When “You Look So Skinny!” Does More Harm Than Good

By Lexie Kite, Ph.D.  (Originally posted in Feb. 2014)

POP QUIZ: If you know a girl or woman who has lost weight but you don’t know how or why she did it, what do you do?

A: Compliment, compliment, compliment! The more praise about her fab new bod, the better.

B: Don’t say anything in person, but next time you see her on Instagram or Facebook, throw down a little “You look so skinny!” on a couple pics to let her know you noticed.

C: Talk about anything else besides her looks. How much fun she is. The weather. Her job. Your lunch. That dog walking by. Anything else.

This might feel like a trick question because looks-based compliments are good, right? I mean, we live in a world where the vast majority of girls and women feel terribly about their bodies, so hearing nice things about their looks has to help, right? It turns out that is not always the case. Answers “A” and “B” might actually do more harm than good, and we just got an email from an awesome Beauty Redefined fan that is the perfect case study to help us teach why “C” is the best answer of them all:

“Last year, four months after giving birth, I began focusing on getting healthy, eating right, and exercising. Over the course of the next six months I lost a significant amount of weight and I felt good — better than I had in years and years — so I was happy. Here’s what I was not happy about: the fact that everyone I had ever met all of a sudden felt it was appropriate to comment on my physical appearance. Casual acquaintances felt like it was perfectly reasonable to start asking me about my weight and size. Family members would tell me how good I looked now, and I couldn’t help but feel bad for me from a year ago, who I had loved, but apparently everyone else was thinking could be a lot better. I have never felt so uncomfortable in my own skin in my life. I — a woman who has always felt infinitely more defined by my thoughts and humor than by a number on a scale — suddenly felt very self-conscious about everything. All of this new attention found me wanting to be sure to hide my flabby arms (because losing lots of weight leaves a lot of skin) and saggy boobs (because I’d been either pregnant and/or nursing for the last five years). And no matter how wrong I knew it was I couldn’t help but think to myself, ‘If people think I look good now, they’ll really think I look good if I lose 20 more pounds.’ This sudden (undeserved) praise from others has really wreaked havoc on all of my previously held ideas of positive body image and female empowerment. I have no answers.”

But we have some answers! Let’s start with why it’s so important to STOP talking about each others’ bodies – even in what we assume are nice ways – and then we’ll get to what we can do if we’re falling into a deep pit of appearance obsession that often comes from constant focus on our bodies.

First, you have learned firsthand that it is time to stop body policing. None of us have the responsibility to comment on the look of someone else’s body – not even the “nice” sounding stuff. Not in front of their faces or behind their backs. So often we turn to appearance-based conversation first as a default, and we must reconsider this automatic small talk. This is especially true for girls and women, who grow up hearing from all sides that they are things to be looked at above all else.

Too many females suffer the debilitating consequences of eating disorders, appearance obsession, body anxiety and depression, all in the name of trying to meet unattainable beauty ideals. Did you know hospitalizations for little girls with eating disorders is up 100 percent in the last decade? Help little girls recognize they are more than their bodies by choosing to avoid discussing the look of another woman’s body in media or real life. Did you know cosmetic surgery increased 446 percent in the last decade, with 92 percent of those voluntary procedures (mostly liposuction and breast enhancement) performed on females? Help ease the ever-more-powerful temptation for painful and expensive cosmetic surgery by never talking negatively about the look of another woman’s body in media or in real life. Did you know 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?* Help stop this downward spiral of appearance obsession by changing the conversation from the look of another women’s body in media or real life to anything else. 

We must make sure our dialogue reflects what we know to be true: We are not bodies to be looked at, judged, and constantly in need of fixing. We are capable of so much more than being looked at. We owe it to our sisters to shout that truth from every rooftop.

So friends, if you know someone who has lost weight and they aren’t publicly speaking about how they did it, don’t feel the need to talk about it. Don’t automatically praise them. Don’t publicly comment on their photos with “You look so skinny!” Just don’t.

Because you don’t know if they are working out and eating healthfully or depressed, sick, or suffering with an eating disorder or resorting to other unhealthy extremes to fit an unhealthy ideal. You just don’t know. And too often, those body-policing compliments of “Oh you look so AMAZING!” are exactly the motivation someone needs to continue down an unhealthy pathway of unsafe diet pills or over-exercising or disordered eating. Even just seeing those body-based comments on someone else’s pictures online over and over again can send someone else down that dangerous pathway. Other times, a disease or other illness could be causing your friend to lose weight beyond their control and “Did you lose weight?!” is the exact wrong type of compliment they want at the moment. We can do so much better than the constant body policing.

It’s time to value the women and girls in our lives for more than their looks. Dig deep next time you want to give a compliment. If you give a looks-based compliment, pair it with a character-based compliment. Say something nice about who they are, what they do, and how much you care about them outside of how they look. When we minimize other females to just their bodies, we forget to remind them of their beautiful talents, characters, and gifts. And we can unknowingly be giving them motivation to stay in unhealthy patterns so they keep “qualifying” for looks-based compliments. We are more than bodies, so let’s make sure to remind each other of that powerful truth.

But what if, like our friend’s example, you are at the receiving end of lots of looks-based compliments? What if you’ve lost weight recently and all that body policing about how “much better you look” is keeping you focused on yourself as a body to be looked at above all else? So often, those looks-based compliments just perpetuate the belief that looks are most important in your life. Once you’re riding the high of all those compliments, you have to continuously work harder to impress people in your life to give you more compliments. If they stop complimenting you, you start to feel like you just need to work a little bit harder to earn their praise. What a worthless and selfish cycle to be stuck in! You are so much more than a body to be looked at! (Sick of us telling you that yet?) Here are three surefire strategies to use the moment you feel yourself getting sucked into the worthless pit of looks-based obsession:

Change the Conversation.

Next time the dialogue starts to revolve around your looks and you get uncomfortable, take the opportunity to teach a little lesson in a kind and thoughtful way: “There are lots more interesting things to talk about than my body! Did you know I recently went on vacation?” or “BORING! Let’s talk about you. How is work going?” or throw in some honest vulnerability: “Thanks, but I’m more comfortable talking about lots of other stuff besides my body. How was your weekend?” or “To be totally honest, I have made a resolution to compliment women for stuff other than their looks because I feel like we get stuck talking about shallow stuff like physical appearance way too often!” or tell them you just read an awesome blog post about changing the conversation on looks-based compliments and you’ve vowed to do it (then send them this link, of course!)

Set a fitness goal.

Regardless of what you look like, or what you think you look like, you can feel good about yourself, because you are not your appearance. Your weight, size, and measurements are just numbers. Positive body image is the cornerstone of our work, and it is founded in the life-changing understanding that your body is an instrument to be used and not just an object to be adorned. Prove it to yourself by setting a fitness goal that will absolutely reinforce the truth that your body is powerful and capable and you are not just a decoration for the world to look at. Run a certain distance. Swim 10 laps faster than ever. Do a certain number of crunches, push-ups, pull-ups – any fitness achievement measured in actions. You will get the reward of endorphins released into your body to boost your mood, the empowerment of accomplishing a goal, and the satisfaction of proving you are more than a pretty face. It’ll snap you out of your self-objectifying rut in no time.

Throw away your scale.

Tracy Moore at Jezebel put this so well: “Ask yourself, ‘What exactly is going to happen when I reach magical X pounds?’ Force yourself to imagine the perfect life you think the perfect weight will bring you. What does it look like? You never argue with your husband? That guy you like at work will ask you out? The beauty of working toward real confidence by actually liking yourself is that it doesn’t disappear the moment you gain weight, it is always there, and anyone worthwhile is drawn to you because of that aura, not the fact that you’re at some specific number… Plus, numbers are misleading. There is no magic number for anyone. Paying attention to some perfect goal weight, at which point you imagine yourself to no longer have problems or somehow transcend the issues you faced with 20 more pounds is a complete and utter illusion. And a waste of time. And probably really about something else.

Our fans on Facebook also weighed in with their own experiences of hearing “You’re so skinny!” and it being exactly the wrong thing they needed to hear:

  • When my mom was sick and three months later passed away, I was so stressed out and grief-stricken that I lost about 20 lbs. Everyone at work complimented me and told me to keep doing whatever I was doing because it was really working for me.
  • I had a good friend who miscarried a baby, and a few weeks later a man at church commented on her looking “thinner and better!” and she said, “Yeah, I guess…” and he goes “C’mon, you gotta look on the bright side.” I wanted to punch him in the face.
  • I complimented a regular customer on her weight loss at the store where I worked when I was in my early twenties. She responded that she had cancer. Lesson learned.
  • I got this a lot while in the throes of serious depression. Black circles under my eyes, yet people, strangers even, would announce how “healthy and fit” I’d become! Know your audience or zip it. You may think you’re paying a compliment, but you’re really reminding someone of a bad situation!
  • I had similar feelings post-surgical delivery of my twins where I wasn’t eating nearly enough to be breastfeeding and was home alone with them 10 hours a day. I couldn’t move to get myself food. “What did you do to lose the baby weight?” was a reminder of the support I didn’t have. It was hard to answer positively and politely when the things people say make you feel like crap.
  • I lost about 30 lbs after finding out about my husband’s addiction. Friends kept asking me about my “weight loss secret”. It made me sick.
  • I was working in a restaurant and my parents would come in to eat a lot. My mom was losing a lot of weight and was having trouble eating because of what we later discovered was a faulty esophogeal valve. She went through test after test and after losing about 40 lbs we were worried that it might be stomach cancer. A manager of mine saw my mom one night and commented to me how great she looked (she was skin and bone) and I started to cry and said that the weight loss may be a sign of cancer to which she replied enthusiastically “I wish I could get cancer!!!”
  • I was at my thinnest during a period of intense anxiety and OCD. Not a great way to lose weight.
  • I am naturally a very petite person, but there was a time in my life where I went through some really traumatic experiences and as a result, I lost over 25 pounds. Since I am so small in general, this was awful. My hair was falling out, I was throwing up all the time, and I was so emotionally drained. People kept saying how pretty I looked and a bunch of teenage girls told me they wished they could be as skinny as I was…. Little did they know the physical damage that comes with being that small.
  • When I was in my 20s my mom and I visited one of her friends who had pancreatic cancer. Her chance of survival was not great. The chemo was making her vomit constantly. She pointed out her belt, that her husband had needed to punch new holes because she lost weight, in a “I’m happy about that” way. I reflected on how screwed up our society is to make a dying woman happy about losing weight. In a way that experienced help me to focus more on health and rejecting society’s screwed up focus!
  • A few years ago I lost a baby in the middle of my second trimester. I became depressed and must’ve lost weight, because over the next few months several people commented approvingly on how thin I looked. The irony of being complimented on my thinness during a time when I should have been full and round with the new life growing inside of me was almost too bitter to bear and more than once brought me to tears. I never felt very comfortable commenting on people’s weight before, but this experience really cemented it for me.
  • Yup, I had a mystery illness and lost 12 pounds in two weeks. Everyone thought I looked fantastic!!  Lol.
  • Being complimented when I had lost weight because I was so unhappy and sick that I couldn’t force myself to eat was unsettling. I was asked how I did it. I replied that it wasn’t worth it.
  • I was always confident in my body, raised to value my intelligence and personality over my physical appearance. It wasn’t until I lost 20 pounds following a bad breakup that I began to understand the body insecurities that other girls my age dealt with. Having other girls tell me I ‘looked like a model!’ or that they were ‘omg sooo jealous!’ made me feel like my body before the weight loss was less attractive. I felt this urge to keep the weight off even though I felt awful and was completely unhealthy. It just goes to show how even someone with good self-esteem and body image can be brought down by ‘innocent’ comments.
  • My mum used to point to very overweight people and say “See you aren’t as big as her” and think that was a compliment. I was fit and healthy at the time so all it said was “I see u as fat.” Messed with my body image for years.
  • My father’s wife said “you’re still skinny” each time she saw me. I make a point not to comment on people’s’ appearance. I prefer to say “It’s great to see you”.
  • I received the most compliments when i lost 20 pounds, i was not well and therefore i couldn’t eat. When i started feeling better i slowly started to gain my weight back and exercising and people will criticize me on how i looked compared to when i was “beautiful.”
  • When I was in my early 20’s I was broke, depressed, and starving. I would get complimented, or, worse, I was accused of being anorexic. Thank you so much for bringing attention to this real issue, and making me realize that I was not alone.

If these comments aren’t enough to convince you that body-based comments aren’t helpful, we don’t know what is! Being conscious of our compliments is an important way to SEE MORE in ourselves and other women in our lives, so we all can BE MORE than women fixated on our bodies.


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. 

Stop Cheering for the Objectification of More Women

By Lindsay Kite, PhD, and Lexie Kite, PhD

Simone Biles and Aly Raisman, Olympic gold medalist gymnasts and celebrated role models for young women, are featured in the upcoming 2017 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. This is nothing to cheer about.

This is not progress for women or for Sports Illustrated. Women have always been valued for their bodies – especially very young, attractive, and fit women like Biles and Raisman. It wasn’t progress last year when “plus-sized” (but extremely beautiful, hourglass-shaped, young, white) Ashley Graham was on all fours in a bikini on the cover, and it wasn’t progress when literal supermodel Tyra Banks was their first black cover model pulling down her bikini bottom in 1997. 

As if seeing more and different undressed bodies will reduce this world’s obsession with valuing women as bodies above all else. As if seeing more bodies could ever convince women they are more than bodies.

If you want women to be valued as equals to men, you do not cheer for their objectification — no matter what those women look like. The sexual objectification of people reduces humans to body parts, silences them, turns them into objects to be viewed and consumed, vessels for sexual pleasure, and less than fully human. If you care about women as more than bodies to be ogled, stop pretending like mainstream media allowing more body types to be objectified is progressive. Or empowering. Or healthy. Or body positive. It’s not. Individually and collectively, women’s progress is damaged by being valued as bodies alone.

The sexual objectification of women is at the root of women’s inequality and oppression — whether they choose to participate* or not. Because women are primarily valued for their sexual appeal at the expense of anything else, they are bought and sold to men, silenced, abused, mutilated, murdered, devalued, not believed, not taken seriously, and compelled to keep beauty at the forefront of their thoughts for life. As long as women are sexual objects first, and all of the rest of their humanity is secondary, they will never be on equal footing with men. This quote by author Ambrose Bierce in 1911 is as true today as ever:

“To men, a man is but a mind – who cares what face he carries or what he wears. But a woman’s body is the woman.”

Your reaction to the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is a litmus test for whether you are cheering for women’s empowerment or inadvertently cheering for their general oppression. Are you applauding the devaluation and objectification of women when you think you are applauding women’s progress and empowerment?

Let’s be clear. Anyone who thinks this magazine is doing anything other than objectifying female bodies to provide sexual stimulation for a targeted male audience while making millions for corporations — is kidding themselves*.

  • Women appear on less than 5% of SI’s covers, and the editorial content is similar. There’s no lack of female athletes to cover — those just aren’t the women SI values and they certainly aren’t doing the things SI values women for.
  • Their swimsuit models aren’t posed or displayed to look merely beautiful, or strong, or to show off their swimwear – they are posed and displayed to specifically emphasize their sexual appeal through all the typical poses found in Hustler or Penthouse, just like every other men’s magazine that features women. (See the video of Biles and Raisman’s photo shoot here for proof, at your own risk.)

People celebrate and cheer for women to be featured in the Swimsuit Issue as if they are being honored for their athletic accomplishments or any other achievements, and the magazine is doing a great service to humanity. PLEASE. The “honor” here is simply that this magazine has decided these new bodies will sell issues and subscriptions and get views on their videos and websites. All the while, women are doing the Swimsuit Issue’s unpaid PR and advertising work for them. Literally. Go look at the comments and posts about this worldwide trending topic of Aly Raisman and Simone Biles in the Swimsuit Issue, with the camera tilting up and down their bodies in cut-out, sheer bikinis while they lay splayed on the ground or with one leg over their heads. (Gymnasts are often fighting the sexualization of their sport, and this SI feature won’t make it any easier for them). Online, you’ll see cheers and praise from women of all walks of life congratulating SI for so graciously including these muscular young women among their ranks this year. To be sure, we don’t blame Aly Raisman or Simone Biles for their participation in the Swimsuit Issue. We wish they wouldn’t do it, but we recognize the huge rewards our culture gives women who buy into objectification as if it is a great honor to be chosen for a magazine like this. They are paid handsomely, fawned over, given huge publicity, and validated with likes, comments, followers and new fans in men and women alike.

A men’s sports magazine allowing new female body types in its sexy swimsuit issue is NOT a sign of progress for women. Do NOT let the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue be your barometer for women’s advancement. 

As if seeing more and different undressed bodies will reduce this world’s obsession with valuing women as bodies above all else. As if seeing more bodies could ever convince women they are more than bodies.

We will always continue to advocate for more diverse representations of all women in mainstream media, but we’ll know progress is happening when those same women aren’t required to take their clothes off in order to be included. We need regular roles and representation for women of all shapes, sizes, colors and ability levels that do not revolve around what they look like. Seeing more women’s bodies undressed in media will not improve the status of women, regardless of what those women look like. This holds true for mainstream media like SI as well as social media run by regular individuals.

If you are applauding seeing more types of women’s bodies undressed in mainstream media

AND/OR

If you are an activist posting body-centric photos of yourself online

By Michelle Christensen for Beauty Redefined

…we know you are likely doing that for the purpose of promoting body acceptance and freedom from body shame. We also know that the internet is now absolutely flooded with the most diverse array of body photos you could ever imagine. Sharing photos of your particular body online, regardless of how you might perceive your “flaws,” will not move this work forward in a meaningful way. We firmly believe that part of the work is done. Consider that as the work of the first generation of body positive activists. They diversified the representation of women’s bodies online to help girls and women see that their bodies are OK even if they don’t look like the ones we’ve always seen in media. But it can’t end there. Now we must move on to the next generation of promoting positive body image. The second generation must move beyond the now-stagnant place of body photos with long captions about how those bodies are beautiful and worthy. Of course they are. But women are more than bodies, and we must back that up with the ways we choose to represent and value ourselves and all women, online or otherwise. Our objectifying culture silences women by putting the focus on their bodies at the expense of everything else about them.

Don’t be silenced. 

We have to use our voices, our words, our talents, our creativity, and our unique skills — not just the appearance of our bodies — to be successful in teaching and encouraging others to feel good about themselves. If you are a scholar, activist, artist, or otherwise invested in promoting women’s empowerment, you already come into this work with a set of skills and viewpoints that can make your contributions impactful. We can’t and won’t tell you what to do or how to do it. We simply want you to consider this framework for determining whether or not something you are doing or something in mainstream media is promoting positive body image and empowerment, or if it is simply perpetuating the same old focus on women as bodies. That critical framework is summed up in the Beauty Redefined mantra: Women are more than bodies. See more. Be more.

Start with this criteria when evaluating a message created for the purpose of promoting positive body image and empowerment:

  • Self-objectification, or constant fixation on appearance (whether you like your appearance or hate it), is stifling the potential of too many girls and women by sapping their mental and physical energy and their self-esteem. Ask yourself: Is this message inviting people to turn their focus toward their own or others’ appearance? If so, how could it be modified to take the focus off of appearance and turn it toward other aspects of a woman’s humanity?
  • Having positive body image isn’t believing your body *looks* good, it is believing your body *is* good, regardless of how it looks. Ask yourself: Is this message perpetuating the idea that positive body image means just feeling good about the way your body looks? How could it be modified to encompass feeling positively about yourself and your body overall, not just what you look like? How could this message promote the idea of our bodies as instruments for our use, rather than ornaments to be looked at?
  • Often, female “empowerment” is co-opted and re-appropriated by people and companies that have their own best interests in mind and not women’s. Is the supposedly “empowering” effect of a woman buying into this message (for example, by doing/buying this thing) solely related to her appearance or sex appeal? Who, other than the women themselves, might be receiving any benefits from women believing this message is empowering? Is this message promoting “empowerment” in the same or similar ways people who hate women (but love women’s bodies) would want you to view “empowerment?” Would a person who thinks women are garbage also want women to do this thing being portrayed as “empowering?”

The progress and power of women hinges on our ability to be discerning about what constitutes empowerment, as opposed to what maintains the body-centric status quo. The same status quo where women are bought and sold to men, abused, mutilated, murdered, silenced, devalued, not believed, not taken seriously, and compelled to keep beauty at the forefront of their thoughts. It is up to each of us to learn and recognize the difference between faux empowerment that maintains our body fixation, and true empowerment that is self-determined, unable to be taken away by someone else, lasting, fulfilling, elevates our voices and contributions to the world, builds our confidence in our abilities and innate worth, and encourages us to see more in ourselves and others in order to be more.

*Many people will say women are a portion of the audience for the Swimsuit Issue as a justification for why this outlet isn’t sexist or harmful. Nope. Unfortunately, women are often complicit in our own oppression and are greatly rewarded by this culture for doing so (rewards being: “cool girl” status, money, fame, likes, followers, etc., for playing by the rules of objectification). Lots of people will say that since these women chose to be objectified, that means it IS empowering for them. This is the classic argument of “choice feminism’ — where some people say that *any* choice a woman makes is implicitly feminist and/or acceptable and/or empowering because SHE made that choice. But that argument ignores the system that has oppressed women for centuries, teaching women they exist to be looked at and to serve men, and guess what? Those same “choices” are now being branded as empowering because women choose it “themselves” — like posing with your clothes off for a men’s magazine, or prostitution (not to conflate the two), or literally anything else that upholds male supremacy and rewards the male gaze. We strongly disagree with this perspective because we know sexism is systemic, and solutions have to be systemic too. See more on this at Feminist Current if you’re interested in a deeper analysis of this argument.


 

Lindsay and Lexie Kite, PhDs, are co-directors of the Beauty Redefined foundation, founded in 2009, and identical twins with doctorates in the study of body image resilience. They travel the US speaking at universities, high schools, and conferences about how to identify objectifying ideals and overcome them to get to a more powerful, healthy place. They also host an online course to promote body image resilience in girls and women ages 14+. Learn more about it here.

 

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Help us #CuttheCarls Because Women are #MoreThanMeat

(This was originally posted in August 2014. We’re republishing as a refresher following Donald Trump’s selection of Carl’s Jr. CEO Andrew Puzder as U.S. Labor Secretary. See Puzder’s very telling quotes about objectification below. See Lindsay’s remarks in the Boston Globe on Dec. 10, 2016 about Puzder’s nomination here)

By Lexie Kite, Ph.D., and Lindsay Kite, Ph.D.

SEX SELLS! Right, Carl’s Jr.?

The problem with everyone that uses idealized women’s bodies for their “sex sells” campaigns is that this is the least sexy thing they could possibly be selling. Messages that depict one narrow definition of “hot” and one way to think about, view, and use women — solely as an object for sexual pleasure — are actually damaging sexuality for both sexes by limiting what we perceive as “sexy” and keeping all of us preoccupied with looking “sexy” rather than enjoying sexuality.

Sexual objectification (ex: Carl’s Jr. commercials) is the process of representing or treating a person like an object that exists to serve another’s sexual pleasure. All hours of the day on mainstream TV, Carl’s Jr. among many others sells the common and dangerous lie that women are valuable for how sexy they appear to others. Because women’s sexuality isn’t for themselves, it’s for others’ viewing pleasure, right? Nope. We’ve posted about Victoria’s Secret, SI Swimsuit Issue, and many others, but today it’s time to talk about Carl’s Jr. 

Here’s the thing. Sexually objectifying messages (like CJ’s ads) do 3 things really well:

They teach boys and men that women are passive objects to be looked at and acted upon.*

They teach girls and women they exist to be viewed and they must judge themselves by their sexual desirability to others, rather than in terms of their own health and desires. And with that life-threatening line of thinking comes depression, eating disorders, shame, decreased cognitive functioning, sexual dysfunction and inability to find satisfaction and pleasure in sexual experiences.* Suuuper sexy, right?

They work as a tool used to dehumanize, control, and abuse women. Viewing someone as an object is “almost always the first step toward justifying violence against that person.” It makes it easier to mistreat women when they are seen as objects – not people.*

But Carl’s Jr. doesn’t care about the public health crisis to which they are proud contributors. When women complain about their sexist ads, CJ literally replies with, “You aren’t our target demographic of 18- to 35-year-old men so we don’t care.” They only care about money. “The people we wanted to target were young, hungry guys. …We target hungry guys, and we get young kids that want to be young hungry guys,” says Andrew Puzder, CEO of Carl’s Jr.’s parent company and newly selected Labor Secretary under President-elect Donald Trump. He told Enterprise in May 2015: “I like our ads. I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it’s very American. I used to hear, brands take on the personality of the CEO. And I rarely thought that was true, but I think this one, in this case, it kind of did take on my personality.” Congratulations, Andrew! Your brand of blatant, proud dehumanization of women – equating objectified women’s bodies with the meant he wants “young hungry guys” to consume – is the reason we have to fight for women to be viewed as more than just bodies.

If Carl’s Jr. doesn’t care about women, let’s talk man to man.

Since BR’s co-directors are women (identical twins Lexie and Lindsay Kite), Lexie’s husband Travis has decided to step up to the plate. Travis is a “young, hungry guy” who fits squarely within CJ’s target demographic of 18-35, and he’s taking his appetite elsewhere. Will you? 

 

To my fellow 18- to 35-year-olds:

Why do things have to be the way they are? Why does our demographic have to represent the scuzziest our society has to offer? When advertisers want our attention their first move is to wave some form of sex in our face. Sure that’s a given, but it doesn’t have to be. They keep using sex because we keep taking the bait. Because, sex sells, right? And we hear that phrase a lot, but it’s a little misleading. The advertisers aren’t using sex per se; they’re using women’s bodies. They take women and strip them down (literally and figuratively), removing everything that makes them human beings, and for years we’ve essentially said with our dollars that we were cool with it.

So now we come to Carl’s Jr. They took what all the other advertisers had done, then they went a little further, and then they deep fried it. And it makes me sick. And if it doesn’t make you sick, then you should probably turn off your internet machine, think really hard about how numb you are to stuff that is doing a lot of harm, and just have a conversation with a real woman. And just maybe think for one second about what it means for women to turn on the TV and see basically every woman stripped down to sell you things. Things as stupid as hamburgers. Don’t you see it!? Women are more than objects!

Sure, Carl’s Jr. isn’t the only one out there pulling this sort of crap, but why not start by pushing back against a company run by guys like Andrew Puzder who are brash enough to combine women and meat and feed it to us like we’re animals. Let’s stop buying their hamburgers. You can stop until they change their campaign or you can stop for life (I’ll probably #cutthecarls for life because I think they’re a bunch of jerks). We never should have let it get this far. Maybe, like me, you’ve cared about women and how they feel about this sort of thing all your life, but have mostly been on the sidelines. Well it’s time to step up to the plate, son. Let’s “man up” (to borrow their marketing slogan) and close down some Carl’s Jr.’s. And don’t stop there. There’s a lot of this business of treating women like they’re something less than human beings. Talk to any woman and she’ll tell you about it. This is about a lot more than not eating hamburgers. This is about showing the women you care about (and everyone else) that you won’t put up with this demeaning crap. You ain’t gotta buy it. If you don’t want to help then … whatever. You and the guy who lives in his mom’s basement can go get some soggy burgers and talk about Transformers 5 to your heart’s content.**

Here’s how you can join us:

  • Share this post with Travis’s photo, or your own similar photo, asking others (especially 18- to 35-year-old men) to #cutthecarls.
  • Take to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and all of social media to talk back to Carl’s Jr. and tell them you’re taking your appetite elsewhere. Go nuts with the hashtags #cutthecarls and #morethanmeat.
  • Check out what others are doing in this same fight! As we were writing up this campaign, a guy named Ryan Hawks posted his own plea to talk back to CJ, and we jumped on his #cutthecarls hashtag to keep the momentum going!
  • Most of all, full-on boycott Carl’s Jr. Not even on a road trip when it’s the only restaurant for miles. Vote with your dollars.

Check out part of our CNBC interview from September 2014 here(Of course they featured a highly objectifying Carl’s Jr. ad for much of the segment, so be aware of that imagery. Feel free to listen, not watch.) Read Lindsay’s remarks in the Boston Globe on Dec. 10, 2016 about the Puzder nomination here

Need 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.

*We won’t make you read our whole Ph.D. dissertations (Kite, 2013 & Kite, 2013), so we’ll direct you to this awesome report from the American Psychological Association that rounds up huge amounts of research on objectification and its effects on society here.

**We decided to leave Travis’s words unedited, though his last sentence is a departure from our regular tone. No offense to anti-objectification basement dwellers was intended.

Feel free to share the image below:

Your Body is Not a Before or an After

“Before and after” body transformation photos used to be relegated to late-night infomercials or old magazine fad diet ads, but now you can’t click on IG or FB without seeing the dramatic comparison pics from your old friend selling those shakes and skinny wraps or those fitness buffs showing you that you can get a “bikini body” too!

Though it’s tempting to scroll through these dramatic and persuasive images while longing for the days when our bodies will look like those “afters” with thousands of likes and perfectly happy lives, we want to add a word of caution. Your body is not a “before” or an “after,” and neither is that woman’s changing body being shared online. You’re on a journey of a million befores and afters and a snapshot just can’t capture that beautiful reality. Sometimes those simplified, glorified comparison images actually distract people from positive health choices and experiences by turning the focus to appearance at the expense of fitness.

Let me be clear: lots of individuals post occasional transformation photos without selling any too-good-to-be-true products or being overly preoccupied with looks as opposed to fitness. This post isn’t about that. Lots of people work hard to change their lifestyles and get stronger and healthier, and simply want to share their results and what worked for them when those results show up physically. We would never discourage fitness goals or sharing fitness successes. At the same time, we also must be aware of our culture’s tendency to conflate “fitness” with “ideal body shape and size,” which ideals have changed over time and will continue to change constantly based on what makes money. (For one clear example, a protruding, rounded behind was nowhere to be seen in fitness media before just the last few years, and now it is inescapable.)

This post also is not about the young women posting before and after photos that subvert the standard idea of fat/sad-to-thin/happy, and instead show themselves at the height of an eating disorder “before” and (hopefully) in a healthier mental and physical state “after.”

Here’s what this post is about:
Too many salespeople and companies use before and after photos to package hope and sell it in the form of weight loss products, plans and services that may or may not aid anyone on their journey to health. (See this great post for more on how weight loss and hope for love, success and happiness are often linked for women.)
Too many people use before and after photos to warp health and fitness into the sexy “after” shot that doesn’t tell the whole story of how that photo came to be (too often with Photoshop, filters, great lighting, just the right poses, or even through dangerous starvation and dehydration).
Too many people follow accounts full of incredible before and after photos to work up the motivation to lose weight or get in shape, only to fall short of the appearance milestones and body ideals in those transformation shots they thought they could attain. This very often leads people to give up on their goals altogether and turn to unhealthy ways of coping with that shame.

We know transformation photos are super fun to look at. They give us a momentary thrill by attempting to show off what hard work and dedication to fitness and health look like in a snapshot. In their aspirational way, they give us a temporary high of motivation to improve our fitness, but for many people, “improving fitness” really just means “getting my body to look like hers.” Incredible “after” photos paired with the latest, greatest food/exercise plans often work as fitspo that encourages people to engage in exercise and eating habits that prioritize altering the looks of their bodies above all else. It might sound harmless, but for many people earnestly seeking to feel positively toward their bodies and improve their fitness, it isn’t.

By Michelle Christensen for Beauty Redefined

Our culture’s fixation on defining and advertising fitness through before and after photos serves salespeople and companies very well, but it doesn’t do the rest of us much good in terms of body image or sustained progress toward real health and fitness goals. One of the major reasons why these transformation photos often distract and discourage people from healthy behaviors is that the before and after photo trend reinforces the notion that visible results are the only way to illustrate fitness success. They whisper to us that if we don’t see results like the “after” photos on the screen, we aren’t succeeding at health and fitness. This is an affront to actual health and fitness! Did you know most women give up on exercise routines because they interpret their efforts as failing when they don’t reach the appearance-related milestones they hoped they would? When their cellulite doesn’t leave or their love handles don’t disappear or their abs or thighs don’t tighten up, they give up on working out and eating a healthy, balanced diet. They often turn to unhealthy means of achieving those body goals at any cost, or even turn to a more sedentary lifestyle and binge eating to cope. Both alternatives are the worst.


Pay attention to how you feel when you scroll through “inspirational” images like before and after pics posted by companies online, or when you look through your own transformation photos.
You might run up against Teddy Roosevelt’s hard truth: comparison is the thief of joy. Comparing what you looked like when you were thinner or younger or prettier to your current state rarely induces genuine feelings of joy and gladness. You’re left either wishing you’d have loved yourself when you looked “better” or wondering why you’ve “let yourself go” in one way or another. And the reverse is also true: Comparing what you looked like when you were heavier or less muscular to your current state rarely induces genuine feelings of joy and gladness. Because you will start to wonder how you ever “let yourself go” or you’ll take an inventory of the things you still need to improve to look better, or compare yourself to someone else’s transformation photos and come up short. What if your “after” looks like someone else’s supposedly depressing and unfortunate “before”?! (That happens all the time!) All that comparison leads to feelings of shame and low self-esteem, and we just can’t have any more of that.

Before and after photos also tend to reinforce the assumption that you can document your life based on what your body looks like, but you can’t really illustrate your health, fitness, progress, or happiness just through the appearance of your body. The look of your body really does not always illustrate healthy eating and exercise behaviors in the ways before and after photos glorify and promise – it’s just not the way our bodies work. Many people run marathons, complete triathlons, have healthy, balanced eating habits, and perfect blood pressure, blood sugar, resting heart rate and cardiovascular health — and STILL don’t have a body you would ever see in a fitness magazine or even featured in a typical “after” photo. Alternatively, lots of people go to unhealthy extremes like disordered eating, over-exercising, using unsafe diet pills, steroids, and cosmetic surgery to achieve the look of health and then show up in fitness magazines and appear as “after” bodies in ads and posts with millions of followers. (Ask many former bikini fitness competitors and they’ll tell you the dangerous extremes many resort to.) Let’s not forget that these transformation photos are SO easily manipulated and manipulative! Check out the#30secondtransformation hashtag to see people taking “progress” photos 30 seconds apart to prove how easy it is to pose in ways that appear to reflect major weight loss and muscle tone. Anyone can add easy filters and photo altering apps to create a truly unreal “after.”

Additionally, those “after” photos don’t accurately reflect positive body image, self-esteem, mental well-being or happiness. Some people in transformation photos are much happier in their “after” photos, but many people aren’t any happier or feeling any more positively toward their bodies “after” — especially if their lives now revolve around restriction, deprivation and obsession with food and exercise. As much as we want to believe “before” photos always represent depression and lack of self-control while “after” photos always represent perfect self-control, happiness, desirability, and endless confidence, those are myths. Extremely common, money-making, hope-generating myths.

Take me (Lexie, co-director of Beauty Redefined) for example. At my thinnest, I spent a lot of time working out alone, ate a steady diet of celery and cucumbers, and then randomly binged on Taco Bell in my car when I realized how starving I was or when I didn’t feel like my body looked how I wanted it to. I felt a lot of shame toward my body and felt really bad about the fact that I’d lost weight and still didn’t feel confident and ready to rock a swimsuit with pride. I was also worried that I was unlovable because I didn’t fit the ideals sold to us incessantly as the key to a happy love life. Flash forward to today. I had a baby almost seven months ago, and I weigh more than I have in a while. I’m also the happiest I’ve been in many years. I eat a balanced diet and I walk with my baby and run stairs at Lindsay’s condo (and recently beat my personal record !). I never eat Taco Bell alone in my car out of discouragement. I feel less shame toward my body than I ever felt at my thinnest. I’m in an absolutely awesome relationship with my husband that loves me as much as ever, and I think my body is pretty awesome for surviving my worst fears – pregnancy, childbirth, and lactation!

I am the walking contradiction to what before and after pics often try to claim, and so are you. You are not a before and after photo, whether you love what shows up in the photo or you don’t. Your life and your health are so much more than what any photo could claim to capture. You are on a life-long journey in this one body and your weight gain and weight loss and muscle gain and muscle loss are just that – weight fluctuations and muscle fluctuations. We should all strive to take the best care of our bodies we can, and be mindful of how we feel as we make our individual health choices. The truth that will transform your life is this: your body is an instrument, not an ornament.

When we can get out of our own heads and stop thinking of ourselves and our lives and our progress in terms of how it appears to others or compares to other snapshots in our lives, we can better focus on how we actually feel and what our bodies can actually do. Please believe that it really is possible to reach fitness milestones and accomplish amazing health goals without those feats making a visible (or visible enough) difference in our bodies to show up in an ideal “after” photo. Those self-objectifying thoughts and behaviors that keep us fixated on how our bodies appear actually water down our sacrifices and strengthening experiences to just what we can *see*. When we are really mindful of what health choices mean and feel like in our lives, trying to prove or demonstrate that hard work and dedication with a simple photo of your body is really doing a disservice to what you are actually accomplishing.

What if instead of thinking of ourselves in static, reductive terms of “before” or “after,” we thought of ourselves as in between those two points: during. Any photo you take of yourself right now is just a “during” shot. You are “during” (and enduring) a journey of a million befores and afters. Your body is an instrument to be used for your benefit and experience, not an ornament simply to be admired. Try to shift your thinking by remembering that the instruments and tools we use to create and accomplish things are valuable for much more than what they look like — they’re valuable for what they allow us to *do.* Our bodies should be no different. No matter where you are on your journey in this body, no matter whose “before” or “after” photos your resemble right now, please know that you are worthy of love and worthy of taking good care of your mind and body right now. As we see more than a “before body” or “after body” in ourselves, we can be more.

For a more in-depth look at the ways women’s perceptions of health have been distorted to focus on appearance, as well as exercises and tools to reshape those perceptions and behaviors, check out our 8-Week Body Image Resilience Program

Illustrations commissioned for Beauty Redefined by the fantastic Michelle Christensen.

Are Body Positivity and Fitness Compatible?

If you want to improve your body image, but you have trouble prioritizing regular exercise … join the club!

Lexie and I (BR co-directorsdecided this week to renew our dedication to fitness. Not the “getting a bikini body” or “get your body back” kind of fitness, but the improving strength and capability and “using our bodies as instruments instead of ornaments” kind of fitness. Those are very different — both in terms of motivations, goals, and anticipated results.  We’re re-dedicating ourselves to exercise because sometimes life gets busy and other things get in the way, blah blah blah. You know how that goes. But we know — no matter how busy, lazy, or distracted we get from regular physical activity — it is absolutely key to feeling positively toward our bodies.

So many of us have been trained to see fitness and physical activity as a means for looking thin, sexy and toned, or a punishment for eating “bad” foods. When you’re working on positive body image, it can be tempting to opt out of fitness altogether in order to avoid falling into traps of disordered thinking and weight obsession. However, forgetting about fitness does a HUGE disservice to not only our physical health, but also our body image. Tons of research, including our own, shows one of the best ways to improve your body image is through sports and exercise. Using your body and experiencing your capabilities can help shift you away from a focus on your looks — if you do it right! 

 

Here are our tips for body-positive fitness. Follow the links for more information about each tip!

Rather than forgetting about fitness, try forgetting about fatness. Go into your fitness regimen with no assumptions about what effect exercise will have on your fat, weight, size, cellulite and body proportions. You are not a “before” or an “after.” Consciously work to separate your personal definition of fitness from your feelings about fat. While steeped in research for my PhD dissertation on this very subject, I wrote these two blog posts that go deep into the ways health is very problematically defined and measured within our culture and how it can be more accurately measured and achieved by forgetting about fat to focus on fitness.

Avoid exercising in front of mirrors. This often leads to self-objectification that can decrease stamina. If your gym or workout partners trigger you to focus on the way your body looks while you exercise, change your routine and let your partners know you’re working on getting the focus on how you *feel,* not how you look. Here’s a video of Lexie describing what self-objectification means, what it feels like, and why it is the worst.

Wear clothing you feel comfortable in and aren’t constantly adjusting. Clothing plays an important role in prompting or preventing self-objectifying thoughts. If you’re regularly thinking about covering your exposed stomach or adjusting your shorts that are riding up, your clothes are constantly reminding you to think about what you look like, whether you want to or not. Loose-fitting, reasonably covered, and properly sized clothing can be your best friend during exercise if you tend to worry about what your body looks like while working out.

Skip the scale and stop measuring yourself. Weighing and measuring leads to a focus on external appearance and size and to discouragement when those numbers don’t decrease as much as you hope. Your weight and size don’t tell you all the incredibly positive changes that happen inside your body when you exercise. Medical experts warn against the tendency to focus on thinness rather than actual indicators of health and fitness. In a fantastically-titled paper – “Beneficial effects of exercise: shifting the focus from body weight to other markers of health” – King et al. (2009) conclusively demonstrated that “significant and meaningful health benefits can be achieved even in the presence of lower-than-expected exercise-induced weight loss.” Sounds crazy, right? It goes against anything most media will every tell you about health, but it’s true. Even when you don’t lose as much weight as you think you should (and as money-making media train you to think), you’re still likely gaining some serious health benefits. When people with serious health issues like Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular issues and high blood pressure start a meaningful exercise program, their health problems often disappear or greatly improve – regardless of whether or not they remain overweight or obese. Read more here.

Measure your progress and set fitness goals that have nothing to do with your weight or size. Set goals for achievements by certain dates like “bench X pounds by this date,” “run/walk/swim for X minutes/miles this week,” “get my heart rate up to X for X minutes every day,” etc. Any physical activity goal can be tailored for your abilities, no matter how limited your abilities might be.

Avoid fixating on your looks and comparing yourself to others while you exercise by consciously focusing on how you feel and how your muscles are working. Distract yourself with outside entertainment if necessary, but try to check in regularly on how you feel. This will help you to appreciate your capabilities and monitor your levels of exertion (can I push harder, do I need to rest?). Rather than imagining your body getting smaller, try to imagine your heart, muscles, and immune system getting stronger. Imagine your endurance and stamina increasing. Imagine your body as a powerful instrument for your use, rather than an ornament for others to admire.

Opt for competitive or non-aesthetically focused activities. Sports like soccer, basketball, tennis, lacrosse, etc., are awesome ways to focus on a goal and get outside of your head. Getting into what scholars call a “flow state” is one of the most empowering ways to experience the capabilities of your body without thinking about your body. Read this fantastic guest post for a look into the way watching the Women’s World Cup opened Autumn Whitefield-Madrano‘s eyes to the beauty of women forgetting about being beautiful while focusing on what they really want. Be cautious of activities like cheerleading, ice skating, ballet and other forms of dance that include a looks-focused component. (Before you get upset about that point, please read this post.) Be cautious of any sport or activity that requires you to wear something you are not comfortable in — especially in front of spectators. Volleyball is a good example of a great sport with an often questionable dress code for female players.

Avoid “fitness” media that actually just keeps its focus on the appearance of female bodies, emphasizes weight loss, or that sparks your body anxiety. Things that might fight into this category are: social media pages that feature lots of before-and-after body images or images of idealized, Photoshopped, sexualized bodies; sites, pages and programs that exist to sell you products intended to “tighten,” tone, contour, detox, or ensure weight loss; and anything that elevates one body type above another — “real women have curves,” “skinny girls look good in clothes, fit girls look good naked,” etc. Ditch it all. Try the best kind of health cleanse you could ever use — a media fast. Read one woman’s transformational experience of cutting out all fitness media while undergoing major body changes in this guest post.

Don’t go to extremes. Don’t overdo it. Choose activities you actually enjoy doing and can look forward to. Don’t exercise to punish yourself for eating or for not being thin enough. If you have a tendency to over-exert yourself or are replacing one disorder for another (like trading anorexia for over-exercising), please proceed with caution. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help you understand those compulsions and how to stop them.


Based on your experiences with starting and maintaining regular exercise regimens while actively avoiding the intense focus on the appearance of bodies in fitness culture, are there any other tips you would add?

Our bodies are instruments, not ornaments. Let’s use them! 

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, 8-week therapeutic tool that can change your life, designed by Lexie & Lindsay Kite, who developed and tested this program through their PhDs dissertations.