Christmas, Angels and … Feminism? Reflections on body image

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It’s that time of the year again. I’m not talking about Christmas, I’m talking about the time for the annual Victoria Secret fashion show. Since I do not celebrate Christmas, watching the show and making new year’s resolutions to work out harder has been my ritual for the past few years. This video seems to capture it all Weird Things Girls Do After Watching Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. I watched the show this year with so much apprehension. I am fresh out of a radical, feminist, anti-oppression support worker training, so at times it’s hard not to see oppression everywhere I look. I need to remind myself to shut it off before I go bat-shit cray cray. So one half of me saw these women who were being objectified and actually felt sick to my stomach. And the other half was totally cheering them as they strut those amazing works of art in front of the world with such power and grace. I never realized how much power a mere pair of underwear had until I started watching the show. I always liked how they show behind-the-scenes footage of how much work goes into creating these angels – the army of experts backed by a multi-billion dollar industry. It’s really a shame they don’t show how the costumes were conceptualized and created.  Last year when I watched the show I felt like a fat cow even when I was in kick-ass shape myself. This year I was still in pretty good shape, but still swore off cupcakes because I wanted to strive to look like the angels. Anyone who has actually seen the show you can testify how sexually charged the show is. The feminist in me would say go for it, women are the masters of their own experiences.Cupcake in hand, I started browsing for tips on how I can look like a VS angel. I was so happy when I found this post online with the before and after pictures of the VS angels (Click here to see the images.). It made me so happy to see the fresh, un-made faces of these women. Although I actually thought they looked worse than the normal women I always see on the streets, I still found them to be beautiful without the make up. And it also reminded me that any woman could easily enhance their own beauty and look that gorgeous with the proper make-up and techniques… and a team of special effects people.  I know how lingerie brands are being glamorized as empowering women and they are so good at making women feel as if they are in charge of their sexuality. But this only perpetuates the idea that men still define women as objects. With women flaunting their bodies and “inspiring” other women to do the same hoping men will see their worth through these outfits, It’s not a wonder why sex trafficking and prostitution has increased. The entire brand is based around an archetype of a women according to patriarchal sensibilities. Even though women are still aware of the pitfalls of embracing sexist ideals of female beauty we are still not creating alternatives to eliminate those dangers. Will the girls who are watching the show know how to love our bodies as ourselves? Poor body image generally starts from childhood, and that doesn’t stem from the way you look but by the way other people make you feel about your body and your self. The first time I became aware of this was when I was 8 years old, and someone commented on my body shape, telling me I need to stop eating so many sweets or I would get fatter. I was neither skinny nor was I planning to be, and I thought of myself as just perfect up until that point. But from that moment on I was very self conscious about what I wore and what I ate in front of other people. Calling someone “fat” does not always refer to a person’s physical appearance either. The word itself can be used as a weapon, because to the listener it can mean anything from “ugly”, “stupid”, “slow”, “lazy” or “unloved”. And it is a form of oppression that it is used to dehumanize certain groups of people. When was the first time you felt bad about yourself or your body?

For when you are overwhelmed and life feels insurmountable…

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“Bend, not break. Be like water and flow.” – Bruce Lee

Water takes the shape of the of the object it is placed into, adapting to the needs of the environment. Even when you plan for everything life often has other plans for you, and things may not always go the way you want.

Did you know that anxiety tends to accumulate in your shoulders, making us feel like we are literally carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders? I started noticing this when I worry about certain things or get anxious about an upcoming presentation. I worry that I may mess things up somehow or make things worse. And the more I worry, the more the knot tightens, and that leads to panic, forgetfulness, insomnia or stress eating. Phew. [Eats cupcake].

I found this really great tip from Olivia Fox-Cabane’s book The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism. This visualization exercise works better in a quite space where you are able to concentrate for a few minutes without being interrupted. The first step of healing is always acknowledging the pain. With your eyes closed, begin by picturing the thing you are worrying about as a heavy box or object that is sitting on your shoulders. Feel the heaviness of this box and all the expectations that weigh you down, causing this mental and physical strain in you.

The next step is to visualize a divine element such as a God/Goddess, The Universe, a Genie, whatever entity you have faith in, and imagine yourself lifting the heavy box off of your shoulders and placing it on the shoulders of the entity. Feel the lightness of your shoulders. You can rotate your neck, stretch, whatever feels right at that moment. This releases the control you have over the outcome of your performance and allows you to relax, knowing that things will fall perfectly into place.

The more I do this exercise the better I have become at dealing with stressful situations. I can let go of my anxieties about the outcome and focus on being present and adaptable to any type of situation.

Do you have any strategies on coping with anxiety? Let me know in the comments below.