Jul 27, 2008

Robin Hood (The Disney Version) and a few thoughts...

I absolutely love this movie. It was a childhood favorite of mine, and watching it brings back a flood of childhood memories and feelings. I watched it a few nights ago for the first time in over ten years ago, and I was struck by various thoughts that I will now share...

First, I noticed the differences in the characters....It may seem obvious to some, but after studying feminine archetypes and after participatiang in FA, the way fat characters are portrayed fascinates me. For instance, Maid Marian, the heroine of the movie, was small -- petite, demure, large eyes resembling the cuteness of a baby, her head is always cocked to one side with her eyelashes batting toward various characters.

Her sidekick is the lovable and funny hen who happens to be fat. She is portrayed in a positive manner, but certainly not as "beautiful" or attractive to the opposite sex. She is strong, protective, brash, funny, lovable - a likable character, absolutely. Maid Marian, however, is the sex symbol. She's the damsel in distress archetype. She wins the hero in the end after being rescued. These two characters teach some powerful messages to children (and anyone else who watches the movie). Young girls watch this movie and long to be Maid Marian (at least I did). And what is Maid Marian? Skinny, yes. Soft-spoken. Always smiling. Coy. Small. Graceful. Never causing conflict. Needing someone to rescue her. This is what femininity was in my childhood brain to many girls and boys who grew up watching this movie.

A similar observation can be made about Little John, Robin Hood's fat sidekick. He is also shown in a positive light, loyal, strong, but also maintaining certatin fat stereotypes -- jolly, funny, not sexually attractive.

The same points can be made about masculinity. That Robin Hood portrays the ideal hero masculine features -- brave, agile, trim, an outlaw, etc. And, of course, he rescues the damsel in distress and they live happily ever after.

Now don't get me wrong, I really do love this movie. And overall, I think it preaches very positive messages to children who watch it. For instance, sticking up for people. The injustice of corrupt power. And Robin Hood and Maid Marian are certainly likable -- they are nice people (foxes?), jovial and kind to teach other and the rest of the townspeople. But, it is interesting to point out the similarities in heroines in popular childhood tales which inevitably teach us all something about what it is to be a girl in the world. If you don't believe me, take a look at this list of Disney characters. Are any of them fat? Even just a little chubby? Do any of them have long noses? Small eyes? Chubby cheeks?

These movies all have a soft spot in my heart. The softest imaginable, in fact. But some balance would be nice.

A sidenote: I had to stop Robin Hood three quarters of the way through. I used to have nightmares about the scene when Robin Hood rescues the townspeople from prison and steals the king's gold. My six-year old stress level carried over into my now twenty-seven year old self which I found funny but also a little scary. Subconscious messages=powerful.

Jul 21, 2008

Art and Self-hatred

Here are a few examples of the work I am doing regarding body image and body distortion, weight and beauty, and self-hatred. I'd love some feedback.

(all work is copywrighted and may not be used without express permission from the artist)

Jul 20, 2008

My Story

“I want to be a model!” I proclaimed proudly, hair tied up and clipped with a perfectly glued bow, bangs in tightly manicured curls.
“Yeah right, you can’t be a model.”

It was Mikey Dominguez. Fourth grade, Mrs. Stowe’s Social Studies. Mrs. Stowe had just asked the class what everyone wanted to be when we grew up. Mikey wanted to be a pro-basketball player, and yes, I wanted to be a model. It made sense, I was a cute girl after all. And though I was a great student, I was given most praise for my dimples and my resemblance to my beautiful mother. Beauty was valuable in my fourth-grade world. If I learned anything during my nine years of life thus far, that was it. And, what better career could I aspire to than that of a beautiful woman who is paid to be admired.

Mrs. Stowe made Mikey apologize, of course. He hung his head and grumbled the apology, obviously insincere and while the rest of the class was giggling. That was my first moment of being judged harshly for my beauty, or lack thereof. Although I still wanted to be a model, I was suddenly ashamed of myself for thinking that I possessed the beauty that could take me there. Although I had thought of myself as beautiful, it never occurred to me to think that others might not agree. My definition of beauty changed at that moment -- it was no longer enough to think of myself as beautiful, the judgment of others was what mattered.

Thus began my years of self-judgment and my quest to become perfect (i.e. beautiful). Here is a summary of the inner-workings of my middle-school emotional self: constantly comparing myself to girls around me, obsessing about how much prettier they were than me, or how relieved I was to be prettier than them, keeping track of how many boys liked me, how many compliments I received during any particular day. Insults held considerable weight, of course (“your arms look flabby.” “I can see your stomach through that shirt,” “your legs are big and jiggly,” “your cheeks are chubby”) and I believed each one as if it were gospel while ignoring any positive comments. I saw each one as a problem I could fix and control. They weren't judging me, they were helping me out.

The issue of my weight was a particularly sore subject, as it is with many young girls. I was told inheritated my body shape from my father -- strong, sturdy, tall, agile and fast, but certainly not slender. I was a superb athlete, also like my father. I made it to nationals in the junior Olympics three times placing in the 100 meter dash and the shotput throw. I excelled because of my body, was blessed in fact. BUT, I could never see past the big bones. I could never see the benefit of having muscles that easily show their strength. I could never see the benefits of being tall, or being able to beat the boys in my grade at arm-wrestling. I wanted desperately to be like those petite girls in my grade, small and dainty and feminine.

So, I began my first diet. It started out like any other experiment of a 13 year old girl. I was just getting to know my body and I wanted to see what would happen if I only ate a cup of sugar-free jello for lunch. I quickly found out that eating a jello cup for lunch resulted in quick weight loss. I saw my body begin to change, I was losing weight, people were noticing, my clothes became looser, and I became somewhat addicted to the attention to my newfound "beauty." I cut out dinner, and focused all of my energy on distracting myself from my hunger. I ran the bleachers at the local high school. I chewed sugar free gum, went to sleep at 8pm so I didn’t have to smell the tacos and hear my family sitting around the table laughing. My mother supported me in my diet experiment, although I admit she was not aware of the extent of my calorie restriction. I soon stopped having my period, I became moody, unhappy, but I was thin and that was what counted. Here was my final tally: beginning weight – 164lbs (i.e. fat cow), ending weight – 129lbs (i.e. finally normal).

My pseudo-eating disorder didn’t last, fortunately. I realized that my behaviors were unhealthy, and I began eating again. My weight, of course, slowly crept back up. And, it remained a fixed shame in my life – something that I couldn’t control, a barometer for my weakness in will power, a foul mark on my otherwise lovely life. I used to say to myself that I would be perfect if I could just manage my weight. I would have a perfect life, perfect boyfriend, perfect future, if I could just reach 145lbs. I was waiting for my life to finally start, if only I could reach that number that seemed like such an insurmountable obstacle to climb.

The issue of my body grew more complex during college. Again, I spent my time and energy dieting – a healthier diet this time (or so I thought at the time) - weight watchers. I learned how to count points, I learned portion control, I learned the importance of water and I became aware of my habits in eating – and I successfully lost over eighty pounds within a few years. However, I was still not satisfied with my body. Now that I was older and wiser in the world of beauty, I realized it was not simply my weight that dictated my attractiveness and worth in the world, but it was also the shape of my body. I finally reached a size 8, but my breasts were a little saggy. I had stretch marks on my stomach and extra skin on my love handles. My legs were still too big, my cheeks were still too round, my behind was certainly not round enough, and I still did not match the vision of beauty I carried around in my mind for all those years.

I started researching on the web at first. I ran across a few websites that talked about learning to see your body apart from it's shape. I began learning to appreciate my body for the specific qualities it possessed -- how strong my legs are. How flexible I am. How my body is patient with me even after years of my berating it. How my body quickly recoversfrom sickness. How it communicates with me whenever I'm treating it badly, even if I won't listen. My body is remarkable in spite of (or in some cases, because of) my size.

I began looking at myself in the mirror, really looking, without judgment, for the first time in my entire life. I started dancing and learning how to listen to my body's natural rythym. I taught myself about HAES and started trusting my intuition. I began researching obesity, fat acceptance, the supposed health risks of being overweight, and I learned of the various conspiracies surrounding the media coverage of obesity and fat hatred.

And, I rid myself of people who echoed negative judgments about my body and about body types in general. I realized that having such a negative voice around in my life was unfair to myself and unfair to my body. I realized that his issues were his own issues and had nothing to do with me and my body. And, most importantly, I realized that I am in fact beautiful, I always have been, and I deserve someone who can see that.

Jul 13, 2008

HAES and Dance

H.A.E.S. = Health At Every Size. For those of you who are familiar with the fat acceptance movement, HAES is familiar and probably somewhat second-nature to you. For those of you are unfamiliar with it, HAES is an approach to eating that focuses on intuition and body cues of what to eat in addition to joyful movement and exercise rather than dieting and exercising for the specific purpose of weight loss. In other words, living a healthy life (physically, mentally, and emotionally) instead of focusing solely on the number on a scale.

However, this post isn't so much about HAES -- you can easily google HAES and find much better summaries of the theory (wikipedia has a good one). No, this post is more about my own experience with HAES and how it has transformed my life. And, to be clear, I realize that "transformed my life" has been overused and has become quite cliche, but still, it has transformed my life! What do you mean by this, you might ask? Here is what I mean:

I no longer berate myself for wanting a cookie after dinner.
I no longer tell myself I'm weak for choosing regular Coke over Diet.
I no longer blame myself and think myself unworthy because a guy looks at my skinnier friend over me.
I no longer dread working out as if it's a kind of torture that I deserve because I'm fat.
I am no longer afraid of wearing a bathing suit in public.
I wear sleeveless shirts.
I stand up straight.
I am no longer upset by what I look like when I undress.
I LOVE how I look when I'm undressed, yes, even the rolls and stretch marks.
I am in touch with my body in a way I never thought I could be.

These are just a few benefits of HAES off the top of my head. But, one of the tools that has helped me learn to love my body more than anything else is dance. I love to dance. Fucking love it more than anything else in the world. And for the longest time, I thought that dance was one of the things I could look forward to doing when I got skinny, when my body got to the approriate size to dance. I would longingly watch others dance, I would fantasize about dancing, I would subtly bop my head to music in the car, but I was very careful to not dance...nope, couldn't be seen dancing, because then I would be the fat girl dancing, and we all know how ridiculous that would look. There was also a sense of self-punishment that I had before HAES that kept me from dancing. Like, I didn't deserve to dance because only beautiful bodies looked good dancing...only beautiful THIN bodies looked good dance. Hah! That was before I started dancing. I quickly realized how beautiful a large body can look dancing. Graceful, powerful, lovely, feminine, joyful.

Truly, dancing is the joy that has helped me reclaim my body. It has taught me that my body can naturally move beautifully. That I can be in tune with it, that it listens and I listen and we are the same, me and my body. It is a gift. And, I encourage anyone, ANYONE, no matter what size, no matter what "talent", dance your heart out. Whatever music moves you, explore your body through dance. It will give you insight into your body, into your self, and if you are like me, it will do wonders for you on your journey toward self-acceptance.