Reprinted from the "Body Image" issue of Visions Journal, 2016, 12 (1), p. 4
Body image was top of mind for me while producing this issue. For example, I remembered how before my wedding, one of my relatives suggested that I stuff my bra and that my husband wear lifts in his shoes (he’s 2” shorter than me) to “look better” in our photos. I was flabbergasted that she thought that, let alone shared it. Did others? Even though she didn’t even grow up in the West, “masculine” and “feminine” ideals clearly followed her here. And yet other ideals are very culture-dependent. For example, tanned skin is not attractive to her at all. She grew up in a culture where fair skin had the highest status. Huh. If so many beauty ideals of ours shift across times and cultures, isn’t the very idea of an ideal just a sham? We are chasing ghosts.
I didn’t follow her wedding advice, of course; my body image was pretty good in my 20s. Then I grew older and had kids. My body has inevitably changed. I’ve never had any disordered eating behaviour, but now in my late 30s, I have plenty of negative body self-talk. And this is despite being happier and healthier than I’ve ever been. I really struggle with reconciling those two things, but I need to, not only for myself, but for my two young daughters.
This Visions features diverse stories—and doesn’t, too. We’ve tried to include voices you don’t hear as often, such as a transgender woman’s perspective, two stories from men, and even one from a service provider. But you will notice quite a few stories preoccupied with weight and disordered eating, too. Now, body image is much bigger than that, but society’s preoccupation with weight is a major concern and of course a leading risk for disordered eating.
Finally, for obvious reasons, we have included many photos of the contributors themselves instead of idealized models. And just as well: the search term “plus sized” in the stock library only brought up people who were overweight and depressed or exercising. Only a fraction featured proud, beautiful, real-looking people happy in their own skin. On the flip side, whenever I go to our local municipal pool, I’m surrounded by a range of people in all shapes and sizes who walk around with confidence. Boy I wish our society were more like that and less like stock-photo catalogues.
About the author
Sarah is Visions Editor and Director of Mental Health Promotion at the Canadian Mental Health Association’s BC Division