, & LaFrance, 2003; Harter, 1993; Hebl, King, & Lin, 2004; Nolen-Hoeksema, 1990; Simmons, Rosenberg, & Rosenberg, 1973; Steinberg, 1999; Steingraber, 2007

**Patricia van den Berg & Dianne Neumark-Sztainer. (2007). Journal of Adolescent Health.

Weight, Size and Media Lies: The Numbers Don’t Add Up

We’ve all been duped. After years of TV watching, magazine reading, advertising exposure and media dominating our worlds, too many of us have internalized sneaky media lies that normal, average and regular, healthy women all maintain a weight of about 100-125 and wear between a 00 (yes, that’s a double zero) and a 4. Those are the only numbers we ever hear. Everything else is kept top secret, as if weighing more than 125 at any height is a horrible shame to keep locked inside or to be reserved only for grim “before” stories of extreme body makeovers.

Celebrities tend to keep their weight/size stats on the down-low for the most part, but occasionally we are hit with some numbers — whether written into scripts, divulged in interviews or leaked by stylists. Zoe Saldana weighs 115, as declared in a May 2013 Allure magazine headline. In the movie “500 days of Summer,” the gorgeous sought-after girl next door (Zooey Deschanel as Summer), is described as being of “average” height and “average” weight, which is listed on the screen as 5’5″ and 121 lbs. Jennifer Lopez told Vogue in March 2012 that she is “just a regular woman. I wear a size 6.” In the pilot episode of “30 Rock,” Jack Donaghy (boss man Alec Baldwin) says he could deduce anything about Liz Lemon (employee Tina Fey) from their first meeting. She says, “What? Are you going to guess my weight now?” He replies, “You don’t want me to do that” (in a threatening “you-would-be-ashamed-if-I-said-it-out-loud” manner). Shortly after, he does state her embarrassing weight … and it’s 127.

With the help of for-profit media upheld by advertisers who make billions off unattainable beauty ideals, many of us have come to believe a very distorted picture of what it means to look like (or weigh like or fit into clothes like) a “normal” woman. Along with the idealized images of women’s bodies we see nonstop in all forms of media, the vast majority of the weights or dress sizes we ever hear or see in mainstream media are carefully selected and often distorted. They are generally in reference to models and celebrities ranging from size 00-4 (sometimes 6, and it’s usually treated as a real act of bravery to admit it), and though media makes them sound totally standard and “average” for any woman, we know that they are not representative of many regular, healthy women all over the world who often feel like abnormally large monsters when they compare their own weights or sizes to those declared by celebrities or casually thrown around in TV or movie scripts.

The average model is 5’11” and 117 lbs (which is considered severely underweight, even according to the BMI). That does not mean every person with those stats is unhealthy, but we do know that with the exception of a few, most women would have to go to unhealthy extremes to get anywhere near those measurements. The vast majority of women we see in any form of media are very thin, not to mention digitally altered, softly lit, and styled by an entourage of experts from the roots of her hair to to the tips of her toes. But what about those female celebs who do appear to be of a more normative size and weight than runway models? Their weights and sizes should sound a lot more like the middle/higher end of the spectrum, right? They’ll make us 127-lbs-and-up gals feel less freakish, right?

When It Comes to Size, These Aren’t Such “Little White Lies

If, by chance, the beautiful women we see in popular culture are not very thin, they often publicly profess to being a size or weight that does not seem to be reflective of their actual measurements. Take Kim Kardashian for example. (There’s no need to explain who she is at this point.) When ridiculous backlash against her body size came up in 2011, Kim blogged to her fans that she loved her cellulite and “va va voom” figure and they should embrace their own bodies. Just weeks later, she made sure the world knew that she was a “curvy size 2” and no bigger. But Kim isn’t alone in claiming a size that seems to be much smaller than her actual self. After media controversy swirled around Jennifer Love Hewitt and Jessica Simpson gaining weight in recent years, both women set the record straight by simultaneously claiming they “loved their curves” and were very happy with their “size 2” figures (note: this was before Jessica’s pregnancy and media frenzy over her post-baby weight).

Or take 5′ 9″ singer/actress Jennifer Hudson, who told reporters in 2007 she weighed 140 lbs., after dropping 30 since her American Idol days. She said that in a sea of size 2 celebrities, she enjoys representing the “real women*” out there with her healthy figure. But after signing a contract with Weight Watchers in early 2010, she self-reported to have lost 80 lbs. total, and wears a size 4- 6. If we do the math based on what she has told the press, that means the curvy singer would currently weigh 90 lbs. (170 lbs. during Idol, 140 lbs. in 2007, -50 with Weight Watchers in 2010 = 90 lbs!) Unlikely.

Take a glance at full-length shots of Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jessica Simpson, or Jennifer Hudson, and then grab a pair of size 2 (or 4) jeans. Something tells us these celebs are telling a dangerous not-so-white lie to the girls and women who adore them and who can’t help but compare their own real weights and sizes to these potentially very misleading claims. Blame it on vanity sizing or only wearing extremely stretchy clothing, but either way, publicly claiming to wear a size at the lowest end of the spectrum is significant for every girl or woman who compares that claim to her own clothing tags. 

No wonder our perception of “average” or “healthy” is incredibly skewed toward thinness and unreal perfection. Since we’ll see billions more images of women in media than we will ever see face to face, we must counteract those images with reality. Lexie and I got a glimpse of some refreshing reality freshman year of college when one of our friends (who was pretty thin-looking and very athletic) confidently and casually stated that she weighed 165. We had never heard any girl or woman share their weight that was anywhere over about 135. We never made a big deal of it at the time, but it was so incredibly informative to hear that number — that was higher than we assumed and higher than we had been taught was acceptable for a healthy girl or woman — spoken confidently, with no apologies or shame accompanying it, and from a healthy, active girl.

What does normal look like? What do accurate weights and heights look like? For starters, we recommend looking around you. We can’t let media messages, whether in paid advertising or casually thrown in entertainment media, define “average,” “normal” or “healthy” for you. Numbers can’t do that. Numbers are so unbelievably specific to individuals and not comparable for different heights, body types, ethnicities, ages and lifestyles. Those numbers we do ever hear in media (and often from peers or family) are carefully selected, engineered to drive profits for weight-loss companies, cosmetic procedures and other appearance-related products, and also distorted to sound more like the media ideals. We can’t blame a celebrity (or any girl or woman) for claiming to be a weight or size she might not actually be, because we know very well the pressure women face to fit those ideals and the backlash that accompanies not fitting those ideals. We have a strategy for rejecting these lies, and it begins with sacrificing our reliance on the numbers: weight, BMI, measurements and clothing sizes. They are so beyond arbitrary that it is shocking. Don’t believe me? Then read my research on the BMI. Then read my research on how to measure real health and fitness.

Still tempted to base your health or your worth or the success of your day/week/year on what jeans size you’re wearing? Then go get a pair of jeans at Ann Taylor or Old Navy or Banana Republic and get the same size/style from Forever 21 or Express or Target and see the definition of “arbitrary.” Throw away your scale, or at the very least, hide it so it’s only convenient to get to it every 6 months or so. Never calculate your BMI again, and forget whatever it told you about your health category. Buy whatever clothing size fits you properly and helps you feel comfortable enough to not picture what you look like all day long and self-objectify yourself away from exercising, eating a healthy diet and being successful in every area of life. And please, please, please don’t let your value and worth go up as your size goes down, and vice versa. The numbers we should be focusing on are the number of minutes you spend engaging in physical activity, your heart rate, your blood sugar, your cholesterol and your best friend’s phone number (so you can call her to get her on board with this whole thing).

Along with fighting media lies using our own beautiful realities, let’s institute a policy of honesty — what we might consider the best policy — particularly between mothers and daughters! One of our supporters recently shared with us that she grew up with a very messed-up perception of heights and weights because her mom always lied about how tall she was — exaggerating her height by at least 3″, which left our friend feeling “like a clumsy giant, enormous in comparison to her, and so confused why I felt so very large in comparison,” considering she was only two inches taller than her mom’s self-proclaimed height. For this reason, she says, ” I will never fib to my daughters or anyone else about how tall I am or how much I weigh or any other measurement.” Lots of us have experienced feelings of being dreadfully abnormal when comparing our own measurements to the exaggerated claims of others. We must normalize reality. We must work on taking back beauty every single day.

Moms can do so much good in normalizing real weights and sizes by telling the truth to daughters and sons who might not get to hear other real info about bodies from media or self-conscious friends. That doesn’t mean we all need to go around declaring our dress size or weights — in fact, we would strongly recommend that you do not do anything of the sort. Regular discussion of those numbers is often not necessary or helpful for the well-being of ourselves or others. As women, we are taught to be so fixated on those numbers that they come to define us, and determine our happiness. Have you ever stepped on a scale in the morning only to see a number that was slightly higher (or lower, in some cases) than what you hoped for? Did it tank your mood, lead to discouragement or shame and contribute to unhealthy decision throughout the following day or week? Been there. Skip the scale. Your reflection does not define your worth, and neither does your weight or dress size — no matter how it compares to Kim Kardashian’s claims.

Need more help developing body image resilience that can help you overcome your self-consciousness and be more powerful than ever before? Learn how to recognize harmful ideals, redefine beauty and health, and resist what holds you back from happiness, health, and real empowerment with the Beauty Redefined Body Image Program for girls and women 14+. It is an online, anonymous therapeutic tool that can change your life, designed by Lexie & Lindsay Kite, with PhDs in body image and media.

*ALL women are “real women.” Tall, short, thin, regular, curvy, large, whatever. We hate those ideas that only curvy women are “real.” The only women that are un-real are the ones that have been digitally created using Photoshop.