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A gift for every body

Our stare-and-compare culture still extends from beauty pageants at one end to body shaming at the other. When is enough enough?

The Women’s Freedom Center (womensfreedomcenter.net) works in Windham and Southern Windsor counties to end domestic and sexual violence. You can reach an advocate on their 24-hour crisis line at 802-254-6954. Because of the sensitive and often dangerous nature of their work, we offer the Freedom Center contributors rare anonymity in these pages.

Brattleboro

A few years ago, we wrote a satirical column on “toppling the patriarchy in eight easy steps.” (It’s still online, if you’re curious.)

Since then, who could’ve imagined either the progress or the backlash we’ve seen just in this past year alone?

Even as bits of scaffold come tumbling down, it’s worth revisiting the last step we offered, as a beacon beyond the whole Love Boat theme of February:

“Resist media-hyped consciousness. Support everyone’s birthright to define themselves, and start a revolution while you’re at it — appreciate every kind of human body, including your own.”

Revolution indeed — to heal body image in the 21st century, when cameras blatantly zoom in on stars, either to ogle them or to mock their bikini thighs.

Though heartless media-influence is hardly news, it is remarkable how it scars and spreads with impunity throughout our culture.

And it is still a radical concept to resist — that is, to essentially un-wash our brains about our own bodies.

* * *

While girls and women have historically been the most affected, especially during their teens, according to the National Eating Disorders Association, the impact is growing more common in younger and older populations too, including among men and boys.

A recent study found that more than half of teen girls and a third of teen boys use unhealthy weight-control behaviors like fasting, smoking, and vomiting.

Overall, it’s estimated that at least 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder in the United States. Call it the emotional twist to “you are what you eat” — we’re all fed a steady diet of thin, idealized looks — plus, increasingly, altered images of supposed “human” perfection.

Meanwhile, weight is hardly the only size-anxiety stoked by ads, media, or celebrity culture. Practically any body, and body part, could be susceptible. Plus into this whole stew go many other toxins: racism, ableism, ageism, misrepresentation, invisibility — the list goes on.

But imagine if we’d never been “sold to” in the first place, if we learned from day one to accept all bodies with equal respect. No -isms, slurs, or false hierarchies.

That would topple way more than patriarchy — it would end the ugly side of “beauty” and of body politics. It would free norms and dreams and power overnight.

Even ads would need to cut back their B.S. Just think: if their default pitch didn’t imply our “faults,” there’d be no buyers for their “fixes” either, and many markets would just collapse.

Bummer.

* * *

Instead, it can be hard to filter out the years of accumulated gunk in the way of our self-acceptance.

As the saying goes, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” yet our stare-and-compare culture still extends from beauty pageants at one end to body shaming at the other.

If taken in on a cellular level, what all those messages can do to us is really nothing compared to what we then do to ourselves, and perhaps one another.

In a support group here once, a woman had reached her limit and was venting frustration, not just with what her batterer said and demanded of her, but with what our whole abusive culture echoed in every aisle of the grocery store, movie theater — everywhere.

At one point, she blurted the question we should all be asking ourselves: “I mean, who is my body for, anyway?”

Who, indeed.

Our bodies, ourselves — yes, and our bodies, our lifelong friends. It’s only through them that we access adventures, express our talents and our joys, and take in our naturally beautiful world.

So this Valentine’s Day, and on every day, let’s give ourselves something decadent — like liberation.

Let’s pop the artificial bubble and say, “Enough!” Because we are enough, one and all.

Here’s to a radical Fashion Week of the future: no catwalks, no pedestals, just a parade of regular peeps.

Oh — and maybe everyone’s wearing a designer crown.

What do you think? Leave us a comment

Editor’s note: Our terms of service require you to use your real names. We will remove anonymous or pseudonymous comments that come to our attention. We rely on our readers’ personal integrity to stand behind what they say; please do not write anything to someone that you wouldn’t say to his or her face without your needing to wear a ski mask while saying it. Thanks for doing your part to make your responses forceful, thoughtful, provocative, and civil. We also consider your comments for the letters column in the print newspaper.

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Tamara Stenn
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Tamara Stenn (Brattleboro, Vermont, US) says...

Thanks for writing this Elayne. I was thinking the same thing myself. The silence we received from the hospital is quite deafening. Unfortunately we\'ve had to continue working with the hospital as other (minor) heath issues come up.

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Judith Skillman
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Judith Skillman (Newcastle, US) says...

Excellent and informative writing about the media and about the state of our nation. We must support the press speak truth to power, now more than ever before.

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Ruby Bode
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Ruby Bode (Westminster, Vermont, US) says...

We are also obliged to criticize the press when they merely echo the lies of the powerful. In this case, much of the press has taken a side, not just against the policies of the President, but against the election itself on behalf of the parties of war and Wall St. Just as the US has in the past agitated in other countries for coups against democratic outcomes they don’t like, much of the press, including this editorial, is now agitating for a coup here at home.

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Peter Ford
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Peter Ford (Dallas) says...

Nailed it - Thank you.

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TB Smith
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TB Smith (Ba, Oklahoma, US) says...

The divisiveness brought on by this shamefully poor excuse for a president has been once again, borne out by this article, and the responses to it .. his most devoted followers are the most gullible and easily swayed sheeple since the \"Kool-Aid party in Jonestown\" ... those who stand up the most fervently to this dictator \"wanabe\", will , inthe end, see him and the fellow purveyors of his garbage rhetoric like FOX News, Alex Jones, Breitbart, etc., crumble and be dumped like stale crackers (pardon the pun) .. we must impeach this tyrant before too much damage is done, either from within or outside our borders.

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Ruby Bode
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Ruby Bode (Westminster, Vermont, US) says...

So it’s OK that access to outlets that simply recognize Trump as President is indeed being shut down? But isn’t that exactly what this editorial is against? Should outlets that cheered on Obama’s wars and love of Wall St have likewise been shut down? Only John Birch Society–inspired screeds against Trump indicate the “legitimate” press?

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Ruby Bode
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Ruby Bode (Westminster, Vermont, US) says...

TB Smith’s comment in apparent support of the us-vs-them tone of this editorial illustrates why so many people distrust so much of the press (although, again, it appears to be only pro-Trump and anti-imperialist outlets that are actually being shut down): They are promulgating hysterical claims about fascism, Russians, and “crackers” not in the interest of the people, but wholly on behalf of the neoliberal/neoconservative program of Reagan, Clinton, Bush, and Obama to deny Trump the Presidency and even remove him from office – not democratically, but by coup if necessary. That makes the press rather anti-democratic and, indeed, against the people.

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Amelia Stone
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Amelia Stone (E Dummerston, Vermont, US) says...

Kudos to the Boston Globe for encouraging newspapers across the country to remind us all of the value of a free press, and to the Commons for hearing that call. The NYTimes article, A Free Press Needs You, concludes with the following: \"If you haven’t already, please subscribe to your local papers. Praise them when you think they’ve done a good job and criticize them when you think they could do better. We’re all in this together.\" Today I plan to subscribe.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #446 (Wednesday, February 14, 2018). This story appeared on page D2.

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