Written by Charlotte Young
As a mother of an eleven-year-old daughter and a facilitator (of Celebration Day for Girls), working with 10-12-year-olds, I have the privilege of bearing witness to how the women of tomorrow are feeling about their bodies and themselves. The vast majority of girls who attend the program are there because their mothers have insisted they come. Most don’t want to be there at all, initially. They arrive with hunched shoulders and a reserve that’s palpable. By morning tea though, they’re having a good time and have forgotten all about their resistance. By lunchtime, they’re practically throwing the menstrual products around and talking quite freely about how they feel about getting their period. It’s heartening to see them shift away from the cultural paradigm of discomfort and distaste, regarding menstruation, to one of openness and acceptance. Modern innovations such as ModiBodi underwear go a long way in making the prospect more positive.
Periods aside, when it comes to body acceptance, we don’t have a great track record. And that’s putting it mildly. How many women do you know who enjoy being in their body? Who love their body? I’m guessing not many. In general, as a culture we’re far too involved in seeing our bodies from the outside, which isn’t surprising when you think about the way our whole society is fixated on the ideal body. This fixation has a powerful reach, especially when it comes to shaping our thoughts and choosing language to define ourselves and others. Both girls and women are most commonly complemented on their looks, rather than their deeds: You look gorgeous in that dress; Have you lost weight? You look terrific; She is SO pretty; Those pants are great! They’re so flattering, slimming, beautiful etc, etc.
From a young age, we learn that our most ‘important’ value is in how we look. In order to check how valuable we are, we take to looking in the mirror … a lot, or on our smart phones, or in a shop window’s reflection. And mostly, what we see doesn’t please us. It’s here, in front of the mirror, or perhaps earlier, in the school yard on the receiving end of a nasty comment, that our negative self-talk begins. Sadly, like a genie out of its bottle, the words are not easily put back, once they find some traction.
Rather than accepting our bodies as they are and enjoying them from the inside out, we go about trying to change them from the outside in; the thousands of diets and hundreds of cosmetic procedures are testament to our discomfort with our bodies. Then there’s our clothing … the way we stuff ourselves into uncomfortable shoes or pants or underwear, in order to feel acceptable.
I was in a lingerie department recently as I’d read about an American brand of underwear and was curious to see if this miracle wear would deliver on its promise of no visible panty lines. I’ve never been a fan of g-strings so am constantly on the lookout for a good pair of undies that’s both comfortable and able to perform a great vanishing act at the same time. Apart from being close to a shocking $100 for one pair of undies, it would actually take a contortionist’s act to get inside the wonder pair of underwear. How on earth do women breathe inside those things? After searching high and low for something that didn’t cost the earth or constrict my blood flow, I was taking my chance on a promising pair at the counter when I was gobsmacked by a vast array of breast tape for sale, looking very inviting in their fancy packaging.
Years on from the corset, we are still binding ourselves up, it seems. If not our ribcages, then our breasts in tape and our love handles in super-duper spandex. All in the name of looking good. If you’ve had the good fortune of seeing the movie “Embrace”, you’ll have an idea about how many women are not happy with or in their bodies. The documentary uncovers why poor body image has become a global epidemic and it’s frightening. It doesn’t offer many answers on how to combat negative body image but spotlighting it is a great start.
The first step to body acceptance is body/mind awareness; working from the inside out, becoming aware of your thoughts and realising when you’re being influenced from the outside in. The three most powerful tips I can offer, from personal experience, on how to combat body negativity are as follows:
- Become discerning about the media and how, when and where the perfect body is being promoted. Is this what you really want to read/watch/listen to? How do these images/programs make you feel about your own body?
- Be mindful of your self-talk regarding your body. Are you being negative? Are you telling yourself the same thing over and over? Start noticing what you’re telling yourself.
- Stop looking in the mirror so much! This is probably the easiest step, as you can catch yourself looking and when you do, make sure you poke your tongue out or pull a silly face then turn away and don’t look back!
A Celebration Day for Girls (CDG) is a one-day workshop for 10-12 years old girls with their mother or female carer. It’s a carefully crafted workshop (designed by Jane Bennett) to support girls and mothers at this special threshold in both their lives.
Charlotte Young lives with her family in Melbourne, close to the Yarra river. She works in a variety of different roles, from running CDGs to facilitating movement and mindfulness classes and writing and editing. Her debut novel, “Ora’s Gold” was published in August this year. The common theme running through all of her work is fostering body awareness and body acceptance.