Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Body Image Warrior Week Post!


As I've mentioned previously, I'm a Sister to Sister Mentor for New Moon Girls, a fabulous magazine and online community for girls ages 8 to 12. It's really the perfect community for preteen girls- it's smart and not at all condescending, there are incredibly insightful discussions, and it allows girls to discuss issues both fun and serious in a safe environment. One of the issues on which New Moon focuses is body image, regretfully perfect for the demographic of its participants. Although I know body image barely brushes the surface of the issue, I wrote a post for the girls of the site (keep the age group in mind :)) for National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. I'm pleased to also publish it in conjunction with Body Image Warrior Week at Already Pretty, which was inspired by NEDA Week to publish posts regarding body image, and I thought that worked out conveniently. Here's the post reprinted below.

My group of friends consists of some pretty incredible girls. I suppose I am biased, as their friend, but they really are spectacular. Some of us have the highest grades in our whole class, others are being commended by colleges already for their athletics, some are leads in the school plays. But wait—that’s not really what makes us special; those are just things that society thinks make a person stand out. My friends are special because they’re caring, kind, good listeners, honest, and beautiful people.

That’s why it’s so disheartening that every one of us has known many equally special girls with eating disorders or disordered eating. A combination of genetics, cultural and family norms, low self-esteem, media influence, and dissatisfaction with weight or one’s body are causes of eating disorders. At least one in every hundred American women suffers from an eating disorder. Even more appalling, 95% of those suffering from eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25, and about 90% of those people female.

Eating disorders are a really important topic for me. I had very poor body image when I was younger, which is something that I still struggle with, and even contemplated eating disorder behaviors. I had really negative thoughts about my body for over a year before I told my best friend, and it was over another year later when I told my other friends. I trusted my friends, and they knew most things about me, but I was embarrassed and terrified to tell them or anyone else. My friends were all so smart and didn’t seem very concerned about their image; I thought that if I told them that I wanted to be thinner or prettier they would think I was silly or “girly”. I thought that they would be awkward around me after I told them, treating me like there was something wrong with me. I was afraid that they would agree that there WAS something wrong with me.

It also just happens that most of the people in my group of friends are especially thin. I was even afraid- amazing girls that they are who would NEVER do such a thing- that they just hadn’t noticed that I wasn’t as thin as them yet, and once I told them, they wouldn’t want to be my friends anymore.

When I told all of my friends how much I hated my body at a sleepover in ninth grade, no one freaked out. Most of the other girls admitted that they’d felt the same way, which shocked me. Most importantly, all of those girls are still my best friends, and at times that my body image was particularly negative in the future, I’ve found friends to go to that make me remember that weight isn’t important. That’s something I know for a fact- that every girl is beautiful- but sometimes I forget it about myself.

When I finally made this confession, though, something unanticipated happened- my body image improved dramatically and I was so much happier. It wasn’t because people had assured me that I wasn’t “fat”; it was because a secret that had seemed so dark and embarrassing to me really wasn’t so powerful anymore. I realized that I didn’t have to think about my weight all the time, and that people I loved most would still love me back regardless of how much I weighed.

If you are ever struggling with body image, please don’t hesitate to sticker me or one of the other mentors or post on the Sister to Sister message board. It feels so much better to get it out in the open.


Monday, January 30, 2012

Guest Post!

Hello! I'm sorry that I haven't posted in months. I hope that everyone's 2012 is going swimmingly. Today, I have a guest post from my friend Lola George about gender's relevance that she wrote for her gender ideology class (of which I'm super jealous- I wish my school had one of those!) It is a wonderful piece and I'm so honored that she's given me permission to post it here.

“GENDER IS A SOCIAL CONSTUCTION!” I shout, semi-jokingly across my German room to two friends arguing about which gender is superior. A laugh erupts from my fellow students, bounces around the room, settles, and then we’re back to learning. I sit back in my chair, and consider what I have just said. I’ve always been soft-spoken, and I tend to keep to myself in a classroom setting. What was it that moved me to speak my unpopular opinion aloud, for a room full of peers who would be thrilled to have another reason to judge me? I consider the phrase. “Gender is a social construction.” What does that even mean? If gender is only a social construction, why does it affect our lives so much? Social constructions only have the power we choose to give them, so why have we chosen this one as a way to govern our lives?

Throughout my life, my parents have never pressured me to be a certain way. They have always been supportive of whatever choices I make. The same goes for me choosing to go with or rebel against gender norms. Up until about third or fourth grade, I was always incredibly “feminine”. I wore dresses exclusively, dressed my cat up in doll’s clothes, and liked to keep things neat and clean. I was very careful and cautious and I absolutely loathed any sport or activity that required me to break a sweat, get my hands dirty, or hit another human being. This fact about me still rings true today.

However, once high school hit, I felt a need to rebel against traditional gender roles. During my freshman year, I was completely head-over-heels infatuated with a senior named Leah. The first couple of weeks, I only admired her from afar. I couldn’t even determine her gender until we spoke for the first time, but from the first time I saw her I knew that I found her to be very intriguing and very attractive. In hindsight, I think what attracted me to her most was the rebellious lifestyle that came with her short, shaggy boy’s hair cut and baggy jeans, which were offset by the delicate silver rings on her fingers and the way t-shirts tugged against the curve of her hips. She was a gender rebel, an insurgent against traditional roles, and everything about her life had me completely captivated. Being an active member of our school, Leah was the president of a few clubs, including the gay-straight alliance, and, being an active member or our school, I made sure to join every one of them. Much to my excitement, we ended up getting along quite nicely. Leah taught me everything she knew about queer culture, and I soaked it all up like a sponge. She introduced me to feminism and the world of gender-bending queer slam poetry, which I am still grateful for today. Eager to be like her in any way I could, I decided it was “uncool” to fit gender norms, and started to dress more androgynously. I bought boys’ pants and wore my rattiest sneakers. However, try as I would, I couldn’t seem to really look like a boy. Not like Leah could, anyway. One day, were sitting outside, discussing the trials and tribulations of being out and queer in high school. I was asking her about her experiences, trying to relate, when she stopped me. “Look at you, then look at me,” she said, glancing over me and then herself. I had a neat button-down men’s shirt, tucked into a pair of unisex trousers, all topped off with a black bow tied in my hair. She was wearing her usual uniform, an oversized t-shirt and shabby jeans, typical “boy” clothing. At first I felt frustrated in my inability to pass as a non-conformist, a gender rebel, but then I understood something I hadn’t considered before. Gender is a form of self-expression and how we present ourselves to the world, if nothing else. I knew who I was, and my true self could not be altered. I am who I am, and I identify how I identify, and even if it isn’t making the biggest statement, my identity cannot be changed.

Now, I am very comfortable with my identity. I wear what I want, whether that is a miniskirt and heels or a t-shirt and cargo shorts. To quote Andrea Gibson, I am what I am when I am it. My friends are a wide array of sexual orientations and gender identities, with many different views on the subject. One of my closest friends is a queer-identified boy named Adam. This year, instead of going to homecoming, he asked me out on a best-friend date. School dances have always made me uncomfortable. I hate dancing, bad pop music and sweaty gyms, so naturally, school dances are my personal hell. Of course, I accepted Adam’s invitation. It would be strictly platonic, just two queers out on the town, mocking heteronormative culture. We dressed up and went out to dinner, using fake accents and laughing quietly when the waiter mistook us for a couple. When we decided we had our fill of overpriced pasta, I got out my wallet, thinking we were going to split the check. Instead he leaned over across the table and said, “Please let me pay.” Being a person who would never refuse a free meal, I was about to graciously accept Adam’s offer, until he continued, in a no-nonsense, serious tone, “It would really make me more comfortable. I don’t want to waiter to think I’m some terrible boyfriend.” This is where I had to stop him. I tried to make a list in my head of everything that was wrong with this, but I decided soon that the list would be infinite. I felt so angry. This is exactly what we’re trying to make fun of. Why couldn’t he understand that? I swiftly whipped a $20 dollar bill out of my wallet, and said, loud enough, for the waiter to hear, in my terribly fake accent, “Great, so we’re splitting it!”

I don’t know what gender really is, and I don’t know what makes it so important. All I know is that as long as a queer boy will feel the need to pay for a queer girl’s dinner because he feels pressure to look or be a certain way, gender will be playing too big of a role in our lives.