This morning, I found myself thinking about the “Body Image and Media” debate (or I dunno, call it a
war crusade) that rages through women’s blogs and social media. I get the occasional petition announcement from change.org. They sent me this one about Cleo magazine today:
Public pressure is building across the world for magazines to stop altering images of girls. In the US a teenager convinced Seventeen Magazine to publish one unaltered spread a month after thousands joined her petition. I think Cleo should do the same for their readers.
I want Cleo to stop selling images that hurt girls and break our self-esteem. Let us see real faces and real shapes in at least one photo spread a month — and always put a warning symbol on any image that has been altered.
Ok. I confess ambivalence. On one hand, I think that’s great- girls and women joining together to tear down harmful standards and practices to reform the mass media. In fact, I signed the petition. Why not? It’s against something I think is stupid and harmful, and in favor of something I think could be positive and useful.
On the other hand, I have a deep conviction that buying and reading these types of magazines only serves to reinforce the legitimacy of such publications. That is to say- if people buy it, then there’s a market for it and fashion mags that present unrealistic ideas of beauty will continue to exist.
I had to google Cleo magazine to find out what it was. Turns out, it’s a fairly run-of-the-mill magazine that targets Australian women. I don’t see anything about it that would set it apart from any others. (Hey now, maybe their marketing department should pay attention, it’d help them stand out from the crowd if they did as the petition asks…)
You know what I do read? Blogs, mostly sewing blogs. I also read style blogs, “entitlement” style blogs written by wealthy teenagers (maybe she’s 20 now), parenting blogs, domesticity blogs, cooking blogs, history blogs and classic movie blogs. My google Reader is my own personal magazine, I choose the authors and the topics.
After I checked out the Cleo petition I thought about the futility of trying to turn around the massive nuclear tank that is the women’s magazine industry and started clicking around to catch up on some of my favorite sewing blogs. Liza Jane recently made some rad brightly printed shorts for her upcoming vacation and shared heaps of delicious construction details. In my “de-Cleo” frame of mind, my eye skipped over this:
Ok, so they are not super short or anything but this is a big step for me. I have not worn short shorts for several years now. I feel silly for saying this, but I haven’t worn shorts because as I got older and more, um, well-rounded, I always thought my legs looked funny. I’ve always had big legs, this I know. But really? I can wear short shorts. My legs are totally normal. One positive of snapping so many pictures of myself over the last couple of years is that I have a much healthier image of myself. Hope that doesn’t sound too self-centered, but if you take photos of yourself you know what I mean. This is what my legs look like. And they are just fine. They take me where I need to go. Ok, enough of that.
I love this for several reasons. First because I know what she’s talking about- blogging has definitely helped me become less judgmental about my body.
Second because the sentiment she’s expressing is not a thunderclap out of nowhere but a personal epiphany that’s expressed a thousand different ways on sewing blogs all over the internet. Somehow or the other, body acceptance has become a part of the fabric of blogging about sewing. I think that’s wonderful.
Third- read the comments section. It’s supportive and positive. Many of the commentators express healthy attitudes towards their own bodies. It’s pretty typical of comments on sewing blogs. Posts like that do help change women’s ideas of what’s beautiful, what’s normal, what’s healthy, and what’s acceptable. I see it as “building up” each other.
Finally- LizaJane’s post is not about her legs. It’s a nitty-gritty “this is what I sewed, here are the insides, and this is the pattern” type post. The focus is not on the way she looks, but on what she has done and the way she chooses to share with us. Again, this is common in the sewing world- sharing knowledge and celebrating a job well done. (disaster sewing posts are good, too.)
Besides, print media is dying- or at least, print media is no longer the primary way to disperse information to a wide audience. Changing one monthly spread in one magazine can definitely be counted as a step in the right direction, but it’s a drop in a bucket. A leaky bucket. It’s possible to change something like that one step at a time, but it’s very hard work. Why not focus instead on building each other up, and improving our attitudes towards our own bodies to create a thriving alternative? I think that’s already happening, and blogs are definitely competing with traditional print publications on several fronts.
But I don’t just mean blogging. We can take the positive attitudes we find in the blogs and “build up” in the real world, in daily life. Ever stopped a stranger on the street to tell her the color of her blouse sets off her eyes? (Try it sometime, but make sure the compliment is sincere. Compliment-bombing is super fun.) What about praising a little girl not for being pretty, but for sharing well with the other kids? Or taking the time to show a younger person how to sew their first seam? Or making space in your day to go for a short jog to keep your heart healthy and get those endorphins going (rather than exercising primarily for weight control)?
What do you think? Is it worthwhile to attempt to “tear down” the toxic universe of women’s magazines, or is it better to simply work on changing our personal attitudes to create an alternative? Or both? Or neither? How do you “build up” in your daily life?