I'm in the image business. I make and sell things that people view as beautiful, wear to look beautiful, and have to feel beautiful. Sometimes, I succeed; sometimes, I don't. When I do succeed, I know it's a huge accomplishment. We live in a society where those who are in complete and whole acceptance of their body are hard to find. That's why the information found in The World Has Curves by Julia Savacool resonates so deeply.
Savacool takes an in-depth look at various cultures around the world and how women within each group view their bodies. She presents the idea that each culture's ideal body image is formed from the desire to be a part of the upper class. She admits that in order to study each culture, she had to make broad generalizations, but I could not fault her for that, because there is a grain of truth behind everything.
In China, the ultra-rich spend their money on plastic surgery and expensive face products in hopes of getting better jobs with bigger pay. While in Japan, the women favor lean, strong figures with large breasts. They'll choose breast augmentation, but also spend their money at various fitness centers and health clubs, choosing to work on, and indulge in, their bodies.
In Jamaica and, similarly, South Africa, having extra weight on one's frame is desirable- showing one had the money to spend on food. However, a shape must be maintained. Jamaica favors the so-called "Coca Cola Bottle" shape, formed after seeing the American imported glass Coca Cola bottles. South Africa goes back to their roots and embraces larger, more shapely butts and thighs as well as breasts. Fiji also followed the same cultural values until they came on the scenes as a major tourist spot. The arrival of the Western world in the form of fancy hotels, televisions with their Western programs, and advertisements spurred a desire for a body ideal very similar to the one we're familiar with here in the United States. The first documented case of anorexia occurred after Fiji became a resort hotspot.
Afghanistan was the most surprising. Savacool was quick to point out that burkas were a choice for women to wear before Taliban rule. She spoke with some women who expressed a desire to wear burkas, regardless of state law, because it was convenient. One didn't have to worry about their hair and make up when running errands. They are shielded from much of Western influences and therefore have not adopted our common ideals. The preferred body type is chubby with no real shape with a pretty face and long dark hair. Again, this speaks to the Jamaican and South African ideal of weight equals money.
Which brings us to the strange paradox of the American ideal where, in general, the poorest communities are usually made up of larger people and the richer class tend to be slimmer. We do not equate weight with money; we equate health, fitness, and slimness with money.
Of course, with the rapid globalization of the world, we're all slowly headed towards a homogeneous mindset. The key point is that most of these women interviewed expressed discontent with their bodies. The ones who seemed the most accepting were those from Afghanistan, the ones shielded from much outside influence as well as influence from men, considering their burkas. Perhaps we need to think about pulling on some sort of invisible shield. Stop looking to media for guidance and start looking within ourselves for acceptance.
There's a lot of things about my body I'd like to change. Things I'd say I "hate." But you know what that means? I'm actually saying I hate myself. How can anyone live life if they hate themselves and the only body they get to live life in? It's crazy! I need to quit it, we all do. So I'm proposing a deal we should make with our bodies. We'll stop treating it so badly, stop hating it, stop feeding it crappy food, stop beating it up emotionally and physically.
I'm making a pledge that whenever I find myself hating on my problem area, which is my tummy, I'll stop myself. I'll say to my tummy, "Look, I know you stick out more than I like, and sometimes when I eat too much, you press uncomfortably against my waistband. But you know what? You're my tummy and you get to hold all that yummy food and you help fuel my body so I can do my yoga routines and walk with my boyfriend and go shopping and make jewelry. So thank you, tummy." And move on. I'd like you to make that pledge with me for whatever problems you have with your body. It's time we took our body image back, don't you think?
*Thanks to Dove Soap for the great body acceptance photo above!*