Psychologies Magazine UK Edition devoted almost an entire issue in June of this year to the topic of body image. The editors entitled it “Dossier: 18-Page Special–Feel Happy with Your Body”, and they put it on the front page. They chose former English supermodel, Jodie Kidd, as their cover model. Ms. Kidd was part of the “heroin chic” trend in fashion during the 1990s which launched Kate Moss to the top of the fashion world. At 15 years old, she was 6 ft 1 in and most likely a size 0.
Almost twenty years later, she is between a size 12 and 14. What’s more, she is happy and healthy. In her interview with Marianne Macdonald for Psychologies Magazine, Kidd explains:
“I have a 32in waist now. I am who I am, and I don’t really care. I’m size 12 to 14, I’ve got bits hanging out here, there and everywhere, and I’m happy. I’m a country girl, and to me there’s so much more beauty in trees wildlife and travelling and history and culture…Of course, I don’t think there’s one woman who does like her body, apart from Gisele (Bundchen). And even she would probably say she didn’t like hers…My bum’s too big, hips are too big and thighs are too big. I don’t think about it…I never got a boyfriend (when she was young). But my dad is 6ft 6in and my brother is 6ft 5in, so we’re a tall family. And a confident family as well, so I didn’t go, ‘I don’t like this’. It could be quite awkward (being tall) because you don’t feel like you fit in, but I luckily had the exuberance, life and character to not really give a toss. I’m very proud of my height. I’ll wear the highest heels possible so I’m 6ft 9in.” (Psychologies 21)
I have included Ms. Kidd and part of her interview in this post because it provides a nice introduction to the next excerpt that I will be sharing from the article “See Yourself Differently” by Isabelle Taubes for Psychologies Magazines UK Edition June 2010. If you are new to the discussion, you can read the previous article excerpts here: “See Yourself Differently”–Part I and “See Yourself Differently”–Part II.
In the first two excerpts, Taubes discusses our views of ourselves in relation to the ‘ego-ideal’. Essentially, as Taubes puts it, “We love ourselves according to how we measure up to our ideal perfection. The higher we set the bar, the greater the risk that we’ll feel we’ve let ourselves down.” What I have been attempting to point out is that we ourselves are not the only ones raising and lowering that bar. There are many influences. The first influence that I’ve discussed is the media. I’ve taken us back to the 19th. c. Paris Salon in order to explain that we can develop a more critical and discerning mind when looking at the images that are presented to us (see Variation on a Theme). Just because an image of another person’s body represents beauty, sexuality, desire, health, or perfection to someone else or even to the culture at large does not mean that it does for you. We have the right to decide what is healthy, appropriate, and attainable for us, and if we are going to thrive in this culture, we must learn to do this. We choose how high or low our “bar” is. Not Hollywood. Not the beauty industry. Not the publishing industry. Not Madison Avenue. And, certainly not People Magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People issue.
That being said, who else influences the placement of our “bar”? Our families.
“If we had a good relationship with our family from early on, we may develop an ego-ideal so flexible and forgiving that we won’t become obsessed with what we lack. We may understand that, for example, having a big nose does not make us contemptible, or that we can be a good person without needing to be the centre of attention.
Our ego-ideal is based on our parents’ perception of us, their demands and their hopes. ‘My mother worshipped me,’ says Michael, 55. ‘In her eyes I was the most beautiful boy in the world. Even if in reality I am no Greek god, I never doubted my appeal. I recently married a beautiful woman 20 years younger than me.’
‘Someone with a far from perfect physique, who felt validated during their childhood, can still feel confident in their appearance,’ says Prades. ‘It’s the power of love.’ If we were surrounded by love as children, would our self-esteem be assured for life? That would be far too simple. A father, disappointed that his teenage daughter is no longer the adorable little thing she was at 10 years old, may treat her more coolly and as a result she may start to think that she’s become repulsive. A mother, dismayed at her own ageing, is full of insecurities and can be just as destructive.
‘My mother was so anxious about getting old, she couldn’t cope with my growing up,’ remembers Marie, 39. ‘Whenever she gave me a compliment, she would immediately undermine it, so she would say something like, “You have nice legs, but at your age, mine were thinner”. She couldn’t help herself. Maybe that’s why I have no confidence in my own body.’
But as well as conscious emotions, such as love and hate, subconscious desires can be very powerful. ‘If they were expecting a son but they had a daughter, parents will be disappointed, albeit subconsciously. Even if they give masses of love to their little girl, she won’t be able to avoid thinking that her body is inadequate,’ says psychoanalyst Françoise Dupin.” (Psychologies 106)
Suddenly, the media is feeling like a much easier topic to discuss. The media is external to our lives. I took a trip a few years ago to the Cascade Mountains. I had my cell phone, but it didn’t work. There was little point in bringing a computer. There was no television because there was no electricity where I was staying. There were no magazines anywhere. I was completely free of all media, but I wasn’t free of something else. The voices of my past. Our families are not external to our lives. They are very much an internal part. Our experiences in our families, for better or for worse, are foundational to our lives. Taubes says it: “Our ego-ideal is based on our parents’ perception of us, their demands and their hopes.” In large part, how we view ourselves, the ruler with which we measure ourselves, is given to us largely by our parents.
I introduced you to Jodie Kidd in the beginning of this article. She is an interesting figure to me because she represents a woman who made a successful transition from a very challenging adolescence as a teenage model to a woman who “grew into” herself. If you’ll notice from her interview, she describes her family as confident, and they were able to impart this confidence to her as well. So, as she witnessed her young body change from boyishly thin and lanky to voluptuous and full, she was able to transition from awkwardness to self-acceptance. She admits that she finds fault with her shape, but she also admits that she’s proud of the one physical attribute that made her feel the most awkward during her adolescence–her height. I believe that she is so proud of her height because her family is so confidently tall. Kidd’s story reinforces Taubes’ assertion that if we have a good relationship with our family from early on, we might develop a flexible and forgiving ego-ideal that will prevent us from obsessing on perceived lacks.
You may be asking, ‘What if I did not have that sort of family experience?’ If you’ve read any of my other posts, then you know I did not. My response? There is time, and we shall explore that because it needs exploration. It’s part of telling the truth (Step 1) and moving forward. How are we ever going to learn to see ourselves differently, learning to like what we see in the process, if we never realize why we don’t in the first place?
What I want to leave you with is this: In any of your familial experiences, were you left with any positive gifts relating to body image? Jodie Kidd was given confidence. I’ll share. Mind you, I had to think about this one; but if I can come up with one, then I know that you can, too.
I have great feet. I really do. My mom would always paint her toenails, and I think I picked up the habit of painting my toenails from her. My mother has never left the house without having painted toenails. I am very similar. Even without having my nails painted, however, I can say without a doubt that I have pretty feet. I like the shape of my toes. I like the size of my feet. They aren’t too big or too small. The skin on the top of my feet is very smooth, and my feet tan in the summer. I wear sandals all summer long so that I can show off my pedicured toes and suntanned feet. Even when I neglect to keep up with nail polish, I still like my feet. Even when my feet are dirty and the nails grow a little long, I still like my feet. Even if another person came along and insulted my feet, I wouldn’t care in the least because I like my feet. That was my mother’s gift to me. She cared for her feet, and she taught me to care for mine. I don’t know if she ever said that I had nice feet, but because I spent so much time looking at my feet, “doing my toenails”, and caring for my feet, I learned to like my feet and see them as pretty. Consequently, I like to look at other people’s feet. I think that feet are interesting.
Is there a part of your body that you especially like? Your hands? Your skin? Your hair? Your eyes? Ears? Lips? Nose? Bottom? Thighs? Stomach? Feet? Your height? Your posture? Your smile? Your neck? Back? Ankles? Your wrists? We spend so much time discussing what we don’t like. Spend some time thinking about what you do like in a deliberate manner. If you like your hands, then apply some lotion to your hands as an act of tenderness and appreciation. If you like your hair, then take an extra minute or two when you are washing it, feeling it, running your fingers though it. If you like your skin, spend a few minutes admiring it, feeling it, “being in it”. Whatever it is that you like about yourself, spend some time attending to yourself. We are able to look at our flaws with the focus of a laser. Turn some of that energy into positive self-attention. If this is too uncomfortable for you, then merely ask the question: “What part of me might be beautiful, interesting, or striking if I were a stranger looking at me for the first time from a distance?” Whether you know the answer or not, you are beautiful. Learning to see yourself differently is a process, and it is a worthwhile one at that.
As for me, I’m going to spend some time painting my toenails.