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05/06/2010

Shame On Me

Shame I am big fan of the part-musical, part-soap opera television series “Glee.” It takes me back to my days in high school show choir (only we never did musical numbers like these!).

One storyline in last week's episode centered on the attempts to lose weight and be popular of a full figured African-American young woman who is a main character on the show. She was recruited to be on the cheerleading squad and then pressured to lose a significant amount of weight in a short amount of time.

After eating little or nothing for days and finally passing out, the young woman decides that enough is enough. In glorious “Glee”- style, she sings a moving version of the song “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera in front of the whole school.

It was a feel good moment as this character sang and declared her beauty-- even though she isn't the body size she was told she “had” to be.

Then, Fox network cut to an ad break and showed a Victoria's Secret ad. The irony was not lost on me.

There is undeniable shame rampant in our culture. It takes many forms...one of which centers on norms for how a woman's body should and shouldn't look.

Yes, there are different sub-cultural rules when it comes to acceptable body sizes for women of particular races, ethnicities and even socioeconomic classes. I'm going to generalize a bit in this post because I think that the drive for thinness (at all costs) pervades even with these variations.

Another example of this is the fact that both ABC and Fox networks refused to air (without substantial editing) a Lane Bryant ad featuring a plus-sized model wearing only a bra and underwear. There has been no apparent hesitation for these and other networks to air Victoria's Secret ads featuring vastly thinner models also wearing only bras and underwear.

My point here is not to lambaste the media. Of course, the images portrayed on billboards, magazines, television and movies do have an effect.

But we miss so much of the picture when we vilify the media and solely blame the modeling and ad industries for why some women invest lots of money in plastic surgery, why others starve themselves literally to death and why the vast majority of us hate our bodies.

There's a lot of shame going on.

This shame isn't just experienced by those women whose body sizes are closer to that of the Lane Bryant model than the Victoria's Secret model. Even some thin women find fault with their bodies or appearances.

I don't have the all-encompassing answer for why so many women look in the mirror and loathe what they see. It is different for us all.

The reasons are also deep.

For some of us, rape or sexual abuse in our pasts contribute to the feeling that we are marred or inappropriate.

For some of us, the examples of the women we grew up around ingrained in us habits of turning to food for comfort and then punishing ourselves for it afterward.

For some of us, the examples of the women we grew up around ingrained in us the practice of always rigidly controlling what we eat in order to play a proscribed role.

For some of us, painful words that we are not good enough, smart enough, capable enough that we heard from those we trusted and relied upon tattooed in our unconscious minds this “reality.”

So many experiences, habits and messages made us believe that we are somehow deficient and even disgraceful-- both inside and outside. And this shame often manifests as body hatred and self hatred.

Isn't it time we challenge these beliefs that we allow to continue within ourselves and then inadvertently teach to our daughters?

Isn't it time to create a new reality-- one in which every body is beautiful?
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When she's not singing along with “Glee,” Amy Phillips-Gary is a personal growth coach who specializes in helping women learn to accept and love their bodies and themselves more fully. She writes for various internet websites, including Personal Growth Planet. You can read her weekly blog at Personal Growth Planet Blog.

*Photo by Katie Tegtmeyer.




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