Laurie Toby Edison

Photographer

Blogher and Body Image

Laurie says:

I’m going to be at “BlogHer ’07″(7/27-7/28), the national women’s blogger’s conference, on the “Our Bodies, Our Blogs” panel.

Debbie and I went to BlogHer last year and really loved the conference, but we had some serious issues with “fat negative” items in the gift bags.

So, we were really delighted when BlogHer invited one of us to be on their body image panel this year. Debbie is “never going anywhere again ever” when she gets back from Europe, so I’m going. And in spite of my crazy summer, I’m really happy I’ll be there.

My fellow panelists are Jenny Lauck, Wendy McClure and Yvonne Marie. We haven’t had our panelists’ phone conference yet but I’d like to start the ball rolling.

I’m planning to talk about body image in the broader sense. Obviously I’ll be talking about the issues of fat, beauty, power and health at any size – but body image (as folks who read us know) includes a lot more. When the beauty standard is young, blond, white and thin, it leaves almost all of us out. It leaves most women and men feeling “never attractive enough”, causes endless discrimination, and makes billion$ for the beauty and diet industries. There is so much we can talk about – fat/size, aging, ability/disability, color, “right” facial features, class, children.

I’d love to hear readers’ ideas and stories that I can bring to the panel. Reply either in Comments or email me at lte@laurietobyedison.com.

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Panel description for BlogHer:

Our Bodies, Our Blogs

There are weight-loss blogs, and there are healthy eating blogs, and there are fat acceptance blogs. The one thing they have in common: a lot of them are written by women. While a lot of them get support and positive reinforcement and encouragement from their readers, a lot of them also get some really strong reactions from people who don’t want to hear about women dealing with body image – and don’t want to worry about whether or not society is “responsible”, for everything from obesity to anorexia to the pressure to conform to some unattainable ideal. Can blogging be the perfect vehicle to expose and break unhealthy influences…and build a healthy identity that isn’t tied to how we look? Jenny Lauck moderates this conversation with Laurie Toby Edison, Wendy McClure and Yvonne Marie, who are tackling the touchy topic head-on.

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BlogHer '07 Fun

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16 Responses to “Blogher and Body Image”

  1. That’s great that you’re going!
    I wonder about getting in a thing or two about imperfection and disability, how little acceptance there is for bodies/brains that are different in that sense. It takes more than a “handicapped” parking sign, you know! :-)

  2. I’m short and fat compared to most Americans, and I’ve been reminded of both enough times. Those two relative truths are part of my self-image so far.

    However, I’ve been weakening their grip. Aside from that they *are* relative–if I were surrounded by differently-shaped/sized people, I’d still be me, but I might be tall, thin, and/or average, I find that having beliefs about my height and weight are a distraction from just living my life. I first noticed this while doing t’ai chi–I need to be aware of my current sensations, not overlaying them with beliefs about how big I am, and this would be true even if height and weight didn’t have status and emotional implications.

    Once I realized that, I’ve gotten more of a feeling of “this is my whole self in sufficiently roomy space”. It feels much better.

  3. Denise says:

    Elaine Magee is a size acceptance type registered dietitian. She blogs at WebMD. Everytime she blogs about size acceptance and body image and avoiding fat talk, the folks in her comments call her FAT. Every single time. It doesn’t matter that she’s healthy and happy and attractive and successful. All they see is what they think of as “fat”. These are the two most recent blog entries where this has happened – but it’s been going on since they launched this blog in 2005 (or was it 2006? I’ve lost track)!

    http://blogs.webmd.com/healthy-recipe-doctor/2007/04/stop-fat-talk.html

    http://blogs.webmd.com/healthy-recipe-doctor/2007/05/i-think-someone-just-called-me-fat.html

    I look forward to your session at BlogHerCon!

  4. Another angle from t’ai chi–my default is to think of myself as a static image, but really–everything’s moving. I suspect I’m not the only one who thinks of themself as a static image–I’m pretty sure it’s a cultural problem.

  5. Kate Harding says:

    No suggestions off the top of my head (and only on the first coffee), but I can’t wait to see the panel!

  6. Lynne Murray says:

    Denise, re the unfounded accusations of fatness Elaine Magee suffers–wasn’t it here that we heard about the report of “inner fatness”? LOL. The quote from the doc’s article still makes me laugh–paraphrasing: “Just because you’re thin doesn’t mean you’re not fat.” I think someone could write an entire doctoral dissertation on the idea expressed in that sentence!

  7. SarahR says:

    I think about the “tyranny of pretty” a lot- a lot of women feel oppressed by the need to look good all the time. I kind of enjoy it and think of it as “dress-up play” and don’t feel oppressed by makeup and fun clothing. I think a lot of women have ambivalent feelings about this, not knowing if they truly enjoy shaving their legs and wearing lipstick or if they’re just really well-conditioned by the culture.

  8. Wow!

    These are all great and helpful comments. Thank you!

    And thanks for the introduction to the clearly fabulous Elaine Magee webmd.

    I just read Carmen Van Kerckhove, who blogs at “Racialicious.” She wrote a body image blog recently – “Are eyelids the no. 1 beauty concern in the Asian community?” {http://blogher.org/node/20130}

    It’s a great example of a broader body image conversation.

    I really hope this discussion keeps going.

  9. Rachel says:

    Wonderful – I’m glad BlogHer is embracing issues of body image and acceptance.

    I do have a question about the inclusion of Wendy McClure on the panel. I have read Wendy’s book and catch her articles in each edition of Bust I receive. She is a very smart, witty and clever writer. But, her book details her attempts to lose weight with Weight Watchers, and her site details her Weight Watchers chronicles and other diet-related attempts to lose weight. Wendy may not have bought into the diet mantra as other women, but she’s still following a diet plan which has been shown to have a very, very low effectiveness rate for sustained weight loss.

    I don’t know who the other panelists are, but would be interested in learning their backgrounds also.

  10. Wendy says:

    I understand your concern, Rachel, but it should be evident to anyone who’s read my blog for the past two years that I’m not still following Weight Watchers. If there’s anything I represent about Weight Watchers at all, it’s that dismally low long-term effectiveness rate. To paraphrase another commenter here, I’m not a “static image.” My life didn’t stop at the end of my book—which, to be clear, was never about being a so-called diet success story to begin with, and in fact was about my ambivalance with the whole endeavor.

    I’m excited to be on the panel with Laurie and Yvonne and Jenny. If you’d like to know about our backgrounds, read our blogs…

  11. Laurie says:

    Wendy,

    Looking forward to taking to you in the panel phone conference soon.

    Nancy’s static image concept is interesting. It makes me think about how different would be in we visualized ourselves in movement rather than in our “static” mirror reflection. I wonder how many of us, when we close our eyes, see ourselves as we look in the “morning” mirror rather the in motion. I think I may do that myself and certainly, I live my life mostly “in motion”

  12. RW says:

    Laurie
    On the idea that ‘just because you are thin doesn’t mean you aren’t fat’…
    I wrote an article a while back that I was hoping might broaden the debate about body image, and I’d like to offer it in as part of this debate. I work on devaluation across all groups of people, and it seems apparent to me that women are devalued for being bigger – but are also devalued for being any other shape too. I think attempts to escape devaluation by changing body shape (or trying to at least) are like attempts to escape racism by changing hairstyle or bleaching skin.

    When we speak about women and body image there is a risk that we promote the idea that society has a scale (i.e. a measure) against which to measure beauty – with ‘good’ at one end and ‘bad’ at the other. Actually, I don’t think this is true – there are a multitude of scales, and getting higher marks on one invariably means getting lower marks against another measure.

    What this means is that if we aren’t careful then campaigns about body image can actually add to the problem rather than improving things (because we promote the idea of there being a single measure).

    I’d really like comments about whether I’m right (or wrong) about this (through my email details on the ‘Inclusion and Social Justice Articles’ site, not distracting from this excellent blog). Look for the ‘You’re looking good’ article on the ‘on-site articles’ part of http://www.isja.org.uk (or link directly to the article at http://www.isja.org.uk/articles_1_bdfreezone.html )

  13. Wendy says:

    Seeing as how this is Blogher, I really think we should consider how all these body image issues relate specifically to weblogs and the internet. Like how is blog discussion different from other kinds of discourse? How does the internet influence our sense of body identity? Does it affect how we appear (in photos, avatars, etc.) and how we control that appearance?

    For awhile now I’ve felt that when you put a photo of yourself online you subject yourself to an “internet gaze” wherein others feel fully entitled to comment, compliment, or correct you. Doesn’t that influence the way we represent ourselves? What happens when, intentionally or otherwise, your body—and/or what you do with it, or don’t do with it, or did several years ago (like, say, Weight Watchers)—is up for discussion? I’m just tossing this all out here, but these are the kind of questions I’d like to see addressed at the panel.

  14. Laurie says:

    RW,

    I really liked your article. I’ve always liked Debora Burgard’s suggestion you quote ‘that women might choose to ask those around them to observe a “body disparagement free zone” perhaps in a work place”.

    Obviously, I believe that there are many kind of beauty. And there are lots of different kinds of beauty that get appreciated by some folks.

    But I also think that awareness of the dominant cultures very narrow definition of beauty is important. The realization that it is a fantasy that excludes most of us, is important in recovering from the damage done by that the constant barrage of those “beauty” images and messages. I think that depending on how you look and where you are in the culture you can receive the message differently.

    Wendy,

    Those are all good points. As a photographer I find the photo question particularly interesting. When I did my book Women En Large: Images of Fat Nudes, I briefly considered having the photographers photo be a nude of me. It seemed like a good way to give some equality to the model/photographer relationship.

    It was immedialtely pointed out to me by my friend Carol Squires that I would be setting up a comparison between me and the women in the photographs since I’m thin. She was really right and I didn’t do it.

    I’ve been working hard on the Japan exhibition stuff tonight. Stopped to answer these comments. So I hope I’m being clearer than my mind is feeling.

  15. RW says:

    Thank you Laurie. The article took a great deal of writing. I actually started with looking for articles about the idea of a body disparagement free zone. I thought they’d be plentiful because it seems so obvious as a concept. Actually, the idea is mentioned here and there – but not (as far as I can see) in a complete and self contained article (so I had to write one).

    The idea of criss-crossing and contradictory scales against which acceptability (is that the right word?) is judged emerged in my head as I wrote the article and it seems pretty obvious to me. But the more I’ve thought of it the more I’ve realised that this is a radical concept to some. We’re told so often that there is a single ideal image of a woman that we’ve forgotten that actually there are many many ideals all contradicting each other. Oddly, this may partly be the effect of campaigns about body image.

    I think that men (in general) have it much easier, not because people judge differently, just because most do know that the ideals for them are all contradictory, and most expect only to be liked by selected people.

    On the role of blogs in this environment – I’d think that they offer:
    - a real opportunity for women to write and be known without being seen (being free of the effects of beauty myths). Could we see leaders emerging this way?
    - a way for like minded people to make contact where it is clear what beliefs the other person has,
    - some occasional opportunities (as with your blog) to experience body disparagement free zones without having to be part of active campaigning for ‘fat acceptance’ or the like.

    And as a role for the internet generally, there seem to be a very gradually increasing number of positive and well photographed images of ‘real’ womens bodies (I’m not thinking of pornography here). On the whole these are new territory – not something that most people have ever seen before, and I’d like to think they might become a very powerful antidote to the filtered selection of images available elsewhere. (By the way I love the photos on this site).

  16. Karen Summerly says:

    Belated comments on one little aspect of this (very interesting) thread: I also find the idea of how I look in motion very interesting–it’s part of my self-image that I do move, but there are a lot of aspects of that that I don’t get to see. I do get a fair number of chances to see myself in motion, from a distance, in dance studio mirrors and occasional dance performance videos, but I have comparitively little chance to see what I Iook like closer up. I have photographed myself in mirrors since about 1975, but only in the last week have I realized that my cell phone will let me make video clips of my facial expressions and some of my body language. I’m enjoying the new view…

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