Friday 19 July 2013

Body Image: Being comfortable with yourself

We are all the sum total of our experiences. Our personalities are developed by our parents, our families, our environment, and good or possibly tragic events. Ignoring the truly psychotic, how we act, who we are, is representative of what we have experienced in life. As such, when I meet somebody who is mean or cruel, I don't necessarily condemn them as a bad person, I wonder what bad thing has happened to them to leave them that way. In my observations, I found that people who have had a decent childhood and a measure of success in life tend to be happy, generous, and kind. Those who are miserable, mean or unkind have had a bad life event; they have been treated poorly by somebody or something really bad has happened to them.

"The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good."
-Unknown (misattributed to Samuel Johnson and Ann Landers)

However, I do not believe that any one of us truly appreciates the effect society, media, and our peer groups have on us. When I say we are the sum total of our experiences, those include a myriad of outside influences. Whether it is friends or colleagues, TV or the Internet, news or entertainment, we are constantly bombarded by a slew of messages which influence how we think and how we behave.

Sheila Kelley is an American actress, fitness guru, founder of Pole Dancing Workout, and a motivational speaker. In a TED Talk given in 2012 (see my blog: Sheila Kelley: Let's Get Naked: TED Talk), she discusses the suppression of female sexuality in our society. At the age of seven on a hot summer day, she and two neighbour boys took of their tops and lay down in the cool grass. The mother of the boys yelled out the window to the 7-year-old Ms. Kelley to put her top back on, that she was a naughty girl and that she should be ashamed of herself. Mom then sent the 7-year-old girl home. Kelley points out that a young girl is taught at an early age her body is different and should be hidden.

Just think about that for a second. Just think about what happened to this young girl at the age of seven. Even before puberty, we are being taught something about ourselves, about males and females. What is that message and how does it affect our behaviour and our relationships with other people?

True Story
I am visiting a small company as a computer consultant back in 1992 and I am talking with Bill the manager and Lori the head secretary. Out of the blue, Bill decides to tell me a joke and says, "What's the difference between a woman and a walrus? ... One has a moustache and smells like fish, the other lives in the sea."

I was stunned. He says this in front of Lori. She nervously laughs not really knowing what to do. After all, Bill is her boss and signs her pay check. I didn't know what to say either; I was positively appalled he would say such a thing in front of a woman for starters but secondly; the premise of the entire joke is based on a sexist stereotype to which I do not at all subscribe. What an absolute idiot!

However I have to come back to the etymology of this joke. It is based on the idea that women smell. Down there. I'll come back to the veracity of this idea in a sec but I wonder if the women reading this remember the late 1970s, early 1980s? I believe this is when feminine deodorants hit the market. Now think about this for an instant. An entire industry is dedicated to telling women that they smell and have to do something about it. What? (We guys have our own "pubic odour." Masculine pheromones?)

Even before feminine deodorant, were women told to douche? The Wikipedia article "Douche" reads: Many health care professionals state that douching is dangerous, as it interferes with both the vagina's normal self-cleaning and with the natural bacterial culture of the vagina, and it might spread or introduce infections. The same article goes on to state that today 27% of women ages 15 to 44 douche regularly.

What is the message being given to women young and old about their own bodies?

The walrus joke is boys' locker room talk based on the utter ignorance of the feminine sex. I have a confession and because it is sexual in nature I'm sure it will titillate some but I think the truth is important.

At a very early age in my sexual life, I discovered that women smell wonderful and taste great. I believe that performing oral sex on a woman is the most intimate and sensual act of sex a man can do. To any man reading this who does not perform oral sex, you are missing out on a wonderful way of connecting with your partner. Every man should do it. I will say unequivocally that in sex, like many areas of life, giving is far more rewarding than receiving. Oh I like to receive, don't get me wrong, but giving; ah, now that's truly gratifying.

Bill the manager was trying to be funny like two boys in the locker room. His choice of joke was abominable and I, as his locker room buddy, should have chewed him out in front of Lori for perpetuating a falsehood. I'm sure Bill's wife is a deprived woman.

#AdultSexEdMonth: Body Image
I recently followed and contributed to this Twitter initiative in the month of June, started by @GoodDirtyWoman, creator of the web site "A Good Woman's Dirty Mind". Various bloggers and sex experts chimed in with their collective knowledge and experience about sex and all that is so related. It was all informative and educational.

The topic of body image cropped up. We are all slaves to media and the idealized forms of the human body both male and female. How does each of us deal with our own issues of body image and arrive at some point where we accept ourselves and others as they are?

I contributed my article "An open letter to (older) women about body image" which was inspired by two female authors, D. A. Wolf of the Daily Plate of Crazy and Pamela Madeson of Being Shameless who discussed the problems of being female and trying to attain this desired pinnacle of beauty. But as a man, I added that the male sex is not immune to this race for the ultimate body. In my posting, I cited a Guardian article about a British study looking at how men are very much concerned with their looks. Maybe some men don't give a rat's ass what they look like, but some of us are spending enough time at the gym for that elusive goal of getting six-pack abs and some sort of hunkiness. Both sexes, it would seem, are influenced by those spectacularly good-looking models we see in magazines and on television. Don't ya just hate'em?

On May 24, 2013, Noah Brand, the editor at The Good Men Project, took the laudable step of declaring in public, "I've done being ashamed" and publishing naked pictures of himself. (I’m Stark Naked: Deal With It)

My body is a testament to high testosterone. I have a body type one sees a lot: male pattern baldness, plenty of body hair, builds both muscle and fat very easily. You see guys like me all the time, with our wide shoulders and wider beer guts. Burly sonsabitches, often rocking the shaved-head-and-beard combo. It is not, it’s fair to say, a body type that is highly lauded by media culture.
I’m technically considered obese.

Bravely going where the timid dare to trend, Mr. Brand made a bold move for all of us in promoting himself as being not an idealised fashion model but just your average guy. Guess what? The majority of us are just your average people. We're not models. We're not movie stars. We are not part of the air-brushed glamour promoted as the idealised goal but which is, when you get down to it, impossible to achieve. Yes, on occasion a magazine publishes before and after pictures of models before and after makeup, lighting, Photoshopping, etc. and even they end up being transformed into something which is not truly real and very much not attainable.

A number of bloggers during #AdultSexEdMonth offered their own take on body image.

A Good Womans Dirty Mind - Jun 16/2013
Bodies of All Shapes & Sizes are Sexy by MsQuote
I like to consider myself to be a self-aware person. Mentally, I’m sexy, but I’m honest about my body.
I personally don’t blame the media and advertising for skewing my perceptions of how I and women should look.
However, I blame a lot of men, but not all men, for projecting unrealistic expectations of how women should look.

Sunny Megatron - Jul 2/2012
Body Bashing: There is No Wrong Way to Have a Body
I am tired, tired, tired of the “Real Women Have Curves” bullshit floating around Facebook. Yes, I have curves. Sometimes I love them and often I hate them. I have major body image issues. ... Who isn’t plagued with the same sorts of thoughts? Skinny people? Yeah, think again. Nearly all the women I talk to (and a good handful of the men) have body image issues. We ALL have body insecurities. Even the “perfect” looking people.

CondomDepot TV - Jun 20/2013
Improve Your Body Image, Improve Your Sex Life by Kelly Steele
With the growing influence of the media on the population, focus on idealized body image is at an all-time high.
In a recent study, it was found that 52 percent of women have avoided or postponed sex, even when they were in the mood, because they were too self-conscious about the way their body looked to their partner.
If you do not feel good about yourself, you will not enjoy [sex] to its full potential.

"To its full potential." Excuse me while I take a moment to reflect.

Final Word
We all walk down the street looking around and react to certain triggers. As a man, it could be the obvious visual cues promoted from magazine models to movie stars. As a woman, it could be the latest public darling such as Ryan Gosling! But in real life, that is in real relationships, we are average people connecting with average people. As I've stated elsewhere, we are far more than just our looks. A pretty package may catch our eye but it's the contents which keep us coming back. Now I'm not saying I'm not going to the gym, that I'm not going to buy good clothes, and that I'm going to forego a shower, a shave, and a haircut. But I do know I have intelligence, education, experience, and a sense of humour to bring to the table. My six pack abs may be more like four pack and my hunkiness might come up a tad short to Ryan Gosling's, but I hope I have more to my arsenal than looks.

"Nothing makes a woman more beautiful than the belief that she is beautiful."
-Sophia Loren US (Italian-born) movie actress (1934 – )

There's the key: confidence. It's not what you have, it's how you use it. A lesson for all of us, both men and women. But in talking about confidence, I have a confession. Yes, I can stand up in front of a room full of people and give a speech. Yes, I can put on a bathing suit and parade around on a public beach. And yes, I know I'm not Ryan Gosling; I'm painfully aware of that whenever I look at myself in the mirror. But like Noah Brand, here I am, deal with it. And once in a while, it would be nice to hear I'm your Ryan Gosling. Certainly I'm going to treat you like my Sophia Loren.


Samuel Johnson
Although many people believe that Samuel Johnson said "The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good," there is no concrete evidence that he ever said it or wrote it.

In Bed With Married Women - Apr 5/2010
My Wife's Body By An Anonymous Husband
My wife, like millions of women in this world, has a poor body self-image. She hates her body, in fact, and never stops beating herself up over her extra pounds, or her veins, or her wrinkles, or countless other aspects of her form.

my blog: An open letter to (older) women about body image
Body image, mental image: I'm not perfect but I'm beautiful anyway.

Wikipedia: Sidney J. Harris
Sydney J. Harris (September 14, 1917 – December 8, 1986) was an American journalist for the Chicago Daily News and later the Chicago Sun-Times. His weekday column, “Strictly Personal,” was syndicated in many newspapers throughout the United States and Canada.

Justine Musk - July 3/2013
the art of thinking highly of yourself (without being a totally obnoxious narcissist or something)
One thing I’ve noticed lately in my conversations about women, reading books and magazines about women, listening to other people talk about women, is that everybody seems to take it as a given that women as a group have low self-esteem. A lot of this seems to be attributed to the fact that, bombarded as we are by an insane beauty standard, most of us don’t look like supermodels – a.k.a. ‘genetic freaks’ – and don’t consider ourselves beautiful. Boo hoo.

(For the record, Edith Piaf didn’t consider herself beautiful either. “I’m ugly,” she stated flat-out. “I’m not Venus. I’ve got sagging breasts, a low-slung ass, and little drooping buttocks….But I can still get men.” Indeed. I was reading about her in a book called SEDUCTRESS (Betsy Prioleau), about the great seductresses and enchantresses of history, and Piaf could “get men” until the day she died.)

Daily Plate of Crazy - July 20/2013
Does Marriage Bring Out Our “Worst” Selves? by D. A. Wolf
Then there’s the weight issue specifically, or as I like to refer to it, the “fat” issue. For some men, a fat wife is a betrayal, a transgression, a free pass to cheat.


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Pauline Gaines said...

Wonderful, well-conceived and executed piece as usual. As someone whose body happens to fit the culture's depiction of desirable, I can tell you that I almost never feel good enough. I relentlessly scrutinize, and find fault with, my imperfections. It feels like prison sometimes. I've often admired African-American women, many of whom wear their large size with unabashed pride and confidence.

D. A. Wolf said...

I recall reading this one Mr. Belle. You make many points - all impeccably. (And thank you for the mention.)

After re-reading today, I went back through my archives in search of the following, which dates to 2011, but has staggering spending figures in it, when it comes to several aspects of manipulation of the female body, long a political and social battleground.

One of the most significant aspects in the issues around society applying its pressures to the female form: big business.

Hundreds of billions of dollars worth.

Many interesting sources noted here, and Ms. Madsen cited as well. (Hope you don't mind.)