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Women (and Men) Increasingly Hate Their Bodies -- A New Movement Wants to Change That

Everyone knows poor body image is a problem. A new movement wants to stop talking about it and do something to actually change our culture.

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Clearly, the momentum sought by the organizers is present. The New York conference was completely sold out and hosts at The New School had to open overflow space because the attendees didn’t fit into the main auditorium. Twitter exploded with tweets from those in attendance, and one person in the audience tweeted that the conference felt like “school/church/group therapy/party/protest/performance/projectmaking.” Martin concurred. "In some ways it's conference. But in other ways it's a massive movement-building exercise and experiment,” she says.

To the “movement-building” end,  conference organizers sponsored a contest called “Loved Bodies, Big Ideas” which invited participants to come up with concrete, replicable, activism-oriented ideas that would actually make a difference for changing body image. They got well over 100 submissions from participants of all ages and stripes. But the three winners were flown out to New York City. Here, (in brief) are their ideas:

One winner proposed new training to educate medical students about the psychological and social context that accompanies weight and fat--far beyond BMI measurements and a clinical approach. This training would increase doctor's sensitivity and also help patients be able to find supportive caring physicians who don't stigmatize them for their size, focusing on health instead of pounds.

To attack the culture of false ideals, another participant came up with a “reality stamp”--a certification to be used for media products that don't alter their images with airbrushing or photoshopping. As Martin says, it would give “leverage” to consumers  but by celebrating the good media outlets rather than decrying the bad ones. This idea seems to have potential to gain traction, considering that some media outlets are already self-advertising as photoshop-free, sensing a consumer backlash.

The third winner is an idea for local art that would channel the kind of work done by the Vagina Monologues, but focused on bodies as a whole. “The body outlaw theater projects” would be  theater projects for campuses, commuity centers, religious institutions to put on themselves, nuch as the vagina monologues have, with instructions on how to do a community theater project around body issues that go far beyond fat issues to include age, ability, and other prejudices that come up when striving to accept a diversity of bodies. The project would also interface with community groups to channel the energy created by the art into activism.

These ideas are the tip of the iceberg--and even for those of us who don't think about body image or personal health in a political context, they're extremely relevant. The war on women being perpetrated by the GOP at the state and national level, with bill after bill being introduced at lightning speed curtailing women’s control over their own bodies, is intimately connected to this personal issue. If we allow racism, sexism, and negative imagery to affect how we think of our bodies, how can we come together to protect them from pernicious laws and policies?

"Activism around the issue of body diversity is a very easy stepping stone to fighting racism and supporting reproductive justice,” says Martin. Without an overarching analysis, women (and men) are prone to think “this is my problem, this is my messed up body,” she says. “So to put it in a political and social context is totally imperative." 

Susie Orbach's speech in London is embedded below, followed by a video from New York's Caren Shapiro.

 

Endangered Species LONDON - Speech by Susie Orbach from Elena Rossini on Vimeo.

 

 

Watch a video from Caren Shapiro explaining the impetus behind the "body revolution":

 

 
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