Archive for April, 2013

So like many people who are putting thoughts out there in the vast internets I read a number of different blogs and news sites, and it seems in recent weeks there is a growing trend of pieces discussing street harassment.

Street harassment, that time honored tradition of yelling at people (majority women) who are simply walking down the street or going about their business, has been coming under fire, most notably from Project Hollaback.  Take a look for a brief primer on street harassment (link to video with animation) and how it is viewed by men  and women.

Community mental health centers usually operate in the most dangerous parts of the city, where there is (usually) the most need.  Those streets where people without homes gather, where shelters are, where churches pass out sandwiches at 11am and pharmacies give away drugs with vouchers, these are the areas where CMH is king.

My colleagues and I walk to my office from a gated parking lot.  We walk past a homeless shelter and the alley between the shelter and our building.  Each day when leaving the car, there is a moment I take to brace myself for the walk.  Head up, eye contact, shoulders back.  Do not engage, just nod and say good morning.  Because each day there are men (and women) who will try to engage or at least make comments.

The woman in the office next to mine told me she feels fearful each time she leaves her car and when she leaves the office at 5pm.  She states she feels harassed and every day has someone say something to her, usually focused on her body.

I have the same experience, but feel little fear.  I’m not sure if it’s because I started my career in mental health at a residential facility full of male parolees/probationers, who rake each female employee over with their eyes any chance they get.  It was a write up there; usually if one is a counselor, one’s own clients would stick up for their own counselor (“don’t look at her that way, don’t say that, that’s my counselor) and the counselor would take a moment to explain to whoever was doing the looking that it was inappropriate.

This sort of ogling was so entrenched at that center that being on the street where the worst I’ve heard is “you look so pretty today” is really no big deal.  But I also found myself thinking in a bit of a twisted way…I felt jealous of my colleague.

Let me be clear – street harassment sucks.  It reduces women to their bodies only.  It’s totally dehumanizing.  And it’s unsolicited; I doubt most women are getting dressed up to get leered at and hassled on the street.  Comments are not needed for validation, especially not from strangers.

Oddly enough, however, it is a sort of confirmation, an affirmation that one is desirable enough to elicit these comments.  I often talk with my mother about older women and their invisibility in our society (more on that here) but women who don’t fit normal standards are often invisible too.

Body type, race, age.  When we get harassed on the street, does that make you feel just a little bit different?  Like you’ve still got to deal with all the bullshit other women do?  Does it unite us in anger and hatred and a thirst for justice?  And how does it make those women who do not get harassed feel?

Confession: I never worried about being raped in high school or college because I wasn’t thin (and at that point did not consider myself even remotely attractive).  This, of course, did not stop my experiences with sexual assault, and its been shown over and over that appearance has little to do with rape.  And yet, my attitude was so warped, so distorted, and I wonder if I still have a little bit of that.  When I get yelled at and feel a little validated and a lot irritated, is that validation a remnant of my attitude?

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thin as privilege.

Posted: April 8, 2013 in Uncategorized

Throughout my work thinking about and looking at research on body image and psychology, there has been an interesting theme of privilege which has emerged.  Privilege and I were first introduced during my time in graduate school, to assist in the understanding of racial injustice.  Any privilege is a complex issue to understand, and can best be understood as benefits through no fault or merit of your own, as a result of systematic valuing of your own characteristics over someone else’s.  White privilege, straight privilege, male privilege, American privilege.

Putting body weight in this category is controversial, as it should be.  Research is still spotty on the truth or changeability of ideas about body weight set points, the efficacy of diet and exercise, medical interventions and different body types by genetics.  It’s a wonder body weight is even being considered at all.  Most health care offices one enters (including my own) have signs reassuring clients they will not experience discrimination as a result of race, ethnicity, gender, language, sexual orientation, [sometimes] ability to pay.  Does weight belong there?

I grew up and have been trying to organize my thoughts on the matter for years.  Having begun writing and expressing my own thoughts on the subject, it has again become salient for me.  This piece from The Frisky does it better than I probably could.

I am a size 10 or 12, so I feel the same way.  Although I am not thin, I have begun to take my own privilege into account.  Recovery is for all sizes.

For now, enjoy pictures of fat women in bikinis (not real women, because as we’ve discussed, we are all real, no matter the size).

florida and bikinis.

Posted: April 3, 2013 in Uncategorized

There is no place like Florida for dealing with body image.

(Prompted by this recent comparison of unphotoshopped Victoria’s Secret model Alessandra Ambrosio and photoshopped version.)

I used to lecture on sexual objectification and body image to female clients working to overcome addiction and criminal history.  We would talk about photoshop and media savvy; I would show them the pictures of the famous Redbook modifications of Faith Hill and we would discuss the body beautiful in every form.  It’s easy to forget that the real world still exists when you rip out magazine pages all day.

On my recent jaunt to Florida I was wearing a bikini, no small feat for me, but something I’ve been working up to for years.  It was a surprising pleasure walking along the beach.

As a self-conscious and miserably overweight teenager I usually spent trips to Florida huddled in a towel or under the water, dreading my mother’s enthusiastic trips to the swimsuit store where I would have to walk past the racks of string tied tops to the old lady one pieces in the back.  I would sit on the beach miserable, watching other girls and women walk by, thinking about how I would know I had finally made it when I could do the same.

Somehow, as a teen, I missed the lack of uniformity among these women.

On this trip, as I (mostly) confidently walked around with my stomach showing, I noticed the wonderful and totally real assortment of women on this beach.  We stayed in Siesta Key, south of Tampa, and despite this being a spring break trip, there was little fodder for a frat movie to be found.  Tanned and taut teenagers were there in force, but they were far from the only people.  Older women.  Extremely thin women.  Large women.  Women with C-section scars.  Women with bellybutton piercings and faded tattoos, women in pink and in oddly cut suits, wrinkled women, white women, tanned women.

Although it was clear to me that this experience was geared towards the middle class white suburban family (especially evidenced by the fact I saw only 2 black women my whole week), this experience was enormously corrective for me, and for that awkward 14 year old girl still huddled in my head somewhere.  To see all these bodies on display, with little self doubt.

Just for a second, let’s take a second and give it up for Florida.  Putting women and men in bathing suits with each other, FOR REAL.