Pictures of you.

If all you ever saw were daisies, being confronted with a rose might freak you out.

I’m thinking today about body image. My body image, to be specific, and the way I feel when suddenly confronted with photographs of myself taken by other people, showing my whole body.

The experience is one of immediate shock, often followed by a weird cognitive dissonance. My body doesn’t Look Right. Because apparently there is a Right Way for bodies to look, and whatever I’ve constructed in my head as that Right Way sure as hell has nothing in common with the photographic evidence of my squat, round, rather sticky-outy body.

Bodies, in my head, are supposed to be straight up-and-down, to have clean, spare lines and angles. The head should be a particular size in proportion to the rest of the body — not too large, or, in my case, too small. The feet should not be too long in comparison to the length of the legs; the shape from the front of the thigh to the back of the calf not such a dramatic S-shape.

And, for the love of all that’s holy, the whole thing should not be so damn big.

After the emotional reaction, I have to start thinking rationally again. That’s when I realize: hardly anyone spends much of their time daily considering images of themselves, especially not full-body images. Hardly any of us are constantly taking full-body self-portraits, or are surrounded by full-length mirrors. We don’t spend a few hours here and there watching video of ourselves.

We are too busy being in our bodies daily to spend more than a few minutes confronting how we actually look in them.

Then it occurs to me that all those articles decrying the apparent fat-person curse of Being In Denial of One’s Fatness are actually just restating the obvious: when you’re not spending all day staring at yourself, but do spend a considerable portion of your day observing media depictions of bodies that are not much like yourself, isn’t it natural that the part of your brain dedicated to constructing the Platonic composite of How Bodies Look will be mostly filled with images of sparse, clean lines, slenderness, and a particular head-to-body ratio?

Won’t you go through your day, in your body, almost implicitly assuming that it looks more-or-less like the definition of Body you have mentally constructed, based on the images and people you’re constantly surrounded by?

And won’t you then experience a cognitive dissonance when confronted with an image of a body that breaks all those Platonic rules — especially when you realize that it belongs to you, that it is, in fact, you?

Of course. Of course you will. Not because you are a stupid fat person in denial about your fatness, but because the culture we live in has erased fatness (and other forms of physical variation) from most of its artwork and entertainment.

If you’re like me, and fatter than about 97% of the population, you’re also not going to see a whole lot of other people like yourself in daily life. Most people you see, even the relatively fat ones, are going to be a bit less sticky-outy, have proportionally-larger heads, etc. You will also incorporate those impressions into your little Platonic file cabinet, along with the much thinner media impressions.

And your first reaction on seeing a photograph of your body will be one of shock, possibly horror, and an indefinable sense that Your Body is Wrong.

The secret, of course, is that there is no Right Body, no matter how hard our culture tries to define one. There is no Platonic Body floating in indisputable ether — only real bodies that exist in the real world, available in an extravagant assortment of shapes, colours, sizes, and conformations. None of them wrong or right. All of them just are.

And now I can understand that the experience of cognitive dissonance and disgust with how my body looks is an artifact of my cultural training, not a Real and Inescapable Truth About Me, requiring a dramatic gesture of repentant food restriction and mortification of the flesh through exercise.

If anything, the dissonance is a reminder that, because my body is different and even somewhat rare in this world, I must take special care to fill my Platonic File Cabinet with images that make sense to me, that I can identify with. That my own indisputable body shall now be the starting point for my definition of Body, and that I can spend a few minutes daily filling the file cabinet with pictures of me.

This entry was posted in D-d-dancing with myself, Fatness, Liking Yourself, Unified Theory. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

83 Comments

  1. Posted May 29, 2011 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    I did a photo project, 365 days worth of pictures of myself. It’s a really good way to help normalize your body to yourself (assuming you don’t work to take MySpace angle pictures 365 times).

    A “bad” picture of myself can still make me feel crummy sometimes, but I try to leave it be. I don’t avoid other people taking my picture, either. I figure they already know what I look like, it’s only ME that doesn’t really know.

    • Posted May 29, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

      A friend of mine did that as well, on Flickr, and it was awesome to watch unfold.

    • Posted June 1, 2011 at 7:15 am | Permalink

      I wanna see!

  2. Julia
    Posted May 29, 2011 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    All I can say to this post is WORD.

  3. Robin
    Posted May 29, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

    Great stuff Michelle! Thank you for the thought-provoking post. (-:

  4. Posted May 29, 2011 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    When I dropped about 4 sizes over a couple of months three years ago (depressive episode, traumatizing life event–god, it made me want to slap the people who said, “you look so great!”), I had a similar kind of dissonance then too–I kept thinking every photograph, even time I saw myself in the mirror, I didn’t look like me. Never mind that when I was heavier, I avoided any sight of my larger body so I didn’t know what I looked like they either–the smaller me wasn’t me either. And then I put some of the weight back on and…yep, I don’t look “right” either.

    The best thing I’ve been doing lately is spending time in front of the full length mirror doing some of the conditioning exercises and combos for belly dancing. From a practical standpoint, it allows me to see if I’m doing the movements right, but more importantly, I’m getting used to seeing the shape of my body, and the more I do it, the less scary it is. (It also helps that belly dancing involves building up strength and flexibility, so I LIKE my body a whole lot better since it can do cool things.)

    • Posted May 29, 2011 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

      Skyla, I had a similar experience when I lost a lot of weight due to illness a few years back. I was skinnier than I’d ever been, but I would look in the mirror and think “That doesn’t look like me.” I did learn something really valuable, though, which is that my adult body stays in basically the same *shape* no matter what my weight–it just gets narrower or wider or changes circumference, but my proportions stay the same. Figuring that out has helped me see pictures of myself at different sizes without feeling that misrecognition.

      Michelle, thank you for this great post.

      • lilacsigil
        Posted May 29, 2011 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

        I’ve found that about my shape, too! I can look at any photo of myself over the age of 11 and, no matter what size I am, the proportions are pretty much the same – small feet, really big calves, big thighs, really big hips and belly, small waist, smallish bust, big giant head! The only difference is that when I am at my fittest, my arms are smaller and my calves are even bigger.

      • Posted May 30, 2011 at 11:27 am | Permalink

        My proportions also stay roughly the same. My waist-hip ratio, in particular, has remained the same (even now that I have a big belly.) It’s kind of amazing how that little number has remained stable, even through pretty extreme weight fluctuations.

  5. TropicalChrome
    Posted May 29, 2011 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    You are so right – when most of what we are shown daily is the statistically uncommon model-type body, that is what becomes “normal” to our eyes, and the rest of the normal, common, everyday, perfectly functional and wonderful human bodies become “wrong”.

    So this year, I have been doing an experiment on myself. I’ve wanted to expand my clothing/style options, so I subscribed to a number of blogs and tumblrs that feature folks larger than typical models, both larger and smaller than myself, to get ideas of how certain clothes look on more common bodies.

    The amazing thing is how quickly these people – everyday, ordinary people of lots of different sizes – started looking “right” to me. Simply by seeing pictures every day. (And I did get some style ideas, too!) It’s been startling to realize that even though I work hard not to be influenced by the media, it had had its way with me.

    I’m now trying this same technique with pictures of myself. I realized a little while ago that my husband and I are not getting any younger, and because we both dislike how we photograph there are very few pictures of us. If anything should happen, we wouldn’t have any pictorial record of each other…so not only am I working hard to make sure we get some pictures of ourselves, I’m putting some of them on display with the pictures of family and friends. I hope that seeing ourselves regularly, even if it’s an imperfect rendition (and cameras do indeed lie due to technical issues, but that’s another story!), will remind us that we’re just people, too.

    • Posted May 29, 2011 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

      It is amazing! I’ve assigned some of my clients to look at the Fatshionista Flickr stream – http://www.flickriver.com/groups/fatshionista/pool/ – for a few minutes each day, and also to start taking photos of themselves. When I was a teenager, I unconsciously started doing something similar by buying a bunch of posters of older paintings that featured women who were larger than the contemporary norm. It definitely, definitely helps to be surrounded by different images than the default media.

      • SA
        Posted May 29, 2011 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

        This happened to me while “Huge” was airing. There wasn’t much else on TV at the time, and I think I was particularly busy so I wasn’t Netflixing anything like a fiend, so the weekly “Huge” episodes were my main TV for a good while. And several weeks in, I watched a regular movie or something and thought “wait, why does everyone look weird?” Pretty cool. Didn’t last, but still.

        • Posted May 30, 2011 at 11:25 am | Permalink

          I take this as a sign of hope, that one’s barometer for normal can change with repeated exposures :)

        • Arwen
          Posted August 4, 2011 at 11:25 am | Permalink

          I am REALLY late to this discussion, but I just saw the movie “Bridesmaids” in which there were a few people closer to me in shape & size – and coming out and seeing myself in the mirror of their washroom was quite an amazing experience because I *didn’t* have dissonance about it.

          • Posted August 4, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

            I love it when that happens :)

  6. Posted May 29, 2011 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    Urgh! I saw pictures of myself during my graduation from nursing school at the beginning of May, and now some extended relatives that I haven’t seen in a long time are visiting, and it really triggered me, by which I mean it triggered depression and disordered eating as well as a lot of self hate and that whole tape library of “look at yourself, you disgusting, ugly pig, you’ve really let yourself go. Well, don’t be surprised if everyone tells you you need to lose weight for your health!” So on and so forth. It’s really sad and disgusting.

    • Posted May 29, 2011 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

      I’m sorry. That is so hard – one of the worst feelings in the world. I hope it passes soon.

    • Posted May 30, 2011 at 12:05 am | Permalink

      faycin, i think what Michelle is blogging here is applicable more specifically to the expectations, norms, and beliefs within our family systems. speaking personally… most of the foundational sources for my feelings of depression are about not living up to the expectations of my family. I think that the programming that Fat is the just cause of thoughts like, “disgusting, ugly pig, you’ve really let yourself go” because my family is a subset of the bigger cultures programming. Yet the power of these messages coming from my intimate family members has been too much to bear. I skipped the last three major family events because I was didn’t want to spend an afternoon talking to family members who judge me due to my size.

      I find claiming and owning my identity as a valid one, body included! is more difficult to do with my family, so the only solution there is a strict no comments or discussions boundaries about my size/health/food.

      When I walk in public I am the fattest by far and almost never see someone bigger than me. For now, I disassociate from those thoughts when I am in public. I try to embrace a sort of “FUCK YOU” world, I have as much a right to dignity and respect as anyone else, so fuck you for thinking I do not…. I also however, need to forgive myself for sometimes buying into the cultural beliefs that I am wrong, bad, glutton, ugly, selfish etc.

      This post has been very helpful to me, thanks.

  7. JessicaD
    Posted May 29, 2011 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much for posting this. I thought I had a mental disorder whenever I reacted in pure horror at seeing photos of me that others took. I’m glad I’m not the only one. Now to the really important part, get that silly reaction out of the way and get to appreciate my body for how it really is.

  8. Brook
    Posted May 29, 2011 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for posting this. I’ve often had those “body wrong” feelings about photos of me, but I had a breakthrough experience with a photo recently that really blew my mind. I’ve always had an issue with “below the waist” shots of me. I was looking back through some photographs taken in England a few years ago, in which I knew there were some below the waist shots in the bunch, courtesy of my friend’s British acquaintance we were staying with (I usually warn friends and my fiancee the photographer to not commit the crime of taking those kinds of photos, but I was too polite to do that to an almost stranger). I really wanted to relegate them to the bottom of the pile. Instead, I pulled a couple of them out and started really looking at them.

    At first, that same reaction came up–didn’t want to see my lower body. But as I sat with one of the photos, taken in front of one of the houses Jane Austen lived in, with white roses in full bloom crawling up the bricks of the house behind me and my friend, I thought, you know, I actually look fine, even good. Same weight/size I am now. No changes there. I’m fat, but whereas in the past I wouldn’t accept that aspect of myself and wanted to change it so, so badly, even to hide the photos or throw them away if they revealed that aspect of myself, I’ve made some tentative treaties with my body over the last year which have helped me to be more comfortable with how it is right here and now. I’m even better now than I was back then in that photo, even though my actual body proportions are pretty much the same, because of that acceptance and because I eat better and care enough about myself to get more sleep, etc. Being able to really look at that photo and be comfortable with it would never have happened if I hadn’t done the acceptance work, however tentative it feels sometimes, over the last year. And it is tentative–in the culture we live in, it’s hard to push past all the body hype.

  9. ako
    Posted May 29, 2011 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    Won’t you go through your day, in your body, almost implicitly assuming that it looks more-or-less like the definition of Body you have mentally constructed, based on the images and people you’re constantly surrounded by?

    Also, bodies that look like mine, when they are shown, get shown in a very specific context. They’re used to signal sad, stupid, ridiculous, incapable, dirty, passive and unhealthy. I bathe regularly, I’m happy much of the time, I feel healthy, I experience myself as having a lot of capabilities, I know I’m intelligent, and I don’t consider myself inherently ridiculous. So I tend to associate myself with the images of fully-human people who do active and interesting things, feel good in their bodies, have a lot of talents and capabilities, and are worthy of respect. And those images are nearly all images of thin people.

    (I think this might be the source of the proverbial “thin person waiting to get out” – people have a sense of self that’s different from the “This is what it means to be a fat person” image they’re confronted with, but mistakenly focus on the fat, not the stereotypes.)

    • Posted May 29, 2011 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

      I think these are really great points.

    • Posted May 31, 2011 at 12:45 am | Permalink

      Also, bodies that look like mine, when they are shown, get shown in a very specific context. They’re used to signal sad, stupid, ridiculous, incapable, dirty, passive and unhealthy.

      This. There’s also an increased likelihood that they will be shown headless (i.e., with the head cropped out of the picture). And when I look at photos of me, that’s what gets me. I am actually fairly used to seeing bodies like mine in the media (though not positively), so it’s not the image of mybody that strikes me as wrong. It’s the fact that there is a head attached to it — and that head has certain proportions to its shoulders; has full, round cheeks; sometimes has an “extra chin.” It’s weird for me to put a face (maybe especially a fat face, maybe any face) on a body like mine.

  10. Jillian
    Posted May 29, 2011 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    I have a friend, white with brown hair and eyes, with a husband and 3 children with pale blue eyes. Sometimes at the end of the day she sees herself in the bathroom mirror and thinks, “I look weird. What’s wrong with my face??” Then she realizes it’s that her eyes are brown and she has been looking at blue eyes all day! I’d venture this happens to people who live mostly among people of a different skin color as well. My friend likes her eyes, but this kind of thing can easily lead to an arbitrary self-loathing even when you DON’T have the social stigma of fatness.

  11. Alexie
    Posted May 30, 2011 at 1:28 am | Permalink

    I wonder how people constructed their own image in the days when mirrors were only available to the very rich. What if you could never see yourself?

    • Posted May 30, 2011 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      Good question. I think it would be kind of nice not to really think much about how you look on a daily basis, but the reality may have been somewhat less nice.

    • LuckyLuckyGirl
      Posted May 30, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      I have thought about this myself, and I was reminded that you can catch your reflection in smooth metal, still water and some glass, so it wasn’t that people never saw themselves, it was just more rare.

    • Aquila
      Posted June 2, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      This reminds me of the myth of Narcissus. We say he was in love with himself, and we’ve coined a word for that from his name-but is it really so self-aggrandising if you don’t realise that the face in the water is you? Maybe Narcissus didn’t feel that the face was him, didn’t identify with it. Maybe he didn’t feel as beautiful as other people thought he was. And so he didn’t recognise himself…

  12. Posted May 30, 2011 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    Grand post, as ever, thank you. As someone who’s always been a little bit fat (clinically obese, if we’re being specific) I’ve always had periods of self hatred and an almost continual back and forth with dieting and bingeing, caused in part by pictures of slim people being our only illustration of people being beautiful and successful. Still, in a fit of rebellion and confused self loathing, I signed up to model for life drawing classes at an art college to really rub my nose in just how fat and ugly I was. It is the most superb therapy. Yes, it’s excruciating to have to sit still for 45 minutes, but the payback is adoration and appreciation for people love to draw and wax lyrical about my Rubenesque curves and I have been modelling for 10 years now, even for London teenagers, with nary a bad word said about by flabby bits. It’s also instructive to see myself represented a hundred times over, in pencil and charcoal, made Cubist or abstracted, but to see myself, even though the eyes of others, nude as the day is long and intimately studied without disgust, reproach or judgement. Here I am on the wall, drawn in many colours, rendered with care and no hint of shame. I thoroughly recommend it to anybody who doubts their own potential for beauty. Really. Try it. Also, I thought you might be interested to see an article I read in the Independent about the news that Alexander McQueen students will have to use size 18 mannequins for their future designs: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/news/goodbye-size-zero-hello-normality-2290578.html

    • Posted May 30, 2011 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      Fascinating. And I love Alexander McQueen!

  13. Madeleine
    Posted May 30, 2011 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    I loved this post, and I love your writing.

    It’s funny how, when we look at pictures of ourselves, our eyes go straight to those sticking points: for me, a double chin, a rather cushy upper arm, etc. But if I look at a photo of someone else, all I see is their smile.

    • Posted May 30, 2011 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      Oh, how true!

    • Posted May 30, 2011 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      Totally. I always notice how LONG my feet are (I have really big feet, but am relatively short.) And how much my thighs and butt and belly stick out. I’m always much kinder in my assessment of other people in photographs, even if they are just as large or larger than me.

  14. Posted May 30, 2011 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    I agree, one of the things that helped me make peace with my body was working at a plus-size clothing store. I was fat, my co-workers were fat, and my customers were fat, and there were mirrors everywhere, and while people certainly bring their issues with them when they go clothes shopping, fat bodies were just a fact.

    Also want to say, Madeleine, absolutely!
    “It’s funny how, when we look at pictures of ourselves, our eyes go straight to those sticking points: for me, a double chin, a rather cushy upper arm, etc. But if I look at a photo of someone else, all I see is their smile.”
    Re-stated for truth and awesomeness.

    • Jen
      Posted May 31, 2011 at 8:07 am | Permalink

      Beautiful, beautiful post, Michelle – it brought tears to my eyes. I’ve never seen anything on body image that read with such moving such poetic intelligence.

  15. Posted May 30, 2011 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    I’ve always hated getting my picture taken, in part because I think I’ve never looked quite how I think I do in my head… even though I look precisely like my great-grandmother for whom I was named and I love looking at pictures of her. Go figure.

    But I think I’ve made a breakthrough recently! Mr. Twistie was doing a gig, and a friend came along to take photos of the event. Well, she managed to take a shot of me just as I was bending over to take some merch out of the box, resulting in a perfect shot of my fat ass. When our friend sent the pictures to Mr. Twistie he said something quickly about how we could delete that one and nobody would ever know, but I just smiled and said that I really liked it.

    It’s my ass. It’s kind of awesome. I like that there’s a record of how it looked in my brand new jeans that day.

  16. Posted May 30, 2011 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Great post! This may be somewhat tangential…
    I’ve noticed that I have an interesting reaction to seeing the Nordstom catalogue photos, and it’s not cognitive dissonance (as these are not photos of me). Kudos to Nordstrom for showing larger women in full page glossy ads without labeling them large clothes. They are beautiful pictures (quite frankly more attractive that those of their underweight models). Yet each time I get one of these catalogues I’m somewhat startled as I turn the pages, because I’ve come to expect a different image. After the surprise, I’m struck with a refreshing pleasant feeling. It hasn’t yet translated into an urge to purchase much at Nordstrom’s, though ; )

    • Posted May 30, 2011 at 11:22 am | Permalink

      I’ve noticed this about Nordstrom too (though I only see their online catalogue, really.) Most of the plus-sized clothes are a bit on the matronly side for me, but I do appreciate their models, definitely.

  17. Posted May 30, 2011 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    I LOVED this post! It’s so true….we dont see ourselves very much and its easy to be shocked and depressed when we do…I now have a full length mirror and that helps. I also found that my shape is the same even when I weigh less…

  18. Posted May 30, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    I went through this shock- the one of finding out what my body actually looks like which, in my had, is much closer to the curvy size 16 girl that I was in high school (you know.. when i still thought i was the fattest person on the planet and about to die of some fat related disease). I thought that photos from “good angles” were the real me and photos of the real me were just “bad angles”. All of the photos I saw online of fat people were the ones who were perfectly proportioned with curvy rounded features but certainly no actual rolls so yeah.. it kind of just seeped in that I looked something like that too.

    So when I got into fat acceptance and I started kind of modeling on the side I not only started seeing my body a little more full on but I decided to do nude modeling (like art nudes, not porn).. it was maybe the biggest and scariest step in my whole fat acceptance journey. not only because I stood, completely naked, in front of photographers (more than one!) but then I bit the bullet and posted them online. and yeah.. i got some negative comments, especially from the first set which were black and white with harsh lighting that showed every bump and roll I had. But I’ve had way more people be inspired by those photos (of course it could be just because my blog isn’t popular enough to have it’s own trolls yet).

    It’s made a lot of things easier- including shopping for clothes- I can now accurately picture in my head what something will look like on me instead of being horribly surprised that it didn’t look like it did on the models or mannequins.

    • Lampdevil
      Posted June 1, 2011 at 11:00 am | Permalink

      All of the photos I saw online of fat people were the ones who were perfectly proportioned with curvy rounded features but certainly no actual rolls so yeah..

      This here? This is my sticking point. This is my problem. I’ve embraced the idea of immersing myself in pictures of a wide variety of people, and the Fatshionista LJ group and Flickr feed have helped me get a grip on how I can dress… but I choke when the body itself becomes more obvious because it seems that everyone looks so much better than me. They don’t have rolls, they don’t have body hair, they don’t have a weird looking face, they have perfect soft skin, they have boobs that are even and big and full, and so on and so on and so on… even compared to other fat women, my body still seems like it’s “wrong”. I feel like I’m not even any good at embracing being a fat chick, because I’m so ugly I can’t even do that right.

      It’s toxic. I shouldn’t think it, but I DO think it. I want to get over it, but I’m not even sure how to start.

      • Posted June 1, 2011 at 11:05 am | Permalink

        I have a funny feeling you are waaaay more generous to other people than to yourself.

      • Katie
        Posted June 23, 2011 at 8:12 am | Permalink

        I often feel exactly the same way. I look at other fat bodies and think ” yeah, well they don’t have a big fat gut, look how hourglass shaped they are!” or I think they are so much prettier and with better hair and I will never look that good.

      • Rach
        Posted August 7, 2011 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

        “They don’t have rolls, they don’t have body hair, they don’t have a weird looking face, they have perfect soft skin, they have boobs that are even and big and full, and so on and so on annd on …[....]…my body still seems like it’s “wrong”. I feel like I’m not even any good at embracing being a fat chick, because I’m so ugly I can’t even do that right.”

        This. So very much. I’ve stumbled over this blog in the past couple of days and read oodles. Whilst I’m not strikingly big, I’m bigger than fashionable, and I was glad to discover this nutritonal approach and attitude (I wish my mum could see herself like this).
        I liked the run of adverts for dove with women across a wider size range, for instance, but truth is I will never fit- too many scars, too much body hair, bizarre proportions, wonky teeth. I suppose what I’m saying is it feels there is no corner where I am acceptable, physically, even on the net, and I’m not sure what to do about it.

        (I had some quite nice photos (of my face!) taken recently, but it mainly makes me think “ooo, the lass who took them must be a photoshop wizard” or “I wish my skin still looked at all like that”.)

        Yeah, I ramble on. I really hope I haven’t inadvertently said anything offensive, or come into an area I’m not welcome: I’m very new to all this. But thankyou Michelle for all sorts of interesting new ideas, and Lamp Devil for saying it first.

        • Posted August 8, 2011 at 10:01 am | Permalink

          You are totally welcome here, my dear :)

        • Posted August 9, 2011 at 12:55 am | Permalink

          Photographers are photoshop wizards, but they’re wizards for everyone they take photos of – she isn’t just a wizard for you. Which hopefully puts people back on the same page again? I don’t know about you, but if you take a closer look at all marketing photography, you just can’t find un-doctored images any more, and even if you could, you still can’t find images in which people aren’t posing – ie. presenting what they think are their best features and trying to disguise the others. Bodybuilders twist through the waist to make their hips seem smaller and their shoulders seem wider. And they slap the body paint to bring out the glitter (I mean no disrespect btw).

          I’m not sure it’s even possible to think about our own bodies objectively. I’m also not sure it’s helpful to try… But maybe it is… There sure is a lot I’m not sure about!

  19. Posted May 30, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    I found this post through today’s blogaround at Shakesville, and I just had to comment that the timing is ideal for me.
    I’ve recently begun ‘modeling’ (I still feel like a bit of a fake)- nothing major or serious, just local fun and artistic stuff- and I find myself suddenly confronted by a LOT of pictures of myself. I’ve certainly struggled with my body image and self-image in the past, which is part of my motivation to ‘model’ in the first place. (I’ll know I’ve made it when I can confidently do [artistic] nudes… I’ve had requests, but I’m not there yet.) I’m finding that my pictures are more “imperfect” than I thought they’d be, causing me to be more critical of myself and hard on myself than I should be, which is frustrating, then I get frustrated at being frustrated… My number one fan would add that I have a great smile, but I never notice it because I’m too busy picking out flaws.
    Thank you for the perspective.
    I’m bookmarking this post so that whenever I get all caught up in myself, I can re-read it.

  20. ChironsGate
    Posted May 30, 2011 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    I work and play in the LA film industry so I am held to industry standards at all times and let me tell you I fail miserably. I have a hard time watching myself in films and seeing myself in photos for promos. It’s so painful when the standard costume size is 0-2 and that is what I see day in and day out.

    When I watch myself next to the rest of the cast I think to myself “Who is that person? That can’t be me… That does not feel like me, I fit in with rest of the cast I know I do!”

    • Val
      Posted May 31, 2011 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

      As a viewer of films I am always happy to see people who look more like me/people I see in RL than the LA standard. That probably doesn’t help much when you’re around smaller people, but I appreciate you!

  21. Lisa
    Posted May 30, 2011 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

    You know, sometimes I think that you are in my head, paying attention to this new thing that is freaking me out, and then writing about it. You rock like something that rocks a whole hell of a lot.

    I just went camping with a group of friends, one that is really trigger happy, and she posted a whole bunch of photos on facebook, and I cringed at every one of the photos of me, and I realized it’s because when I look at myself, I look at my face, or I look at old photos of me – when I weighed almost 100 lbs thinner, had no child, hadn’t been working a sedentary job for 10 years – in general, hadn’t lived as much – and that this is my body, the one I’m working on accepting, the one I’m working on paying closer attention to, the one that does what I ask it to, the one that hasn’t ever matched media portrayals of “women”, the one I’m in.

    Anyway, you are amazing. Thank you for writing. I can’t even… I just… I need you to be here.

  22. Posted May 30, 2011 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    I’ve had body-image culture shock for a while now. I live in Korea and people keep telling me my face is beautifully small. For a while I could only hear that as “your shoulders/the rest of your body is too big” but they really just meant that my face is small, which is a highly valued trait in Korea at the moment. Weirdness.

  23. Posted May 31, 2011 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    And won’t you then experience a cognitive dissonance when confronted with an image of a body that breaks all those Platonic rules — especially when you realize that it belongs to you, that it is, in fact, you?

    This makes so much sense. Thank you for writing this timely (for me) post. It helped.

  24. ricki
    Posted May 31, 2011 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Brilliant post. A couple of thoughts:

    1. Couldn’t it be argued that it’s “bad” for children to only see a limited range of body types in the media, then? I grew up in a lily-white town, and when my little brother went to day care, one of the things he told me after the first day of it was “Do you know there are BROWN PEOPLE?” (We didn’t watch much tv or travel much in those days). I will say it was more of a “wow, the world is a lot bigger than I knew” reaction than a “hey, they’re different and I don’t like that” reaction.

    2. I have a full-length mirror on the closet door in my bedroom (it came with the house; I probably would not have thought to buy one otherwise). I’ve taken to looking at myself in it every morning to “recalibrate” what I look like in a whole-body sense. (There are parts of me I’m still not in love with – like my pot belly – but it’s I think it’s easier for me to accept my body when I look at it on a regular basis than when I try to ignore it)

    • Posted May 31, 2011 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      I love the word recalibrate in this sense – I have a full-length mirror too, because it actually drives me a bit batty to not have the chance to see what I look like. I need to look in it more often, I think. To recalibrate :)

      Re: number 1 – I think it could be argued that it could be bad for them, not because they will necessarily grow up to hate “different” people (though that is a possibility, and if nothing else, being so sheltered introduces an unnecessarily awkward element for future life), but what if the children ARE the “different” people who aren’t ever represented and reflected back to them? How do you think you and your brother would have felt if it turned out you two were the brown people, but had only grown up seeing white people? I bet it would not feel nice.

  25. Posted May 31, 2011 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    I find this post really interesting, because I experience bodily dissonance and really dislike seeing my whole body at once etc. and I think part of it may be due to this but most of it is because I’m genderqueer and have mild dysphoria. (My first reaction upon seeing myself tends to be more “why do I have *breasts* why do I have *hips* those are not meant to be there” and then, differently, “I didn’t realise my belly was that big/my legs were so thick”.) And now I’m wondering how the two overlap and intertwine – ex I think I definitely have issues with the fact that in all pictures of androgynous-looking people I’ve seen they’ve been thin, and so I’ve accidentally constructed a sort of “a proper genderqueer person is thin” thing in my head – and whether the tactics for reducing fat-shaming-induced dissonance would also help with trans*-induced dissonance or just make it worse.

    • Posted May 31, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

      I think I definitely have issues with the fact that in all pictures of androgynous-looking people I’ve seen they’ve been thin, and so I’ve accidentally constructed a sort of “a proper genderqueer person is thin” thing in my head – and whether the tactics for reducing fat-shaming-induced dissonance would also help with trans*-induced dissonance or just make it worse.”

      I think this is a really interesting possibility.

  26. Alice
    Posted May 31, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Adding to the chorus, because YES. I like naming the cognitive dissonance, because while I *do* still have a decidedly negative reaction to photos of me, part of the shock and volume of my reaction is simply due to the ‘does not match’ factor. Even though I see myself in the mirror most days (another full-length one that came with the house), it’s amost always head-on, making certain ratios and lighting situations seem shocking when I encounter them. The double-ish chin & the large butt are always there, it’s just that I don’t often see them.

    The fact that so many of these attributes are labeled as ‘bad’ is a problem, and one that I’ll keep slogging through. But knowing that some of my reactions to photos aren’t just my ‘failures’ (to be thin and/or to ‘succeed’ at Fat Acceptance) is freeing.

  27. Pavlov's Cat
    Posted May 31, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    Thanks so much for this. I used to be dangerously underweight, and that was the last time I really had a good sense of what I looked like (mostly from looking in the mirror and scrutinizing and detesting everything I could find to pick on). A friend tagged me in some facebook pictures a few weeks ago and the thing that massively hit me was ‘wow, I really am fat now’. Except that this body is healthy. This body is strong. This body has done and felt things that the old body hadn’t, and it can certainly manage things the old one couldn’t. I don’t have a full length mirror in the house but now from reading other comments I think I should, because I don’t want to catch sight of myself and feel shocked. Because I’m doing a lot of fitness work, I tend to map my own developing muscles with my hands. I’m learning to see beauty in them. It really grates on my nerves whenever I hear people refer to exercise in terms of ‘fat burning’ or ‘shape management’. I want to be healthy and strong. I don’t want to take up less space in the world just so I can feel I have a right to claim what I do take up, and I never felt I had the right to it when I was thin. I want to be in the space and the body I inhabit.

  28. Posted June 1, 2011 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    For me, it was looking at myself in the mirror without my contact lenses on. They do something weird with my eyes, so when I look at something (like my body) sideways, it looks much thinner than it actually is. When I first put on glasses and looked at myself, I was shocked.

    When my brother got married, I secretly erased all pictures of me from my dad’s camera because I couldn’t stand the way I looked. I don’t think anyone noticed. The only comment came almost 2 years after the wedding when somebody asked why I wasn’t in the group picture (I was hiding in the bathroom at the time).

  29. Posted June 1, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    I’ve never thought of it this way, but I think you’re exactly right. Thanks so much for posting this! I’ve struggled so hard with body image, as a skinny person for most of the first twenty years of my life, and as a fat person for most of the last twenty years of it. For many years, I’ve worked very hard at liking my body just as it is, at loving myself no matter what size. Some days are better than others. :) But this is like the missing piece. I mean, I knew it — I’ve seen too how non-skinny people have been erased from our media. I laugh right out loud at some of the “full figured” models I see. Even some of the more body-image friendly shops don’t use 3X or size 30+ models to show off their fashions. But I’d never made the connection between this erasure and the dissonance I feel when I see myself. Thanks so much, again, for posting this!

  30. Elly
    Posted June 1, 2011 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    YES. And that is why I now have the website of the Adiposity project as one of my feeds: http://adipositivity.phototage.com/index.html
    Several beautiful photo’s a week of a (nearly) nude fat body. Mostly voluteers, so the faces are either not on the photo, or not recognisable, but they do not give the feeling of “headless fatties”. And they show all the different possibilities of a nude female body. My own body feels much less abnormal now.

  31. Posted June 1, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    http://liveoncejuicy.com/rad-fatties-project/
    Thought you might be interested in this project, enough to join us on Fridays?

    • Posted June 2, 2011 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

      OMG…yes! Join us. Please!

  32. Posted June 3, 2011 at 6:07 am | Permalink

    I am trying, REALLY trying, to post more photos of me that I don’t particularly like. Trying to get used to seeing, and not judging harshly, pictures of myself. But it’s bloody hard work.

    It’s funny though, sometimes the pictures of me I hate the most are the ones that other people love the most.

  33. Amanda B.
    Posted June 5, 2011 at 3:16 am | Permalink

    My current job has me in front of a camera five days a week. With that comes a monitor pointed at me and my team–which is great, so I don’t accidentally blow my nose in front of 30,000 people or something. But it’s also a terrifically powerful barometer of how I’m doing with body acceptance that day. Some days I enjoy my outfit. Some days I want to go hide under a rock. Some days I toy with the idea of dieting (just this once! Just those 30 lbs! …as if). Some days I want a paper bag over my head. Some days I think I look pretty darn good.

    But through it all, I’m trying to LOOK. I had a friend recently “helpfully” tell me to just not look at the monitor and pretend I was two sizes smaller. Thankfully I could recognize that as a very, very bad idea. I don’t need to just imagine I have a body that I think I’d like better. I need to like the body I actually HAVE. I’m not consistently there yet, but I’m reaching.

  34. Jane Kauer
    Posted June 6, 2011 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    I love you for writing this. Powerful, smart & funny. I needed a profile photo for tumblr–well, needed?–and realized I did not have any. weird, not so funny. lots of the kid, spouse, friends. I will get someone to take one. That is my vow.

  35. Liz
    Posted June 6, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    This was hugely useful, but for slightly different reasons than what you’re putting accross:

    For me the issue is not really my body. I think the reason for that is that I’ve always been athletic and the kind of fat that people can rationalise by calling me “stocky” or “muscular” or “athletic”. I do get asked by people who have just met me: “so, what are you into? Shot put? Rugby?”

    I think that kind of validation makes it easier. I’ve never really felt that my body is abnormal, although I have had to point out that evenly fatted people are still fat, and fat people can be big and strong too, and that is all fine. I’d like people to at least think before they start bashing those mythical fattehs. In front of a real fatteh. *facepalm*

    It’s my face that causes those kinds of issues. I got called ugly so much as a child and teenager that I very rarely allow anyone to take my picture. My brother used to hoot with laughter as I’d run screaming from the room whenever he whipped out his camera phone, until he realised that I was genuinely upset. I have that kind of cognitive dissonance you describe with my face – apart from a vague feeling of surprise that no one else seems to see anything particularly unusual about it, I try not to think about it. This post has been a big wakeup call for me.

    • Posted June 6, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

      Bleh, I had issues with my face in photos for a long time, too, and still sometimes do.

  36. Liz
    Posted June 6, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    Um, your picture isn’t showing on my computer. Any idea what’s wrong?

    • Posted June 6, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

      The picture at the bottom of the post? Or the picture in the right-hand column of the site?

      If it’s the one in the post, there is a boo-boo with the wordpress image uploader and I was too lazy and frustrated to remove the code :D

      • Liz
        Posted June 7, 2011 at 4:20 am | Permalink

        Yeah, it’s the one in the post. Thanks for the clarification. It’s not a big deal, I was just curious and a little worried that there was something wrong on my end.

        • Posted June 8, 2011 at 8:49 am | Permalink

          I guess I should get rid of that, huh?

  37. sbvds
    Posted June 19, 2011 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    I know I’m late to the party here, but I’ve been mulling this post over ever since the first time I read it a couple weeks ago. I know what I look like because I look at myself in the mirror every day, often at multiple angles when I first get dressed to make sure my clothes are sitting right. But I’m shocked when I see pictures of myself not because I look different from models or actors, but because I look different from myself. I just don’t know which is right between the photos or the mirror.

    • Erin
      Posted June 23, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

      This actually happens to me too. I usually assume it is bad lighting…

      Seriously though, I am sometimes surprised by clothes that I thought made me look fantabulous and the picture isn’t what I had in my head. Delusions? Maybe.

      Still, I think as long as the mirror gives me the best accessory going – confidence – I’ll go with it.

  38. Emerald
    Posted July 3, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    I’ve come late to this post, but yes. I’ve caught myself doing it lately – I don’t know why – but I find myself getting that sort of dissonance when I’m out around town and catch myself sideways in a store window. I think it’s the fact that when I look in a mirror, frontways, I’m the shape I feel I’m ‘supposed’ to be – i.e. I go in at the waist – whereas the side view is more lumpy and bumpy. And I hate that I’m having trouble being OK with that.

    Facially, I’m having less trouble with photography than I used to – if I come out looking a little dorky (which I usually do, because I never know how to respond to a camera), I’m like, ‘WTF, that’s just me’. I just need to get used to having the same attitude to the rest of me.

    Something that’s helping right now is the fact that just recently I’ve been getting into cosplay, and at first I was worried about the prospect of dressing as characters played by actors whose build is nothing like mine. Until I went online and realised that hey, the vast majority of the people out there doing this don’t have those kind of bodies, and don’t appear to give a damn; they’re just having fun. (But why that dichotomy exists in the first place is a whole other topic in itself.)

  39. Posted July 12, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    I just had a very similar experience — it is wedding season, when many of us wind up in photographs — and blogged about it here: http://www.biglegwoman.com/?p=190

  40. Lex Apostata
    Posted July 15, 2011 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    I just KNEW you were a Cure fan. You had that look.

    • Posted July 16, 2011 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      WHAT

      It’s because I cry a lot, isn’t it.

  41. Posted July 15, 2011 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    I finally signed up for your blog. I don’t know why I didn’t sign up a year ago when I found it before. It’s SO refreshing, especially since I have a friend who is in the calorie counting constant complaining about her weight camp. To be fair, she enjoys calorie counting and she doesn’t restrict it too far and never lets herself get super hungry, so I figure to each their own. I think she likes the control.

    Anyway to reply to the actual article, I learned something extremely interesting as an artist. I have a series of paintings, using my own chubby form as a model (I used a timed camera, and I only used myself because I was a poor student, I couldn’t afford a model). The thing about drawing or painting realistically is that in order to do it well, your brain switches over to the right side, so they say. All judgments, preconceptions, labels, all of it completely goes away. You see a form, and you copy it. What is beautiful and pleasurable has more to do with a curve here, the reflection of light there. Your brain still sees beauty, but it is different.

    Ok maybe it won’t work for you but it worked for me.

  42. Linda
    Posted July 22, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    Yes to everything here — I just want to add that part of the problem is that most camera lenses distort (barrel distortion) so you *literally* do not look like what you’re used to seeing in the mirror. Those images we’re seeing in the magazines? They’ve either been taken with a really excellent camera, or from a high vantage point (which distorts in a way that is in line with our cultural ideal.) It has been so helpful for me to look at lots of pictures of bodies that don’t fit the cultural ideal (LOVE fatshionista for this) and to take lots of pictures of myself, keep the ones I like and look at them often :) but also to get a decent camera to take those pictures. It really does make a difference.

    • Posted July 22, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

      Yes, totally! There especially seem to be a lot of wide-angle lenses out there these days. They make certain parts look bigger, and others recede, so there’s actual distortion going on there.

  43. Posted May 24, 2012 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

    Oh my god. I thought I just had some kind of weird reverse body dysmorphia or something – this makes SO much more sense! Thank you for this perspective. :)

2 Trackbacks

  • By Wednesday Link Roundup | BasBleuStocking on June 1, 2011 at 10:00 pm

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