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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.

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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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