Empowering or Objectifying: The Clashing Camps of Body Positivity

By Lindsay Kite, PhD

Because our culture teaches that women’s bodies and faces determine our worth, and that only certain rare bodies and faces are worthy of anything good, people who want empowerment for women are stuck in two conflicting groups. 

The first group is fighting for women to be valued as more than bodies to view, while the second group is fighting for more women’s bodies to be viewed as valuable

The first group seeks empowerment for women by calling out and fighting objectification. They push against the deeply embedded system that offers women fake, fleeting “power” for having a body deemed worthy of consumption — visually or physically. They teach women to see and value themselves and others as more than just bodies. That’s what we stand for with Beauty Redefined. We aim to redefine the meaning and value of beauty in our lives, not just what it looks like. We teach people how to recognize and resist harmful messages about beauty and then rise with resilience through the objectification we all face. 

In this first group, there is no room for lingerie photo shoots or nearly nude selfies, no matter how different the bodies on display might look from media ideals

We understand why the second group does those things. 

Our profit-driven culture thrives off the objectification of female bodies, which harms all women, since we all fall short of manufactured beauty ideals simply by being humans and not images. We all fail in a system that values only our bodies at the expense of our humanity. But from a body image perspective, where our PhD research is focused, this ideal-driven culture causes particular harm to those women with bodies that look very different from cultural ideals. The second group springs from the truth that many women’s bodies have been erased or made to seem abnormal and shameful. These women want to *see* themselves as beautiful and they want themselves to *be seen* as beautiful by others. This second group wants others with similarly invisible shapes and features to see the bodies they never saw when they needed to see them. So, among other things, they share and celebrate nearly nude selfies and lingerie photo shoots featuring marginalized bodies. We understand why.

And while firmly claiming membership in the first group, we are happy for the young girls and women who can see their own perfectly acceptable physical realities reflected back at them through social media in ways we were never able to. Our unbelievably self-conscious teenage selves would have felt some relief from shame upon seeing those more familiar bodies celebrated by the first group. We’re grateful others can feel that relief.

We must fight body shame, but we need to fight it at its source: the idea that the appearance of our bodies is the most important thing about us. When we fight back by alleviating the shame surrounding certain body types, we’re only fighting a symptom of the problem, not the root or the real cause. 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 positivity by focusing *more* on more bodies, we inadvertently perpetuate the idea that women are bodies first and foremost. The best way to fight body shame is by rejecting the lie that our bodies are the most important thing about us.

If this fight is really about empowering women, we have to be careful. We have to recognize how severely the objectification and dehumanization of female bodies has stunted girls and women. How the epidemic of self-objectification, or constant fixation on appearance (whether you like your appearance or not), has crippled generations of women who could have used that mental energy on much more meaningful pursuits.

We also have to understand where lasting, meaningful power comes from. It doesn’t come from believing that your body looks acceptable. While that is a good feeling, and perhaps even one step closer to empowerment, there is much greater power to be found *outside* the confines of woman-as-object, ready for evaluation and consumption. Women displaying their bodies and sharing them online — even if they look very different from mainstream ideals we’re used to — is still playing within the rules of objectification. That’s the same framework that has marginalized and oppressed women for as long as any of us can remember. It still depends on women being awarded arbitrary points for what their bodies look like, just with expanded guidelines for what counts as worthy of displaying or consuming. It’s still others consuming those bodies – looking, evaluating, validating (through comments, likes, shares, retweets) or, all too often, mocking and harassing. 

Women are more than bodies. We have to learn to see more in ourselves in order to be more than women who self-objectify our days away, preoccupied with our looks. Positive body image isn’t believing you are beautiful — in fact, it’s more like believing you are *more* than beautiful, that your body is much more valuable as an instrument for your use than as an ornament for others to admire. You don’t learn that from displaying your body or admiring others’ bodies, no matter what size they are. You learn that from living and doing and being, not from looking or being looked atHaving positive body image isn’t believing your body *looks* good, it is believing your body *is* good, regardless of how it looks. Believing you look good is nice, but it’s maybe the 139th most important thing to believe about yourself — even if your body has never really been regarded as ideal. You don’t have to see your body as ideal in order to feel great about yourself, have loving relationships and contribute great things to the world. When a woman truly believes she is worthy and valuable as a person, regardless of the way her body looks, she will experience far greater empowerment than if she simply believes her appearance is valuable. 

These two groups aren’t enemies.

They’re both working toward their own visions of empowerment for women. But we’re fighting different opponents. We in the first group firmly believe the opponent is objectification — the system that defines women’s value in terms of their physical appeal to others. The opponent is not mainstream beauty ideals. Beauty ideals suck, and today’s prized looks are as unattainable as they’ve ever been, thanks to easy digital and surgical modification. Beauty ideals will always be here in one form or another, but it’s the rules of objectification, which tell us women are first and foremost bodies, that hold beauty ideals in power. Rather than reinventing what constitutes “beauty,” why not push against the whole idea that beauty is of utmost importance?

We in the first group truly believe thinness is not the problem. The problem is the incredible power the ideal of female thinness has over us. It drives unbelievable rates of disordered eating, anxiety and depression; billions of dollars spent every year on weight loss aids that only work for 1% of buyers; and troves of online thinspo and pro-ana images curated by millions of girls and women seeking value, happiness and desirability where our culture told them they could find it — thinness. When “skinny” doesn’t drive as many profits as it does now, other ideals will rise to the top. Destroying one set of beauty ideals will *not* solve this problem, because beauty will still remain the end-all be-all.
The second group is fighting to fit broader ideas of beauty and empowerment within the prison walls of objectification. 

The first group is breaking free from that prison.

None of us deserve to live within those walls. 

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.


Lindsay  Kite, PhD, is co-director of the Beauty Redefined foundation, a n nonprofit promoting positive body image through redefining the meaning and value of beauty in women’s lives. With her twin sister, Lexie Kite, PhD, she travels 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.


Addendum: This is a response we gave to a discussion on our Instagram that might be helpful.

We want to be clear that we never said women in the second group are objectifying themselves. We said they’re still playing under the rules of objectification, which says,”Women’s bodies are the most valuable thing about them, but only bodies that look like THIS are acceptable.” People in the 2nd group react with, “No, MY body is acceptable too! See it? I’m not ashamed.” (Still fitting within the rules of “women are bodies first,” even if it is a step toward progress and empowerment, which it is for many people). The 1st group says, “No, men aren’t mostly valued for their appearance, so women shouldn’t be either! I want people to listen to women and work with us for progress, not just *look* at us.” (Stepping outside the rules of objectification, where women are doing more than being looked at). It doesn’t require beauty, a certain size or skin color or social status to step outside the rules of objectification. We all will still be objectified by others — clothes on or off, 1st group or 2nd.

While fighting for more bodies to be seen as acceptable (which is good and important), the photos of marginalized bodies to alleviate shame in others is one step, but it doesn’t even come close to moving us out of the BODIES FIRST framework. That’s where research shows is crucial to the success of women really feeling good about themselves and overcoming the tendency to self-objectify (or remain preoccupied with their appearance throughout the day, whether they *like* their looks or not). It’s self-objectification that is hurting most women from the inside, stunting our progress. The 2 groups don’t need to be exclusive (and they’re not because we all love each other), but we need to make sure the 1st group can become a stepping stone to the 2nd, rather than the end unto itself — because once women are feeling less shame about their bodies with help from photos shared by the 1st, what then? If the only goal is to alleviate shame for marginalized bodies, then fine, but if you want those women to feel better about themSELVES, not just their looks, we have to get outside the framework of objectification (you’re not just a body, whether or not you love what it looks like). We want real empowerment for everyone.

This is our contribution to moving forward. We have so much skin in this game. We want so badly for body positivity and empowerment to be had by everyone. Because of that, we want more activists in this fight to go beyond underwear photos. That might be one step, and we’re grateful for all the attention and support others have gotten for your efforts in that step, but there is more empowerment to share that goes beyond sharing our bodies. We want to fight body shame by fighting the lie that your body is the most important thing you have to offer. We don’t ignore our bodies or stop trying to push back against profit-driven beauty ideals, but we do it knowing objectification and fixation on female bodies is the real source of body shame we want to target.


In-depth body image resilience training, backed by our own PhD research, is available through our 8-week online program. Other free research and resources can be found throughout this website, as well as our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds. 

Really Want to Feel Better About Your Body? Here’s Your 5-Step Game Plan

Developing positive body image — or feeling positively about your body, regardless of what it looks like at the moment — is key to health, happiness, progress and empowerment. When you’re feeling especially self-conscious, it’s hard to focus on much else or make healthy choices for yourself. With the vast majority of women feeling negatively about their bodies and regularly preoccupied with their appearance, we have some serious work to do on this front. You could tackle hundreds of pages of our doctoral research to gather our findings, or you could read our short summary of more than a decade of body image research right here! And if you need more help getting to positive body image, check out our amazing new program for individuals ages 14+, tested and proven effective in our dissertations.

These are our 5 steps for redefining beauty and health for yourself, along with a practical game plan for each.


 RECOGNIZE

Recognize the many messages directed toward women about beauty, and how many of our thoughts and actions revolve around appearance. Today, beauty has become something perpetually out of reach for women with the help of profit-driven, digitally altered media messages that present one narrow ideal: tall, young, thin, white but tan skin (or light skin for women of color), and blemish/wrinkle/pore-free. These same messages teach women that our value is in our beauty above all else, so pursuing these ideals becomes a lifelong struggle. But here’s the truth: your reflection does not define your worth!

Game Plan:

It might seem counter-intuitive to redefine beauty by taking the focus off of beauty, but it works! Recognize the number of appearance-based messages directed at us by going on a media fast. Take 3 days, a week, or even a month to avoid as much media as you possibly can – TV, movies, blogs, magazines, and even social media (which means deleting those apps from your phone!). Without this stream of idealized images and messages trying to sell you things, you become more sensitive to those that are unrealistic or that trigger body anxiety for you. You can then use that awareness to unsubscribe, unlike, unfollow, turn off, and turn away from that media that distorts your ideas about beauty and worth.

REFLECT 

Reflect on what impact narrow beauty ideals have had on your life. Our culture relies heavily on objectification – or presenting women as idealized body parts to be consumed rather than as humans – in all types of media. This leads girls and women to self-objectify by constantly – and often unconsciously – monitoring our bodies for what they look like to others as we go about our days. This preoccupation with what we look like, even when we’re all alone, leads to feelings of low self-worth and harmful ways of coping like disordered eating, opting out of social activities and exercise, self-harm, and dangerous and expensive cosmetic surgery.Game Plan:

Take inventory of your beauty habits and routine, including the time, energy and money you spend on your appearance. Reflect on whether any of that time, effort, or money could be better spent on another activity or contribution to the world. Consider where your thoughts are as you go about your regular life: are you picturing what you look like while trying to exercise or grocery shop or ride the bus?  Reflect on the fact that you are capable of much more than looking hot. How would life be different if thinking about appearance didn’t take up so much of our mental bandwidth?


 REDEFINE 

Redefine your ideals of beauty and health for yourself in more empowering ways. One powerful way to decrease self-consciousness and love your body is through your own physical power. Your body is an instrument to be used for your benefit, and not an ornament to be admired! Value your body for what it can do rather than what it looks like.

Game Plan:

Skip appearance-related goals or numbers-based goals like weight or measurements and instead set a fitness goal. Base this goal on physical activity milemarkers in order to prioritize how you feel and what your body can do, rather than just what it looks like. Run or swim or bike or walk faster or for longer than ever before. Do a certain number of crunches, new fitness classes, weight-lifting regimens – whatever you can do and enjoy doing consistently. Recruit others to join you and experience the endorphins and rush of adrenaline together as your health improves in the process!

RESIST 

Resist harmful messages in order to take your power back. We have more power than we realize in this fight against objectifying ideals and redefining beauty on our own terms. Resistance to harmful ideas about beauty is a continuous process, but these tips can be exercised daily!

Game Plan:

Along with making conscious media choices, you can vote with your dollars by only spending your money at stores and restaurants that don’t use degrading images and messages. Speak up within your circles of influence about messages that distort our ideas about women and beauty. Resist making appearance-based comments about strangers, celebrities, family members, and even yourself. Instead, use your words for good by making simple statements about the ways beauty is one-dimensional in media or the obvious Photoshopping of female faces and bodies. Those words can have a major impact on those around you who are numb to the normal-seeming devaluation of women all around us.

Rise with RESILIENCE 

Our studies found one bright light at the end of the dark body shame tunnel: body image resilience, which is the ability to harness and use skills to bounce back from difficult disruptions in your life and become stronger than you could have been without those experiences. Disruptions can be anything – a hurtful comment about your body, weight loss/gain, a break-up, a health issue or injury, etc. Disruptions provide opportunities for growth that are not possible without pain. You always respond to any disruption, so why not respond in ways that will make you feel better about yourself, rather than with harmful coping mechanisms (like abusing alcohol or drugs, cutting, starving, bingeing, purging, or otherwise attempting to hide or fix your body in response to feeling shame). Several skills, including the ones mentioned above and in the list below, can help women rise with resilience in response to painful body image disruptions. These skills fit into four categories of power you can use in your game plan.

Game  Plan:

Social Power: Cultivate this by breaking the silence surrounding negative body image. Unite with other women, be vulnerable, and share your pain to let others help you carry the burden while you help carry theirs.
Mental Power: Harness this by critically considering the ways cultural ideals and media messages can warp how we see our own beauty and worth. Conscious awareness of these degrading messages is the only way to actively resist them.
Spiritual Power: Access this by meditation, prayer, solitude, yoga, etc., to tap into the truth that your life has meaning and purpose beyond living as a decoration for the world.
Physical Power: Gain a more powerful sense of control and self-worth by using your body as an instrument rather than an ornament to be admired.

Let’s recap your path to positive body image, at whatever pace you choose to tackle these steps.RECOGNIZE the many messages directed toward women about beauty, and how many of our thoughts and actions revolve around appearance. Put this into action with a media fast!

  1. REFLECT on what impact narrow beauty ideals have had on your life and take inventory of the time, money and energy you dedicate to appearance concerns.
  2. REDEFINE beauty and health for yourself in more empowering ways by consciously focusing on how you feel and what your body can do. Set fitness and activity goals and skip the weight and appearance goals!
  3. RESIST harmful messages in order to take your power back by turning away from the messages that spark body anxiety, speaking up about harmful media and talking to friends and family about more than their outward beauty.
  4. RISE with RESILIENCE by responding to shame-inducing disruptions in ways that exercise your mental, social, spiritual, and physical power, rather than distracting, hiding, or fixing yourself to cope with difficult experiences.

You are more than a body and are capable of so much more than looking hot. Companies profit from convincing you otherwise while peers, family and friends — often unknowingly — uphold and circulate those same profit-driven ideals about beauty, health and women’s value in the ways they speak and act. By implementing these 5 steps, you will be actively redefining beauty and health for yourself on a mindful and conscious level that prioritizes your own reality, feelings and experiences. READY, SET, GO!

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.

Running from Self-Objectification

When we grow up surrounded by appearance-obsessed media’s “Weigh Less, Smile More!!” and “Perfect Your Parts, Perfect Your Life!!” headlines plastered everywhere, those messages rake in billions and get us nowhere closer to real health and happiness.  Instead, these messages become so normal — SO unquestioned — that we believe and act as we’re told. The point here is not to villainize makeup or hair care or any industry, but to understand the ways these ever-present messages ask us to view ourselves. That view: An outsider’s gaze – from the outside looking in on ourselves. It’s called self-objectification and it’s a normal part of most females’ lives whether we know it or not. Years ago, this cool scholar, de Beauvoir, understood this point. She pointed out that as girl grows up, “she is doubled; instead of coinciding exactly with herself, she also exists outside” (1952). Foucalt  talked about self-objectification as a way we imprison ourselves: “There is no need for arms, physical violence, material constraints. Just a gaze. An inspecting gaze, a gaze which each individual under its weight will end by [internalizing] to the point that [she] is [her] own overseer, each individual thus exercising surveillance over, and against [her]self” (1977).

What research and real-life experience make very clear is that when we can begin to see ourselves for more than our parts and respect our bodies as instruments that can do amazing things for us and for those around us, we get much closer to finding health, fitness and happiness. But in the meantime, millions of us cannot break through the constant messages telling us to survey ourselves at all times and spend all the time, money, and energy necessary to perfect the parts of us in need of perfection.

Can you even fathom what that is doing to females everywhere? It stunts our progress in every way that really matters. It keeps us from getting awesome grades, reaching for the coolest possible jobs, raising our hands in class, playing sports and exercising, running for political offices, loving each other and loving ourselves. And that’s not just Beauty Redefined’s take on things. Research shows us that when we live “to be looked at” in a perpetual state of self-consciousness about our looks, 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.*

And the reason Lindsay and I do what we do with Beauty Redefined is because there is so much power in understanding these truths! All hope is not lost! Actually, there is SO MUCH hope to be had. We know the power and potential of females everywhere to break free from lies that constrain us and move on to happiness and light and love and success.  We know this as scholars, as activists, and on a very personal level. Have you read our post on ditching weight loss resolutions in favor of more health-focused goals? The first resolution we highly suggest is there for a reason — I’ve been testing it out and I swear on everything important to me that it works!

Resolution #1: Set a true fitness goal: If you’ve held yourself back from running, biking, swimming, etc., because you felt self-conscious about what to wear, how red your face gets from the workout, sweating in public, (the list goes on), it’s time to set a goal and fight to achieve it!  Make this goal about your abilities and you’ll be much less inclined to care about what you look like doing it.

Here’s how I know it works:

I’m on the far left 🙂 I faced all my fears – sweat, red face, running, etc.!

In the years since Lindsay and I founded Beauty Redefined, my body confidence has improved by leaps and bounds, but a couple of years ago, I realized one way I was letting self-objectification hold me back from awesomeness.  You see, I’ve never loved running. Before that point, the most I’d ever run outside was one mile.  Somehow, in October 2012, I got talked in to running a half marathon.  If you’d have told me before then that I’d run 13.1 MILES outside, I’d have laughed in your face. But when I signed up for that Halloween half marathon with a few amazing friends, I knew I had to begin training.  I was terrified. Not only is running really hard on both a physical and mental level, but I realized I was possibly more terrified of being looked at while running. I spent the first few weeks of training on a treadmill at my gym, hoping no one was on the stair climber right behind me to stare straight at me.  I felt self-conscious that my face got really red from hard workouts. I felt self-conscious that I wasn’t wearing the right outfits for running. (Is spandex a necessity?!?!) I felt self-conscious that the runners next to me were going faster and farther and they were thinking I was lame.  When I forced myself to step off the treadmill and run outside, my fears only escalated.  Now I was stressed about all the people that were watching me run past their cars, and I chose parks that weren’t heavily populated instead of busy roads. 

But as I trained and built up my endurance, something inside me changed.  Instead of picturing myself running, I started just running. I stopped worrying about being a good vision of me and I gave myself all of me.  Before, I used to do cardio in an effort to burn fat and fit into those jeans I’ve been keeping in the back of my closet.  Now, I do cardio to build up my endurance, get my heart rate up, and prove to myself I can do it.  I used to do weight workouts and sit-ups to tone up the parts of me I thought were just awful to look at.  Now I do strength training to build muscle I use to carry myself through long runs and workouts – and it really helps.  Running now makes me feel really happy because I can set a goal and get there, and working toward that goal allows me to release all those happy endorphins, feel more energy and motivation, and see what my body is capable of.  I have quite literally begun to run away from self-objectification.

And research backs up my own experience. A U.S. National Physical Activity and Weight Loss Survey found that body size satisfaction had a significant effect on whether a person performed regular physical activity, regardless of the individual’s actual weight (Kruger, Lee, Ainsworth, & Macera, 2008). So, those who were satisfied with the way their body looked were more likely to engage in physical activity than those less satisfied.  The problem is, research also shows us MOST females are unhappy with their bodies – even disgusted with their bodies.  The “I feel too fat or too ugly to work out” mentality is rampant and it keeps us from moving, living, doing, and being.  But guess what?! When we push ourselves to break free from that prison of being looked at and just move, something miraculous happens. Just like my experience of learning to run from self-objectification, studies show us that when females engage in physical activity, increased self-efficacy, or confidence in your abilities and your body, is the beautiful outcome.

So our Resolution #1 is there for good reason — it can lead you to real health, happiness, and confidence in a  way that working toward a number on the scale or a clothing size never, ever will. My New Years’ resolutions used to revolve around clothing sizes, measurements or numbers on the scale, and I don’t think I’m alone in realizing that even if the number got smaller, it had little to do with my actual health or happiness.  I can look back in old journals and see that sometimes I resorted to extremes in eating and exercising to get to that random number I thought would bring with it all the joy I could imagine: “If I can just lose this much weight, I’ll be SO happy!” or “I’ll love myself if I can just lose this many inches.” But personal experience, academic research and body image advocacy have taught me something very different: An arbitrary number is never the key to happiness, confidence or even health and fitness. A fitness goal focusing on achievements can help you break out of that harmful mindset that maintains a fixation on the look of our bodies, rather than how we feel and what we can do.

So here’s the goal: RUN. or swim. or bike. or dance. or jump rope. or climb stairs. or do sit-ups. or push-ups. or play basketball. or soccer. or volleyball. Just MOVE and LIVE and BE and step outside the prison of watching yourself being looked at. Using your body as an instrument for your benefit, rather than an ornament for others to admire is a crucial step to developing positive body image. Now get out there and use it! 

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

*Fredrickson et al. 1998; Fredrickson & Harrison, 2004; Gapinski, Brownell, & LaFrance, 2003; Hebl, King, & Lin, 2004

Shedding for the Wedding? Shed the Lies Instead!

Every bride is reminded her wedding day is all about her. But instead of focusing on the happy relationship, major industries keep women focused on one new aspect of being a bride: becoming as small as possible for the big day.  

I, Lexie, got married while I was a PhD candidate knee-deep in studying all these unreal beauty ideals women are up against. Because of this, I chose to do my “big day” Beauty Redefined style to maximize my happiness and minimize my body angst. So, from a personal perspective and a research-driven lens, let’s talk about what the now-commonplace pressures of “shedding for the wedding” mean for women everywhere.

Before the year 2000, there were very few pushes to get women to lose weight before their weddings.  Advertisers and industry execs hadn’t conceived of this new “flaw” yet.  In fact, Cornell researchers found only one weight loss ad in all the 1990s wedding magazines they could get their hands on! Photoshopping didn’t become an industry standard until the late 90s, so women featured in magazines and ads weren’t being digitally manipulated out of reality quite yet. AND plastic surgery didn’t shoot through the roof until the 21st century, when rates of cosmetic surgeries performed in the U.S. increased 446 percent to reach $12 billion in 2010, with 92 percent performed on women. Simultaneously, the weight loss industry is flourishing unlike ever before, with $61 billion spent pushing the quest for thinness at all costs in 2010 – more than twice as much as in 1992.

So it isn’t surprising that a full 70 percent of nearly 300 engaged women said they wanted to lose weight – usually 20 pounds – a 2007 Cornell study found.* Where on earth would they get that idea?

Since 2000, industries revolving around diet and weight loss, plastic surgery, weddings, and women’s media have placed a target on brides-to-be. In the last decade, we have seen the rise of popular TV shows, advertising campaigns, surgical procedures, magic wraps to lose inches in minutes, and diet plans/pills that demand an unattainable “bridal beauty” that is harmful to health, happiness, relationships, and female progress in every way that really matters.

These days, master cleanses (pedaled by the likes of Demi Moore and Gwyneth Paltrow in order to fit into their red carpet dresses or go naked on set) are popular among engaged women. “Bridalplasty,” “Shedding for the Wedding,” “Bridal Bootcamp,” (and other hopefully canceled shows) teach women that in order to show your face on your big day, you must fight against other women on your quest for necessary cosmetic procedures, extreme weight loss, and endure public shaming. In the last decade, researchers have seen a major escalation in anorexic behavior among brides-to-be, and have labeled it “brideorexia.” Plus, 10 percent of women who start extreme pre-wedding diet and exercise programs will develop a lasting disorder, according to Dr. Ira M. Sacker, eating disorder specialist and professor at NYU Medical Center.

When I got engaged, I knew what I was up against. I talked to Lindsay about my goals for making my engagement and wedding as “Beauty Redefined” as possible. I wanted to be happy, I didn’t want to buy into all the lies these industries were demanding I fall for, and I wanted to keep the focus on celebrating my relationship with the awesome man I found that loved me – not just a vision of me, but ALL of me. And so I made a plan of attack to do my own version of “shedding for the wedding” – NOT shedding weight, but shedding all those lies I’d heard from the time I was a teenager in the late 90s about what I had to look like to be happy on my wedding day.

I truly grew up believing I had to look a very particular way in order to be happy, to be successful, to be loved, to qualify to be married at all. But something very powerful has been confirmed to me in the last year. All those messages I grew up surrounded by are LIES.  And while I hoped they were lies, I can now prove it. Because I do not fit the ideals media tells me I’m supposed to fit to be happy, successful, loved, and married. And guess what? I’m happy! And I’m (trying my hardest to be) successful! And I’m loved! And I’m MARRIED! It’s crazy, and it’s true. And whether you are married or single, planning a wedding or not, these strategies apply to all of us. They worked for me, they work in scholarly research, and they will help you understand your worth in a world that so often confuses you about who you are just to make a few dollars. 

Click the image to check out our sticky notes that are PERFECT for providing unexpected reminders for publicly displayed body-shaming magazines!

Resist Pinterest and back away from those bridal magazines: Choose a time period to steer clear of as much media as you can. That way, you can see how your life is different without all those messages and images, and when you return to media, you will be more sensitive to the messages that hurt you and those that are unrealistic. I chose to never pick up a bridal magazine, read a bridal blog, go to Pinterest wedding pages, etc. This made it much easier for me to not hold myself or my wedding to the standard of others, but plan it the way I wanted it. I was able to steer clear of all Photoshopped wedding dress models and idealized images of “bridal beauty.” I believe this was the most important goal I accomplished. I ordered two dresses online – one from a vintage boutique and one new dress I’m wearing in my pictures that was sure to fit me. Both were fantastic, and I got to steer clear of bridal salons completely!

Forget your arbitrary wedding weight or size goals: Make a goal to stop or limit the number of times you weigh or measure yourself.  When we fixate on arbitrary numbers, that often gets in the way of our health. Start judging your health through your activity level by setting a fitness goal instead of a meaningless number, and you’ll get somewhere great! I did not weigh or measure myself throughout my engagement and set a goal to maintain my fitness routine at the gym as I had been doing previously, but not work to lose any weight to change my appearance for the wedding. My fiancé fell in love with me the way I am, and I didn’t want to buy into the lies that told me I had to “vow to wow” on my wedding day by losing weight.

Stop that negative mental script: Too many girls and women have a constant script of mean thoughts about themselves running through their minds — whether they’re comparing themselves to Photoshopped brides on Pinterest or not. Recent studies show us that girls who don’t like their bodies become more sedentary over time and pay less attention to having a healthy diet. If you think you’re gross and worthless, why would you take care of yourself? Set a goal to stop saying negative things about yourself. Start with your thoughts — acknowledging when the negative ones creep in and consciously replacing them with self-affirmations (go big on the cheesiness here). Choose a day, a week, a month, whatever you can do to start it, and make it a permanent practice! While I had previously been working on this goal, I decided to take it up a notch and cut out all negative talk entirely – even when trying on wedding dresses or viewing my engagement or wedding photos.

Think nice thoughts instead: On the flipside of the last study, research has found that girls who respect their bodies are more likely to be physically active and eat healthy. They make healthy lifestyle choices way, way into the future.**  Since what we THINK about our bodies has a strong connection to how we TREAT our bodies, set a goal to shut out negative thoughts as they come and replace them with positive truths! I replaced any negative thoughts that crept into my mind with something positive about my abilities and found major improvements in the negative script that would run through my mind when I was feeling self-conscious.

Put your wedding budget where your mouth is: Make a goal to only shop at stores that treat females respectfully in their advertising and products.  Speaking up with your pocketbook is one of the most powerful ways you can show retailers what you will and will not put up with. For my bridal showers and bachelorette party, I made sure my friends knew I didn’t want to support Victoria’s Secret because I didn’t approve of their marketing. Everyone respected my wishes and VS was not among my gifts! I didn’t feel like I compromised my beliefs for my wedding and my friends got to hear why I am a hater of VS and all other marketing like it. You will be hounded by weight loss and “bridal beauty” advertising online the second the internet finds out about your engagement. Targeted ads on everything from Facebook to Gmail will blast you with reasons to feel shame and want to hide/fix parts of yourself for your “big day.” Don’t even think about clicking on those anxiety-inducing ads. They make money the second you even click. Do it for YOU and your pocketbook!

Lexie and her husband — un-Photoshopped of course!

Don’t Let Your Photos be Photoshopped out of Reality: If you hire a wedding photographer for anything from your engagement pics to your bridal and wedding shots, speak with that person about your goals to be all of YOU, which includes looking like you in your pictures. In a media world where Photoshopping is an industry standard, it might be tempting to just stay quiet and let that photographer make you look your “personal best” (gag). But imagine the influence you can have on all those loved ones who will see your photos. What if you let them see reality, instead of some hollow, blurred shell of you? What if you let them see those crinkles by your eyes from smiling so much? Or your freckles, stray hairs, the actual curves of your body (or lack of curves!), etc. Plus, you will likely always compare yourself to your wedding pictures. Give yourself a realistic image so you aren’t constantly coming up short. Take hold of your beautiful reality and OWN IT.

I grew up believing I probably wouldn’t find love because I didn’t look like someone that was capable of being loved, and I debunked that major myth. When you look at reality, everyone debunks these myths in so many ways. Those lies that yelled that I must VOW TO WOW on my big day – are such major lies. I didn’t change my appearance in any way – I refused to go tanning, I didn’t highlight my hair, I wore my usual amount of minimal makeup that I did myself, I didn’t lose any weight – all to prove a point. And my point was proved. My husband fell in love with ME – not a vision of me, but all of me. And my “big day” was a celebration of love that wasn’t even about ME; it was about us and our families. I woudn’t have done it any other way. I am SO glad my husband loves me the way I am, but I have had to fight to love myself first. It isn’t anyone else’s job to convince you you are beautiful. A significant other can do a world of good to improve your health and body image, but they can’t do it all for you. You get to be the hero in your own body positivity fairy tale, but having a loving supporter (or several) is key.

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.

*Neighbors, L., & Sobal, J. (2007). Prevalence and magnitude of body weight and shape dissatisfaction among university students. Eating Behaviors, 9(4), 429-39.

**van den Berg, P., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2007). Fat ‘n happy 5 years later: Is it bad for overweight girls to like their bodies? Journal of Adolescent Health, 41, 415-417.

Thinness, Happiness and the Illusion of Control: Let Your Heart Break

By Geneen Roth (Originally published here.)

When you accept that hurting and healing are part of living, you can give up the fantasy that being thin controls your happiness.

His name was David, and I was crazy in love with him. The way his shiny dark hair curled around his collar, and how his long fingers waved oh so eloquently in the air as he talked. Every breath he took, every word he uttered seemed as if it was designed to crack my heart open. I wanted to spend my life with him, grow old with him, have more children than Angelina Jolie with him. The only teensy problem was that he didn’t feel the same way about me. “I’m not attracted to you,” he said. “It’s not the same for me as it is for you!” he exclaimed.

Picky, picky, picky, I thought.

I was certain I could persuade him to love me, that he wasn’t seeing clearly, that it was my job to show him that we were meant for each other. I was also certain that when I finally lost the 10 pounds I’d been losing and gaining for a hundred years, he’d be smitten.

And so I pulled out all the stops. I developed a sudden fascination for 18th-century architecture (his field), I baked coconut layer cake (his favorite), I dyed my hair blond (his preferred color). And most of all, I starved myself. I ate nothing but Grape-Nuts without milk for six weeks (don’t ask). I chipped a few teeth, leached most of the calcium out of my bones, and probably depleted my muscle mass by half, but I did finally lose those 10 pounds. A few months into Project David, he fell in love with a size 16 brunette and moved 3,000 miles away.

Most of the people who come to my retreats and workshops believe in Control-of-Life-and-Death-by-Weight. They are convinced that loves and losses can be titrated in pounds. That if only they were thin or thinner, everyone who didn’t love them would love them. Life would be magical, easy, illuminated. In other words, they believe what many of us believe: If we control what we put in our mouths (and the size of our bodies), then we can control everything else. So we spend our lives focused on losing weight, believing that thinness will provide invincible protection from rejection, grief, and sorrow.

But as you probably have already guessed (or experienced firsthand), when you are as thin as you can ever imagine, the people who didn’t love you before will still not love you, and the people who did love you before will love you still. People will come, go, leave, and die, no matter how much you weigh.

Talk about busting childhood myths. As children, we all believed that it was in our power to make our parents happy. If our mother was depressed, if our father was absent, if our parents fought incessantly, we were convinced that it was in our power to make things better. It wasn’t. But how we self-medicated those hurts with food was, and still is. Listening to me say this, one woman in my workshop said, “But wait a minute! The problem is that I’m not in control of what I put in my mouth. If I were, I wouldn’t be here!”

I responded, “If there is one thing about which we are in absolute and irrevocable control, it’s what we put in our mouths. I understand that you don’t feel that’s true. I understand that you feel at the mercy of potato chips and pizza, but truly — it’s only you who lifts your fork or fingers and puts the food in your mouth. It’s completely up to you. And, if there is one thing about which you are not in control, it’s who loves you, stays with you, gets ill, or leaves you.”

As long as you are saying, “Well, I may not be in a relationship now, but when I get thin, I will find the perfect partner,” you give yourself the illusion that you’re in control. You may not be happy now, you tell yourself, but someday soon you will make a change and Prince Charming will suddenly show up at your door. You fool yourself into thinking that you have total control over when your unhappiness will end and perfect happiness will begin. And it has something to do with your weight.

How heartbreak can lead to overeating

Yesterday I received a letter from a woman who weighs 350 pounds. She wrote, “I have always believed deep in my heart that if I would just lose this weight, my parents would love me. They would also stop yelling, stop drinking, stop leaving. My husband would pay more attention to me. My money problems would vanish. My house would be clean. What if I lose the weight and those things don’t happen?”

Losing weight does bring a feeling of lightness; more freedom to move; it puts less pressure on your joints. But it doesn’t pay the bills, clean the house, or prevent people from getting sick or leaving or dying.

Before my father died, I tried everything to keep him alive. I bought him athletic shoes and exercised with him. I made sure he ate well. Part of my motivation, besides wanting him to be healthy, was that I was positive I couldn’t live without him. But when he died, I grieved, I cried, and then life went on. When my cat, Blanche, died, I thought life was over. And then it wasn’t. My best friend, Isabel, moved to Australia a few months ago, and I thought I’d never have another close friend. And then I did. Seems as if I’ve been wrong about quite a few things. But the thing I’ve been most wrong about is that having a broken heart is something to avoid at all costs.

It’s the nature of hearts to break. It’s in their job description. When a heart is doing what it’s supposed to be doing, it holds nothing back. And sometimes it gets broken.

Funny but relevant! Original by Hipster Edit.

And it’s all to avoid something that can’t be avoided. While we are postponing our joy for a future time when everything will be perfect, life is going on with or without our consent — and we are missing it. People come and go, pain comes and goes. But so does joy. And if our hearts are closed because we don’t want to suffer, they won’t be open enough to recognize the joy as it flies by.

Hearts are made to be resilient. Think about it: Is there one thing that’s happened to you that you haven’t survived? Here you are, right now, reading this article despite all the heartache you’ve had in your life. Something in you is still awake, alive, eager to learn, ready to be moved.

And once you know that your heart is resilient, once you accept that part of being here on earth is, as a friend of mine says, living among the brokenhearted, then you can take in the huge streaks of delight, joy, and happiness as well. Once you understand that everything will end, you can finally let your lifethe one you already have, not the one you imagine you’ll someday lose enough weight to deservebegin.

For more information about the author of this post, Geneen Roth, check out her website here

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.

Why Breast Implants Are Not “For You”

“I did it so I could feel better about my body. I did it so I could feel more like a woman. I did it so my clothes would fit better. I did it for ME.”

This is the text of a current TV commercial for breast augmentation, spoken by a beautiful, thin, middle-aged woman looking at herself in a mirror. She is telling the lie that nearly every woman that undergoes this expensive, life-threatening, time-consuming surgery is told and soon comes to believe for herself. “I did it for ME.” It’s time to debunk these ever-circulating excuses about the values of this surgery for the 300,000+ U.S. girls and women who undergo it each year. Let’s talk about WHY breast enhancement surgeries are halting female progress and keeping us in the prison of believing we are “to be looked at” above all else. Using the four excuses from the ad above, it’s time spell out why breast implants are not “for you.” 

“I did it so I could feel better about my body.”

Breast augmentation does not improve your self-esteem. We wish we could shout that from the rooftops! Breast augmentation is NOT therapy, either. A study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that women with breast implants are 73 percent more likely to commit suicide and a large number of studies have confirmed this major increase in suicide after breast augmentation. That’s not because of the implants – it’s because getting them doesn’t solve anything going on internally. Are you depressed? A breast augmentation will not make you less depressed. Do you experience body shame or low self esteem because of your looks? You cannot remedy an internal problem with an external quick fix like cosmetic surgery. A breast augmentation will not guarantee you greater self-esteem, and instead might cause you to fixate on your looks as your primary source of self-worth. This will only hurt your self-esteem in the long run, because you will have to constantly fix your “flaws” to live up to your ideas of beauty. (See the section at the end for a more promising path to body positivity.) Do you think bigger breasts will attract a mate or make your partner love you more? If you’re looking for attention based on what your chest looks like, this could work. But if you’re seeking a lasting connection with someone who values more than your chest, breast implants aren’t going to guarantee that. A breast augmentation has nothing to do with the love of a partner. If your partner’s love for you is dependent on the size and shape of your breasts, they do not really love you. It sounds so harsh, but it is true.

If you have undergone or are planning to undergo breast augmentation surgery to “feel better about your body,” research shows us this just won’t work. The two major breast implant companies in the U.S., Allergan and Mentor, both tried to prove to the FDA that breast implants helped women’s self-esteem and both proved how wrong they were. Allergan used 12 different quality of life measures to compare augmentation patients before surgery and 2 years later.  Nine of the 12 (75%) were worse after the women got their breast implants, including self-esteem.  The results were similar for women getting Mentor breast implants.  The women got worse in their self-reported physical health and mental health, with most showing no difference in their self-concept or how they felt about their body.

Plastic surgeons have approached us* to help them make their marketing less misleading and to help provide instruction for women that cosmetic procedures will NOT fix internal problems, like hating your body or not feeling feminine. These plastic surgeons acknowledged that patients were using procedures as therapy, or desperate attempts to feel better about themselves, and have seen firsthand that their work does nothing of the sort — it only changes physical features. 

“I did it so I could feel more like a woman.”

Where did we get our ideas about what normal women’s breasts are supposed to look like? Unfortunately, too many people have learned a very unreal and profit-driven breast ideal from porn. Most people don’t see a ton of nude breasts in person on a regular basis, so the ones we see mediated to us often shape perceptions of what’s ideal and even what’s normal — leaving most girls and women feeling abnormal and pushing many to seek a remedy in the form of implants. What does it really mean when people say they did this to “feel” more like a woman? As you can guess, this phrase generally means they did it to “look” more like a woman. But guess what? Women come in all shapes and sizes. No shape or size is more “woman” than any other. No hips? No breasts? No curves? There are millions of women that fit those categories right alongside you. What about having one breast larger than the other? Join the club. It’s an extremely popular club — the majority of women are members of it. You are a woman – own it for every other woman who looks just like you and is shamed into believing she’s less than a woman for it. 

“I did it so my clothes would fit better.”

Yikes. We need to work on our problem-solving skills. You don’t think you look too great in that blouse? Get it tailored! You don’t fill out that swimsuit top like you’d hoped? Buy a different one! Or better yet, rock it anyway and prove to the world that nothing changes – literally nothing – when you go out wearing a top you don’t “fill out” as well you think you need to.

“I did it for ME.”

Unless the person saying this is into surgery for the fun of it or enjoys the experience of having foreign objects surgically implanted in them, then what this statement really means is: “I did it to look better.” Yes, the current beauty trend includes large, firm breasts. It wasn’t always that way and it won’t always be that way, but right now, fashion and beauty ideals often idealize this look. When women elect to this procedure under the premise that it’s “for me,” they’re almost always speaking from a place of self-objectification, or viewing themselves as an object from an outsider’s perspective. They’re saying they’ll look better when they’re looking at their own reflections, and feel better because they think other people will think they look better too. This is no way to live, but epidemic numbers of girls and women do live in a constant state of body monitoring at the expense of everything else. If we take “look ‘better'” out of the equation, what’s really in it for YOU at the end of the day is: You’ll lose thousands of dollars; lose significant time in surgery, recovery and follow-up exams; possible lost sensation in your breasts; increase your chances of cancer but decrease your chances of finding cancer because you have implants in the way, etc.  

We know what’s in it for plastic surgeons and makers of implants: money. And not just the one-time cost of surgery. The FDA stated in a report that breast implants WILL fail within 10 years and referred to implants as “temporary devices.” “[Women] need to understand they’re going to need many removals and replacements for the rest of their lives,” stated the National Research Center for Women & Families. The FDA says up to 40 percent of patients who get silicone implants will need another operation to modify or remove them within 10 years. For women with implants for breast reconstruction, the number is even higher, at up to 70 percent. The biggest issue was scar tissue hardening around the implant, while pain, infection, ruptures and asymmetry followed close behind.

Did you know the FDA stated that breast augmentation patients must get MRIs every two years to screen for “silent ruptures” of the silicone implants because you don’t know when they’re leaking? They don’t deflate. So that’s an extra $2,000 biannually for women who have elected to breast enhancement. Add it all up and the original $5K-$10K procedure will now cost a 25-year-old woman at least another $35K for re-implantation and $30K for the recommended number of MRIs throughout her life! And that is not including any health complications from all those surgical procedures, anesthesia, potential leaking or disease, time away from work, family, and life, etc.

Further, women with breast implants are also more likely to be diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma, a rare form of cancer. Implants can hide the mammography image of a tumor, resulting in a delay in cancer diagnosis. Mammogram machinery can also rupture an implant. So…this isn’t good for your health. Read more info on the latest breast implant studies regarding your health here

To sum it up: cosmetic surgery — especially breast augmentation — is a threat to female health and happiness. This threat directly affects girls and women – not males  at epidemic rates. Cosmetic surgery is up nearly 500% in the last decade and a full 92% of those procedures – mostly breast augmentation and liposuction – were performed on girls and women. It keeps us “in our place” as objects to be looked at, fixed, and ogled. Electing to these procedures hits us hard. It hits our pocketbooks, when we could be spending our hard-earned money on so many more important things. It raises the bar of “normal” and “what it looks like to be a woman” for every girl, woman, boy and man that comes in contact with us. It affects our physical health in seen and unforeseen ways. Besides the health implications like life-threatening ruptures and the likelihood of botched surgeries, breast implants affect our ability to run, dive, jump, golf, etc. These risks reinforce the notion that your breasts are not yours — they are for others to look at.

It’s time to rethink the extremes to which we push ourselves in the name of “beauty.” We are more than bodies to be looked at. Choosing to forego breast augmentation can be more empowering than going under the knife — and better for our health, too. Please know that it is not our place to shame or blame anyone for undergoing this procedure. We know as well as anyone how much pressure and shame women feel in the name of “ideal beauty.” It is immense. But there is a better way – and it starts in our minds, not on our chests.

If you feel like your body image has been negatively affected by profit-driven media or cultural ideals, you can harness your power in these four areas to take back beauty and help others do the same: 

Mental Power:

  • Increasing our media literacy (understanding how and why media is engineered the way it is — see our entire “recognize” category of blog posts)
  • Critical thinking about beauty and health ideals (skin colorbody sizeageBMIfitspiration)
  • Critical self-reflection about our own beliefs and choices
  • Making conscious decisions about the media we consume and cutting out what is harmful (start with a media fast)

Social Power:

Physical Power:

  • Using our bodies as instruments rather than objects (setting and achieving fitness goals)
  • Redefining health for ourselves according to internal indicators and how we feel — not how we look

Spiritual Power:

  • Understanding that you are more than just a body and tapping into that higher-level thinking in whatever way suits you
  • “There exists a positive relationship between spirituality, mental and physical health, life satisfaction, and wellness. It follows that if a woman draws her sense of meaning from a spiritual force that goes beyond herself and that provides coherence and purpose to the universe, she will find less need to focus on her weight, shape, and appearance in an attempt to find happiness or life satisfaction” (Choate, 2007, p. 323).

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.

*We have provided free consultation to plastic surgeons on how to help women use our work to develop their self worth outside of their breasts as an alternative to surgery, but have gone no further.

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