Adele as a Savior or a Threat to Your Body Image

As singing icon Adele is being celebrated worldwide for her significant weight loss, the body positivity world is grappling with what it means when a “full-figured” icon no longer fits the bill. That’s a lot of responsibility, and she never asked for it. Without posting any side-by-side comparison pics or discussing her health or her strategies for undergoing a “body transformation,” Adele has become an involuntary before-and-after image in our collective consciousness.

Whether it is body positivity advocates who championed her “before” body or everyone else fawning over her “after,” both represent ways she is objectified and reduced to her body — even if one serves the good cause of normalizing and appreciating size diversity. This represents the trap we fall into when we think that we can place women with larger bodies on a pedestal as examples of body positivity — thriving or surviving despite their less-celebrated appearances — and think we won’t get hurt when she falls or gets pushed off that pedestal (by losing weight, promoting a diet plan, or saying something negative about her larger size). When she comes crashing down from her #bopo pedestal, our feelings and hopes about our own similar bodies come crashing down along with her.

Have you found your body anxiety being triggered by seeing Adele’s smaller body, and seeing it receive so much praise and attention? We understand why you might be feeling that, and we want you to see it as an opportunity to rethink the ways you might view and value bodies — your own and others’.

Your body image may have taken a blow seeing the headlines about Adele’s weight loss because she was one of very few so-called “plus size” female celebrities. With so few women of diverse body sizes represented positively throughout mainstream media, it’s easy to pedestalize women who don’t fit prescribed beauty ideals as body positive icons. But if we place women like Adele, Melissa McCarthy, Shonda Rhimes, Beanie Feldstein, Jennifer Hudson, or Mindy Kaling on pedestals as brave heroes of body positivity, we are resting our hopes and values on their bodies — other people’s dynamic human bodies that grow and shrink and change for an endless list of reasons inside and outside of our control. 

These people didn’t choose to be our guiding star in the uncharted land of trying to love our less-celebrated body sizes and shapes — we put that on them because of how they look. They didn’t claim that status, and yet we hold them to our standards as body positive queens and pin our hopes of confidence, love, and success to their inspirational examples. Then, when they lose weight or disparage their larger bodies or promote a new diet, body positivity advocates see them as traitors to the cause while the general public champions them as weight loss success stories, testaments to the power of motivation and self-discipline as the keys to anyone’s body transformations from not to hot. In the end, whether they’re larger or smaller, we’re still talking about them as bodies first and people second. We are objectifying them.

You may have also taken a hit to your body image as you read all the “She’s never looked better!” and “Revenge body?” and “She’s unrecognizable!” commentary, which reveals how much people value thinner bodies over fatter ones — at any cost. Our culture’s fear of fat is real, and it comes to the forefront in the way we praise and shame people. We don’t know how or why Adele lost weight, and it isn’t anyone’s business, but we do know that not every weight loss story is a happy or healthy one. Many people are sick and suffering and praise for their weight loss is unwelcome and harmful. Eating disorders are rampant, dangerous diets and pills and addictions abound. (See a few examples as proof here for motivation to stop complimenting peoples’ shrinking bodies). 

How do we make ourselves more resilient in the face of Adele’s weight loss trending online and the accompanying body image blows that result from the heaping praise toward her (among the other daily disruptions to our body image)?

If we really want to ground ourselves in positive body image and rise up against objectifying ideals that hold women back in every way, we have to learn to take our attention off of bodies and appearance — for others and for ourselves. We can’t heal our own body image and reduce our self-objectification by praising and pedestalizing other bodies, even if they look like ours and we feel so grateful they do. We heal our body image by seeing and valuing ourselves and other women as more than bodies. Having positive body image isn’t believing your body *looks* good, it is believing your body *is* good, regardless of how it looks. It’s time to give women their humanity back, and reclaim our own humanity in the process.

Body positivity — or learning to value all bodies as beautiful — is a good first step, but this Adele phenomenon shows us how it can fall short when we rely on validating the appearance of someone else’s body in order to validate our own. It helps to see another body that looks like yours being validated, but what happens when it changes or stops being praised or she disparages her own body? As people who value body diversity and don’t want to be loved or hated for our size, shouldn’t we be the first to unravel someone’s value from their body — whether they are large or small? Instead of fighting for more women’s bodies to be viewed as valuable, let’s fight for women to be valued as more than bodies to view.

Let’s fight body shame at its source: the idea that the appearance of our bodies is the most important thing about us. The real problem is *not* that only certain women’s bodies are valued, it is that women’s bodies are valued more than women themselves. When we try to promote body acceptance by focusing on how beautiful women’s bodies are, we inadvertently perpetuate the idea that women are bodies first and foremost and that feeling beautiful is of utmost importance. 

Positive body image doesn’t come from believing that your body looks acceptable. While that is a good feeling, and perhaps even one step closer to healing your relationship with your body, that boost is fleeting, and when the power to determine how you feel about your body is determined by outside forces, it can be taken away as quickly as it is given. In order to really move forward individually and collectively, we need to recognize how severely the objectification of female bodies has stunted girls and women. The epidemic of self-objectification, or constant fixation on appearance (whether you like your appearance or not), has held back generations of women who could have used that mental and physical energy for much more meaningful and joyful pursuits. We can’t escape that harm by focusing on the beauty of all women’s bodies and relying on celebrity or influencer examples to convince ourselves our bodies look good too.

It’s not that your body is acceptable because Adele’s or Lizzo’s or any other larger-bodied woman’s is acceptable; it’s that your body is acceptable, period. You live inside it. You grew up inside it. Your body acceptance can’t hinge on how anyone else looks or how anyone feels about how anyone looks. It can’t hinge on other bodies looking like ours or being validated because those bodies are subject to change and so is public opinion about them. Your body acceptance can only hinge on your own choices, actions, and experiences inside your own individual body. Our popular mantra can help you re-envision what body confidence looks like in your own life: Your body is an instrument, not an ornament.

As you prioritize your experience inside your incredible body over the appearance of your body, you take your power back. Your power is internal and self-determined. What does your body allow you to do? What do you appreciate about how it works? What do you want to do, feel, experience? Take opportunities to move your body, challenge yourself, feel the rush of endorphins, step out of your comfort zone, and experience that state of flow of being fully immersed in something without your self-consciousness holding you back. Always prioritize your experience over your appearance. 

It makes sense that body positivity advocates and everyday women adore the few highly successful women who confidently represent larger sizes in the mainstream. But the front page newsworthiness of Adele’s weight loss is a massive testament to the need for greater size diversity (and all diversity) in media, as much as it is a testament to the absolute objectification of women who are able to become stars while being fat (or fatter than the mainstream ideals). If we could see more women in media, and not just the ones with idealized body types, one musician or actor’s size wouldn’t become the number one trending news topic in the world (in the middle of a global pandemic!). And no one woman’s body would have to be our ray of hope for our own body love, or our body shame trigger when her size changes along with the public’s love for her size.

Not defining people by their body size is possible! We know that because we’ve never heard anyone talk about DJ Khaled as a body-positive icon or praise James Corden for daring to show up as a husky hero for our time. Men in media get to be valued for and defined by lots of things outside of their appearance, like their talent, humor, intellect, charm, etc. Male stars’ weight loss is newsworthy at times, but men are never celebrated as heroes for living in larger bodies or constantly defined by their ability to thrive despite their size. Their bodies aren’t the most important thing about them. Ours aren’t either.

We are all more than bodies. We have to learn to see more in ourselves in order to be more than people who self-objectify our days away, preoccupied with our looks and the looks of those around us. If your body image is founded on the truth that you are more than a body, it can’t be broken by anyone’s changing body and the accompanying praise and shame. Your body image can be unshaken in the midst of objectification because you know the truth about yourself: You are more than a body, and when we can see more in ourselves and others, we can be more. Much more.


If you want more guidance on this stuff, we worked for years to develop and test our online Body Image Resilience course that is available to individuals 14+. Through an in-depth 8-week video course (that also includes full text, graphics and audio), participants can learn how to 1) recognize harmful messages in media and culture about female bodies; 2) reflect on the ways those ideals have impacted your life; 3) redefine the ways you think about beauty, health and individual worth; and 4) develop resilience through your own path that utilizes four sources of power.

J-Lo and Shakira’s Halftime Performance Was Both Empowering and Objectifying

By Lindsay and Lexie Kite, PhD

So many people have been writing and asking us to weigh in on the Super Bowl halftime headline about whether the performances were empowering or objectifying. (You know that question is generally our forte!) But our input here is more nuanced than some might expect. In summary: Shakira’s and J-Lo’s performance wasn’t either empowering or objectifying — it was both. It had to be both, and it has always been both. It’s the nature of the game.

Zoom in to this weekend’s performance and you’ll see two women — Jennifer Lopez and Shakira — who are extraordinarily powerful, talented professionals in both singing and dancing who have earned their accolades and that prized opportunity through decades of hard work. They are bucking stereotypes about women “of a certain age” and what they are allowed to wear and how they are allowed to move. They are also proudly representing cultures and people who have been marginalized and underrepresented in mainstream US media. They are using their voices and platforms to shed light on social and political issues they care about and that many people were grateful to see in the spotlight.

Zoom out and you’ll see that in the past 20 years of Super Bowl halftime shows, all of the performers were chosen for their incredible talent, but *only* the women are also required to fit an extremely narrow standard of beauty and sex appeal. (With very few exceptions — full list in comments). With this expanded view, you’ll see the very different rules rules for men and women that determine who qualifies to perform at the biggest television event of the year. It’s the same rules women have to play by in all of entertainment media (and too many other areas of life), but it is especially obvious in this ultra-hyped venue.

In addition to being ultra-talented, you must follow thee three rules:

#1. Be young, very young. And if you aren’t young, you better look like you are. (J-Lo and Shakira have mastered this, and the world absolutely can not stop talking about it. Don’t get it twisted that the only reason they let a 50-year-old woman be the lead performer is because she looks like that, regardless of how talented she is.) Madonna was the oldest female performer of the last 20 years of halftime shows at age 53, while Mick Jagger was the oldest male at 70. Before this year, since 2000, the average age of the female halftime performers was 32, while the male halftime performers’ average age is 42 — a 10-YEAR AGE GAP. That’s out of 17 female performers and 27 males (only including bands’ lead singers or else these numbers would be outrageously higher for men).

#2. Be beautiful. And by that, we mean: be young, be skinny AND be curvaceous, but with no visible cellulite or stretch marks, have long, flowing hair and full eyelashes but NO other body hair, have a full face of makeup, and just be straight-up stunning. All of it. For men, go ahead and look however you happen to look. Look your age, be whatever size and shape you are, have hair or be bald, dance or mostly just stand there, wear a tophat if you want! Truly, anything goes.

#3. Be sexy. But to be clear, this is not about what truly makes *you* feel good or helps *you* experience sexual pleasure. More specifically, it’s about fitting a stereotypical, old-school male fantasy version of how sexy should appear. That’s absolutely the most important rule here for women. This requires you to wear high heels no matter how much you’re running and dancing. You also need to wear extremely body-baring clothing, which almost always means no pants of any sort. Leotards, yes. Pants, no. Men — wear whatever you want. Absolutely whatever you want, but pants are mandatory. Sex appeal can play a role if you get the urge to take your shirt off and show your tattoos or something, but that’s not why we chose you for this job and no one is expecting you to arouse the audience. To be a sexy woman, writhe around a lot, spread your legs a lot, arch your back a lot, shake your butt a lot (maybe even have a fully dressed male performer slap it), and touch your body a lot. Anything you’ve seen in media that is intended to arouse an audience — do that.

The obvious double-standards about mens’ and women’s appearances in the rulebook are so normal and unquestioned that they are invisible until you zoom out and look at the big picture. Jennifer Lopez and Shakira have had to live up to sexist, ageist, racist, nearly unreachable double standards now and throughout their entire careers in order to attract the spotlight they shared this weekend. Their unquestioned beauty and sex appeal don’t minimize or take away from their incredible talent, but they are a non-negotiable counterpart to it. We wish women could achieve this level of fame and acceptance on talent alone, but that is very rarely the case — especially for Latinas over 40.

That makes this question of “empowering vs. objectifying” a very complicated one, as it almost always is. There is no doubt that women gain power through playing by these rules — the power of fame, success, money, validation, and acceptance. For the individual women who achieve undeniable success, it is easy to see that conforming to these objectifying rules can translate into power, and even “empowerment” through self-sufficiency, social status, and opportunity. When all the superstar women we see in media fit these narrow ideals, it’s no surprise that we grow up and grow older reaching for those standards as a blueprint for our own empowerment.

The problem is, it does not work for the rest of us. Not everyone who follows the rules will attain the sought-after beauty standards, no matter how much effort they put in. Not to mention that these rules are prohibitive for so many girls and women who will never qualify to even play the game. Beauty work is endlessly expensive, time-consuming, energy-sucking, and health-compromising. The stuff that really forces faces and bodies to fit the mold is reserved for only the most wealthy and privileged among us, and even then, it isn’t a surefire fix. And for the small percentage who do actually achieve all the prescribed beauty ideals, there’s no guarantee that they will reap any of the promised rewards, whether financial, social, romantic, or otherwise.

When your empowerment is based on others’ physical appraisal of you, it can be taken away as freely as it was given. It is fleeting and fickle. He changes his mind. They find someone else. You run out of money. Genetics, health problems, injuries, pregnancies, aging, and ever-changing beauty ideals will sabotage even the most dedicated rule-followers. Lasting, sustainable empowerment is self-determined. It is based on who you are and what you know about yourself, not how you appear.

Our profit-driven culture thrives off the objectification of female bodies, and while companies, industries and even individual women might thrive, the majority of us are losing. This system fails women because it values our bodies at the expense of our humanity. Because these standards are designed to be unreachable for the vast majority of us, we are perpetually ashamed. Shame leads us to disordered eating — whether that’s starvation, bingeing, purging, compulsive overeating, or an all-consuming obsession with “healthy” eating (orthorexia). It leads us to overexercising or opting out of physical activity entirely. It breeds self-harm, addictions, and other harmful coping mechanisms. It compels us to do whatever it takes to “fix” our perceived flaws through buying endlessly promising products and services. We hide by avoiding social situations, opportunities, and any place or activity where we don’t want to be seen.

Just as we watch the women who succeed by adhering to strict standards of beauty and sex appeal, we learn to watch ourselves the same way — viewing and evaluating ourselves through the same voyeuristic perspective. We learn to monitor our bodies constantly, consciously and unconsciously working to adjust our appearances to be most appealing to onlookers. (It’s called self-objectification, and it halts our progress in every way imaginable).

Objectification is complicated. It diminishes our empowerment by distracting us, draining us, and destroying our self-worth due to a fixation on how others perceive us. It always has and it always will.

Still, there is no denying that playing by the rules of objectification can have its rewards and open up doors that are closed to those who won’t or can’t play.

So, yes. Shakira’s and J-Lo’s halftime performance was both empowering and objectifying. It had to be both. For women, it has always been both. It’s the nature of the game.


Super Bowl Halftime Performers and Ages:

2000: Phil Collins 49, Christina Aguilera 19, Enrique Iglesias 24, Toni Braxton 32
2001: Aerosmith 52, NSYNC 20, Britney Spears 19, Mary J. Blige 30
2002: U2 – Bono 42
2003: Shania Twain 37, Sting 51, No Doubt 33
2004: Jessica Simpson 25, Janet Jackson 37, P. Diddy 34, Nelly 29, Kid Rock 33, Justin Timberlake 23
2005: Paul McCartney 62
2006: The Rolling Stones – Mick Jagger 70
2007: Prince, 44
2008: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers 54
2009: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band 59
2010: The Who 64
2011: The Black Eyed Peas (Fergie 36, Will I Am 36), Usher 32, Slash 45
2012: Madonna 53, Nicki Minaj 29, MIA 36, Cee-Lo Green 36
2013: Destiny’s Child 31
2014: Bruno Mars 28, Red Hot Chili Peppers – Anthony Kiedis 51
2015: Katy Perry 30, Missy Elliott 43, Lenny Kravitz 50
2016: Coldplay 38, Beyonce 34, Bruno Mars 30
2017: Lady Gaga 30
2018: Justin Timberlake 37
2019: Adam Levine 39, Travis Scott 26
2020: Shakira 43 and J-Lo 50

Male average age: 42
Female average age: 34


If you want more guidance on this stuff, we worked for years to develop and test our online Body Image Resilience course that is available to individuals 14+. Through an in-depth 8-week video course (that also includes full text, graphics and audio), participants can learn how to 1) recognize harmful messages in media and culture about female bodies; 2) reflect on the ways those ideals have impacted your life; 3) redefine the ways you think about beauty, health and individual worth; and 4) develop resilience through your own path that utilizes four sources of power.

Save Your Girls From Instagram

By Lexie Kite, Ph.D.

I know a 12-year-old girl who is the embodiment of our famous Beauty Redefined mantra: My body is an instrument, not an ornament. She is kind, innocent, active, and largely free from the burden of living to be looked at that is placed upon women’s shoulders around the age of puberty. Today, that girl joined Instagram.

When I think about her scrolling through the explore page, I envision her being shoved from childhood into adulthood, sinking in a pool of dehumanizing lessons with every scroll:

You exist for others’ viewing pleasure. Your happiness and self-worth is directly connected to your ability to command increasing likes, follows, and DMs. Your beauty is defined by specific ideals set constantly out of reach and ever changing. You joy will come from documenting perfectly posed, styled, and edited images of your experiences – not the experiences themselves. Your looks are your most valuable asset. Your body will earn you love, popularity, and self-esteem.

These are messages girls and women are taught every day – through media, but also through the ways we talk to them, the toys they play with, the ways they hear us talk about other girls and women, the ways other girls and women receive validation and respect, the ways we define health that are dangerously conflated with beauty, the girls and women that receive attention from love interests, etc. But as a media and body image expert, I can unequivocally state that a young girl’s access to Instagram is like a master class in objectification. Taught by influencers and peers with more power than any teacher, parent or advocate, she will learn at the speed of light that she is her body, and that her body is her ticket to happiness, fulfillment, power, and love.

Research echoes what our own real-life experience as women with bodies and access to social media makes very clear: Social media use – especially Instagram – is associated with high anxiety, depression, negative body image, bullying, loneliness, and envy. And the more time spent on social media, the more likely she is to experience these negative outcomes. Parents, even if you spend lots of time on IG, you have no ideas what kids are really exposed to. They are savvier than you are, targeted with ideals and messages you aren’t, and you can rest assured you are hugely underestimating the harm that social media can do to your child.

Get this: when girls hit puberty, they are TWICE as likely to experience depression as boys. Much of this is connected to the fact that we live in an objectifying culture that teaches society that girls and women are most valuable for how well they decorate the world and they need to spend precious time and energy evaluating and controlling their bodies in terms of their sexual desirability. It’s called self-objectification and it’s sucks the life out of most girls and women. It is *very* likely your daughter already monitors her body by picturing what she looks like to other people more than you or she realizes. She thinks about what her thighs look like in her seat, she adjusts her clothing as she walks, she wonders if the person she’s talking to thinks she looks good. She sits out of PE when she doesn’t want to get sweaty or red for her next class.

Research shows us that when we live “to be looked at” in a perpetual state of self-objectification that overtakes most girls and women throughout their lives and is made exponentially worse by social media, we are left with fewer mental and physical resources to do what can really bring happiness. We perform worse on math tests, logical reasoning tests, athletic performance, we have lower sexual assertiveness (the ability to say “no” when needed), and we are left anxious and unhappy. It is so disheartening to think of how this holds girls and women back from a world that needs them.

If you are a parent or caretaker to a child, you undoubtedly face the burden of giving them access to social media. We are here to promise you that the burden of objectification that will be placed upon your daughter’s shoulders is much, much heavier than the burden you will carry by encouraging her to stay off Instagram. Even if everyone else is on.

The crushing weight of objectification heaped upon girls that scroll through Instagram is intense, and they learn to carry that weight as a natural part of womanhood. Most parents don’t quite understand the gravity of what girls encounter online. She will bear the weight of:

Every appetite suppressant and flat tummy tea and waist shaper sold by her favorite celebrity influencers (we’re looking at you, Kim Kardashian, and the millions of other influencers like you that prey on teen girls).

 

Every bikini and workout picture from influencers who rack up likes and follows from body baring photos – (those get the most likes and engagement on IG).

 

Every gym-going woman posting photos from the locker room, twisting herself unnaturally to highlight a tiny waist with a fashionably rounded backside to show her “fitness” progress or her sad-to-glad before and after transformations.

 

Every lifestyle and fashion blogger posting casual pics of themselves emphasizing their thinness and/or curves, products and procedures they’ve had done and are selling through sponsored posts, underwear and bikini pics that are supposed to represent elevated causes of body positivity, fitness, or empowerment, etc.

 

Every beauty influencer posting makeup tutorials for facial contouring to help women rid themselves of “flaws” like pores, lines, wrinkles, hairs, or other signs of life.

 

Every ad snuck in between photos her friends have posted, targeting her insecurities and selling her aspirations designed to look attainable but always out of reach.

 

And on and on and on.

Based on all of this overwhelming evidence against using Instagram, I’m going to talk to this 12-year-old girl and her wonderful parents. We’ll chat about why it might be best for her to hold off on scrolling for a while. The right age to join Instagram is different for everyone, and the conditions for using it or avoiding it all together are up to you, but at Beauty Redefined, we recommend you seriously rethink joining Instagram. Let her experience life as more than a body as long she can, because logging on Instagram marks the day when that could end for too many girls.

 

When your kid comes to you asking to join Instagram, why not take the opportunity to talk with her about what peer-reviewed, legitimate research and self-reported feedback from her peers brings to light with a pro and con list:

Pros

  • You’ll be able to interact with your friends online.
  • You won’t be left out of what is happening on Instagram.
  • You will be exposed to other messages and ideas and images you might not see otherwise, like body positivity, activism in all its forms, and people doing good in the world.
  • You’ll be able to express yourself through posting pictures and captions.

Cons

  • You will be more likely to experience increased loneliness. Instagram is isolating and leads to feelings of FOMO, or fear of missing out. While you might like the interaction from likes, follows, and DMs, in the long run you are left feeling more alone.
  • You will be more likely to experience depression and anxiety, and the more time you spend on social media, the worse these symptoms get.
  • You will be more likely to compare yourself to the girls and women you see on Instagram, and self-comparison causes you to feel less love and unity toward those you are comparing yourself to AND it makes you feel worse about yourself.
  • You will be more likely to be preoccupied with your looks (self-objectification). Your clothes, your angles, your skin, your hair, your shape, your size will all be front and center in your mind, and it’s very difficult to focus on anything else, whether you like the way you look or not. This hurts your schoolwork, your relationships, your health, your mental and physical capabilities, and your happiness.
  • You will be more likely to experience negative body image (feel bad about your body) because you will be more sensitive to how you appear to others as a result of seeing so many idealized photos, ads, and highlight reels.
  • You will be more likely to be exposed to harmful messages and ideas and images you might not see otherwise, like rampant objectification, pornography, self-harm, pro-anorexia (pro-ana) messaging, digital manipulation of photos, influencers selling you aspirational ideals that lead to feelings of shame and self-consciousness, and beauty represented in very narrow, unattainable ways.
  • You will be more likely to become desensitized to the messages that hurt you – that cause you to think about your body and your looks (self-objectification), and make you feel shame about your body. After only a short time, those things that once make you feel uncomfortable become your new “comfort zone” that is very uncomfortable.

If your daughter decides to join IG despite the cons she learns about, or already spends time scrolling through social media (especially IG), please help her practice self-care. Instagram can be used as self-help or self-harm, and every user must make that continual choice for themselves.

 

The following questions are an excellent media literacy resource to help her (and you) look out for herself with the following critical questions as she scrolls:

  • Does this image/account encourage me to fixate on my own or other women’s appearance?
  • Does this image/account spark body anxiety or feelings of shame?
  • Am I engaging in self-comparison as I view these images?
  • Does this account seek to profit from my insecurity by selling solutions to fix my “flaws?”
  • Are these images promoting or reinforcing distorted ideals of what bodies and faces should look like – either through digital manipulation or featuring only one body type or “look?”
  • Would men who think women are only valuable as sexual objects enjoy viewing these images?
  • Does it encourage me to see women as bodies first and foremost?

If the answer is yes to any or all of the above, consider unfollowing, unsubscribing, limiting, or otherwise avoiding this type of content.

On top of being a critical media consumer, we suggest a few very important rules for your kids to follow if they do use Instagram:

  • Make your profile private and NEVER allow anyone to follow you that you don’t know and interact with in real life.
  • Only follow people you know in real life.
  • Never scroll through the explore page – it’s just not safe. It allows users access to every public post, and molds itself to the user’s interests, which for girls and women are often body-focused, looks-oriented, and objectifying.
  • Set a time limit: Only spend X number of minutes on Instagram each day – the less time spent on social media, the better for the user’s mental health and well-being.
  • If the content you are viewing doesn’t pass the media literacy test above, unfollow immediately.

Because we are taught through so many cultural messages that our bodies and looks are our primary source of power, value, and happiness, we get confused about what confidence feels like. We believe this major lie that feeling confident in ourselves equals feeling confident in our looks, and we leave it at that. We believe our bodies define us, and our self-esteem is dependent upon how good we think we look to others. Instagram makes this problem worse. It heightens our awareness of our bodies and our looks and teaches us that we are our bodies, and that our bodies are our key to beauty, power, love, popularity, and happiness.

Our work at Beauty Redefined is based on the premise that positive body image isn’t believing your body looks good, it’s knowing your body *is* good regardless of how it looks. Your ability to experience positive body image frees you from the prison that locks you up decorating yourself, isolated, and missing out on purpose and power and real happiness. We don’t want one more girl stepping into womanhood with the added pressure of living her life on Instagram before she is old enough to realize her purpose, power, and worth beyond her body. She is more than a body, and you can help her see more and be more. If you or your daughter want more expertise in how to boost your body image, our online body image resilience course will do the trick. Check it out here

If nothing else, take it from one of thousands of teens who have reached out to us to tell us about how social media (and taking much-needed breaks from social media) effects them:

Illustrations by Michelle Christensen, commissioned for Beauty Redefined.

Lexie Kite, Ph.D. and Lindsay Kite, Ph.D. are the co-directors of Beauty Redefined, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that aims to help women redefine the meaning and value of beauty in their lives through body image resilience. 

Do you need help developing body image resilience that can help you overcome self-consciousness and get on to bigger and better things? 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, PhD. 

Our TED Talk: Body Positivity or Body Obsession? How to See More and Be More

In September 2017, Beauty Redefined Co-director Dr. Lindsay Kite presented a TEDx talk at Kingsbury Hall in Salt Lake City, Utah. This 16-minute talk summarizes nine years of body image research and personal passion for promoting increased understanding of the importance of positive body image. With perfect illustrations by Michelle Christensen, this talk walks viewers through Lindsay’s personal and professional evolution regarding what it means to have positive body image and how girls and women can better understand and promote it. Lindsay outlines she and Lexie’s theoretical model for achieving body image resilience, where women choose three possible paths in response to body image disruptions. By learning how to see more in our media and cultural messages, everyone around us, and especially in ourselves, this talk paves the path for women to see more and be more than bodies to be looked at, evaluated and consumed. Our favorite excerpts are outlined below with time stamps.

If any of this talk resonates with you, please share it with those who might benefit!

2:15 – Over the last 15 years or so, lots of well-meaning people and companies have tried to improve women’s body image by pushing this message that “all women are beautiful – flaws and all!” This is a really nice message, but it is not fixing the problem. Girls and women aren’t only suffering because of the unattainable ways beauty is being defined, they’re suffering because they are being defined by beauty. They are bodies first and people second.

5:09 – Negative body image and self-objectification go hand in hand. Almost 3/4 of the women in our dissertation studies felt very negatively toward their bodies. And almost all of them were self-objectifying. That was especially noticeable in the way they answered the first question I asked: “How do you feel about your body?”

6:28 – Just like we need to redefine beauty in ways that are better for our health, we need to redefine health in ways that have nothing to do with beauty.

8:10 – In our studies, Lexie and I were interested to see that most of the women who felt good about their bodies also described painful experiences that had sparked or magnified their body shame at some point. Their experiences pointed us to a hopeful process and a theoretical model called body image resilience. Through this process, some women grow stronger and love their bodies not just in spite of the pain they experience, but because of what they learn through that pain.

10:52 – Since body shame and appearance fixation are the norm for so many of us, we might not even recognize when we’re reacting to those issues. Sinking into shame and clinging to our uncomfortable comfort zones might just be our defaults, not deliberate choices. But no matter how many times you’ve found yourself on these two paths, it is always possible to recognize your disruptions and respond to them in a better way.

14:50 – I saw that I had been stuck in an endless loop of trying to fix my body that never needed to be fixed, in order to do something I never stopped being able to do. I was still a swimmer. Any fear about what I looked like that day disappeared, because I was finally using my body as an instrument rather than looking at it as an ornament.

Direct link to YouTube video for Dr. Lindsay Kite’s TEDx talk, “Body Positivity or Body Obsession? How to See More and Be More”: https://youtu.be/uDowwh0EU4w

When Curvy Appreciation Turns to Objectification

By Lindsay Kite, Ph.D.

We don’t ever get too pumped about the latest viral body positivity stories, because we’ve found that if it’s quickly embraced by the masses, it probably doesn’t challenge the status quo in any substantial way. The story about the man gaining worldwide acclaim for loving his “curvy wife” is just the latest example. The status quo thrives on seeing women’s bodies — evaluating them, appraising them, comparing them, and ogling them. In other words, objectifying them, or reducing them to parts for consumption. But here’s the deal: Objectification is still objectification even if the bodies being objectified look different from the popular ideals.

For a man publicly fawning over particular female body types and parts, where’s the magic line that determines when his fawning turns from standard objectification to progressive, enlightened body positivity? Is it if that woman is over a certain weight? Maybe if she’s larger than a size 8? Maybe if he lists and describes her otherwise culturally sub-standard parts in a super enlightened, positive way — “sexy cellulite” or “sassy saddlebags?” You know, heroically maintaining attraction despite these atypical characteristics most men would run from? Even if other lesser men mock him?

This question applies to women too. For women who are publicly posting their body-centric photos online as a sign of “embracing” their supposedly flawed bodies, where is the magic line that determines when a post turns from emulating standard objectifying images that *hurt* women, to progressive body positivity that *helps* women? Does it suddenly become feminist and progressive for women to post pictures of their bodies if they’re over a certain weight or size? Or if she’s hunched over to create the teensiest belly roll? Or if she has no makeup on (just lash extensions and concealer and lip gloss)?

Sure, the *intention* behind a body positivity post is very different than the intention behind a standard objectifying image of an unclothed female body meant to be consumed by others (particularly men). But if you take away the inspirational caption, the final product is largely the same: female bodies being revealed, shared, compared, evaluated, and ogled. Not just by women looking for bopo inspo, but by *anyone.* You know those awful men who hate women but love women’s body parts? Yes, they love bopo inspo too! It’s all just more bodies. Bodies. Bodies. Bodies.

If we agree women should be valued as *more* than bodies, then we can’t cheer for objectification — whether it comes in the form of well-intentioned women posting their bodies online, “flaws and all,” or Sports Illustrated featuring plus size bikini models on all fours in the sand. Objectification is still objectification even if the bodies being objectified look different from the popular ideals.

Objectification. Sick of that word yet? Not as sick as we are of seeing it be rebranded as body positivity and empowerment! To promote real, lasting positive body image, we need to understand the root of the problem. The real issue is not that only certain women’s bodies are valued, it is that women’s bodies are valued more than women themselves. 

Ultra popular media messages aiming to alleviate women’s body shame — like the viral “hero husband attracted to curvy wife” example — often  reinforce the problem by keeping the focus on women’s appearances. Defining and describing and appraising women for their bodies — even in the name of celebrating them — is reducing women to objects. Objects are less than human. Objects exist for people’s use. Objects are only as valuable as an appraiser believes they are.

Objectification is at the root of women’s inequality, oppression, low self-worth and fixation on appearance. This is true whether individual women choose to participate in and be rewarded for that objectification or not. Because women are primarily valued for our parts and sexual appeal at the expense of anything else, we are bought and sold to men, silenced, abused, mutilated, murdered, devalued, not believed, and compelled to keep our bodies at the forefront of our thoughts for life. As long as women are sexual objects first and all of the rest of our humanity is secondary, we will never be on equal footing with men.

Progress for all of society requires valuing women for more than our parts — not simply expanding the definition of which parts are valuable. This fight against normalized objectification requires both women and men. As women, we must first learn to *see more* in ourselves in order to *be more* than a body for others’ appraisal and consumption. We must recognize the ways we’ve learned to view and value and evaluate ourselves, and then actively resist our tendencies to self-objectify and hold ourselves back from experiencing our full humanity.

Men must learn to *see more* than bodies in women, and then learn to *be more* than someone who views women primarily as objects to be looked at and consumed. It is important to understand that publicly proclaiming your attraction to certain female body types isn’t suddenly progressive when those bodies fall outside the traditional ideals. It is still objectification. It is still reducing women to parts to be appraised and consumed, even if you’re appraising them favorably and happy to consume.

Women are more than just bodies. When we see more, we can be more.

Illustrations by Michelle Christensen

Here you can create the content that will be used within the module.

Modest is Hottest? The Revealing Truth

By Lindsay & Lexie Kite, Ph.D.
Originally posted Nov. 2011 and updated every time the modesty/dress code debate makes headlines! Current version: June 2017.

Women and girls are more than just bodies. We all know that, right? Well, you wouldn’t know that if you looked to media, or even sometimes well-meaning religious rhetoric, for that truth. And you wouldn’t know that if you listened to the way so many of us discuss the topic of appropriate dress, or “modesty,” today. In an inescapable media world that pans up and down women’s bodies and focuses so much attention on their parts, no wonder girls learn to display their bodies as something to be looked at. No wonder girls learn to survey their bodies at all times, and in all things they are wearing, and in all places they are going.

Today in many circles, issues of female “modesty” are very popular. From many religions’ focus on appropriate dress to schools having rules on how high above the knee girls’ shorts can and can’t be or how much bare shoulder is too much – modesty is a trending topic. While reasons for advocating modesty vary greatly, we can attest that far too much emphasis is being placed on arbitrary standards that actually have the effect of sexualizing and objectifying girls from a very young age and keeping us fixated on women as bodies alone

If you’re pro-modesty (by whatever definition that means to you), then you can and should live it and teach it as a benefit to yourself, not to appear more or less appealing or acceptable to others

Many cultures and religions teach perspectives on modesty that revolve around the idea that covering up particular body parts to certain degrees is crucial to respecting our bodies, which are viewed as sacred. (For LDS audiences, we have a modesty lesson plan here). Regardless of your spiritual orientation, an open discussion about modesty from the perspective of our research can get us somewhere much more powerful and valuable than the shallow  “her shorts are [this] many inches above the knee” and “modest is hottest” mentality so prevalent today. Here’s the truth you can stand behind: We are more than bodies to be looked at. 

If modesty is a concept you subscribe to, there is great power in changing the modesty conversation from what you LOOK like to others to what you FEEL like inside. Here are some strategies to shift the modesty conversation in empowering, rather than shame-inducing, ways:

1) Be aware of the role of clothing in girls’ and women’s rampant self-consciousness. Our research echoes that of many others showing self-objectification is epidemic among girls and women today. Self-objectification takes place when we internalize an outsider’s perspective of ourselves. We literally picture ourselves being looked at as we go throughout our days, monitoring our bodies and appearance at all times, and research shows it gets in the way of everything we do. Everything. When we have to accomplish a task while also thinking about what we look like while doing it, we’re at a major disadvantage. When we live in a state of perpetual self-consciousness about our bodies, we are left with fewer mental and physical resources to do anything. Girls and women who are in a state of self-consciousness perform worse on math tests, logical reasoning tests, athletic performance, and have lower sexual assertiveness (including the ability to say “no” when needed). Self-objectification leads to an increase in disordered eating and cosmetic surgery procedures, low participation in leadership positions, and leads girls to quit pursuits of math and science at greater rates.** Girls and women LOSE — and so do the men all around us — when we fixate on bodies. 

Interestingly, there is power in clothing to alleviate self-objectification. This benefit to modest dressing can be significant for girls and women who feel fixated on their appearance. Studies on self-objectification show us that “clothing represents an important contributor to the body and emotional experience of contemporary young women” because body-baring clothing leads to greater states of self-objectification, body shame, body dissatisfaction, and negative mood***. What this tells us (and what our own experience living in female bodies tells us is a no-brainer) is that when we wear clothing that is especially revealing or emphasizing our bodies, we become very self-aware of those parts that are most visible and potentially being looked at. We self-objectify and are in a near-constant state of adjusting our clothing, fixating on what we look like, and looking at other people looking at us. It’s OK to like being looked at, and even to like attention from others for our looks, but if it’s distracting us and getting in the way of progress, happiness, and health — as so much research confirms it is for many — we’ve got to be conscious of the role of our clothing in holding us back mentally. Research shows a level of modesty (that may vary from person to person since modesty and comfort in clothing are subjective) can be an important tool in safe-guarding ourselves and our daughters from being in a constant state of self-objectification.

2) Skip the well-meaning references to modesty making girls “hottest.” Catchy phrases like “modest is hottest” — in a sneaky, fun-sounding way — teaches that girls should dress modestly to look good and receive approval from others, and not for themselves. What if we took to topic of what modesty looks like to outsiders viewing you off the table? What if we promoted the message that it doesn’t matter what anyone — including boys or men at school — think of what you look like, and what does matter is that you don’t exist to be looked at or evaluated or consumed? What if we prioritized how girls and women feel in their own bodies and clothing? What if we helped girls and women consciously consider the way their clothing affects their self-perceptions and self-consciousness rather than the way others might or might not perceive them?

When you teach a girl she is more than a body – that she is capable of much more than being looked at – then she might dress differently than someone who perceives her value comes from her appearance, or the amount of attention she gets from others. Someone who sees herself as a capable and powerful person with a body that can help her achieve great things might act differently than someone who exists solely to look “hot.” She might treat her body differently and think about it differently than she otherwise would in a self-objectifying mindset. If she can be taught that her power comes from her words, her unique contributions, her skills, her mind, and her service, then she will be less likely to seek fleeting attention and power that revolves around her appearance. What this looks like in action, including in clothing choices, is for each woman to decide for herself.

3) When discussing or teaching modesty for girls, leave boys and men out of the conversation where possible. So much talk of modesty includes the effect women’s clothing choices have on males. Many discussions of modesty, from diverse cultural or religious perspectives, revolve around the idea of keeping tempting female bodies and body parts from the gaze of others — particularly men. This privileges the male gaze, in a backward sort of way, and puts females at a disadvantage for being the ones in control of what others think or feel when seeing their bodies. When we speak of modesty strictly in terms of covering our bodies from the sexual gaze of others, we are keeping the level of discourse at the shallow waters of women and girls as bodies to be viewed

We have very little control of what other people think when they look at us. Even in cultures where women are required to or choose to cover up a great deal, there is still an incredibly high incidence of rape and sexual violence. Covering up has no bearing on men’s ability to control themselves or respect women. We would warn that this perspective on modesty creates a very dangerous and slippery slope that puts full responsibility for males’ inappropriate thoughts – and even their actions – on the shoulders of girls and women. This happens regardless of whether or not those girls or women believe they are dressing appropriately or modestly. If we are teaching the girls in our lives that the primary objective of modesty is to keep themselves covered so boys and men don’t think sexual thoughts about them, then we are teaching girls they are responsible for other peoples’ thoughts and they are primarily sexual objects in need of covering. (See our thoughts about the massive debate on leggings and school dress codes here). No girl or woman’s body is sinful, and no one should be taught that. 

Know this and please help us teach this to girls: you could never be clothed perfectly enough to ensure everyone perceives you the way you intend to be perceived. You could never obscure your shape or essence or beauty enough to prevent someone from having inappropriate or sexual thoughts about you and then blaming you for those thoughts. What constitutes “revealing” for one person or family or culture might be fully accepted as “modest” by another person, family, or culture. (We’re referring to definitions of appropriate that can vary significantly but still fall within legal, common public attire and that fit dress codes for certain venues.) Other cultures and religions might perceive your definitions of modesty as being vulgar or far too revealing for their standards. We each must work to define what constitutes modesty for ourselves and our families, and allow all others the same freedom, free from our judgments and comments. 

We see why suggestions regarding the length of hemlines and the depth of necklines are important, because we live in a world where studies show girls as young as 6 years old are sexualizing themselves because media messages show them being sexy yields rewards. As we‘ve written about before, people use the excuse that “sex sells,” but we’re buying more than we bargained for. And when we try to teach and enforce appropriate dress by fixating on the inches of skin showing, we are missing the point

When we judge girls and women for the skin they are or are not showing, we are minimizing them to their bodies and repeating the same lies that females are only bodies in need of judgment and fixing. We are even perpetuating the shame-inducing belief that female bodies are sinful and impure, and must be covered to protect boys and men who can’t be held responsible for their thoughts or actions.

It’s time to stop shaming girls and women into covering themselves and instead start teaching empowering truths that everyone needs to hear: we are more than just bodies to be looked at. When we really begin to believe that, female progress in every imaginable way will move forward. We will spend less money on cosmetic surgery (up 115% since 2000 with 92% of the surgeries performed on women) and every other product we need to “fix” our flaws. We will spend less time hiding and fixing and obsessing over our insecurities beneath our clothes. We will spend less time emphasizing and obsessing over our parts on display in our clothes. We will perform better academically, athletically, and in our careers. We will love other women more and feel more compassion toward them because we will not be judging them as bodies in competition with our bodies. We will feel greater self-love, life satisfaction, and power to live authentically chosen lives. We will pass along all of these truths to the girls growing up and then women growing older in an increasingly objectifying world.

Please pass this along. Let’s change the conversation currently steeped in the negativism of “cover yourself” to the inarguable truth of “you are more than a body” and powerful outcomes will follow. 


Illustrations by Michelle Christensen

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.

**For a comprehensive list of self-objectification’s many negative consequences, see the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls

***Tiggemann, M. & Andrew, R. (2012). Clothes Make a Difference: The Role of Self-Objectification. Sex Roles. Vol. 66 Issue 9/10, p.646

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