Monday, April 9, 2018

Same As It Ever Was II

I'm lucky that my job doesn't require me to stand out on social media. Basically, if I aim to do my best in terms of being honest, kind, helpful, and knowledgeable, it usually translates into doing well at work. When I look at how people who rely more heavily on being in the public eye behave, it makes me realize how far we as a society have to go in order to even begin to change the unhealthy but terribly ingrained habits that form the often dangerous beauty standards we constantly see. Most of us are still so very unaware how we contribute to cultural assumptions and norms.

I was late seeing some of the more bizarre takes on the "if you don't love me at my XXX, you don't deserve me at my XXX" meme phenomenon that's occurring on Twitter at the moment. The original quote is: “I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.” - Anonymous. People initially made some cute or funny memes based on this, but, as they often do, those who crave the spotlight had to join in because everyone else was doing it. Then, all of a sudden, too many people took the opportunity to draw attention to bodies, women's bodies in particular, showing one supposedly less satisfactory image and one glammed up image side-by-side. It didn't take long for pretty much everyone to jump on board with their versions of worst and best, and I noticed a large number of people simply posting images of themselves at a higher weight or slightly less toned contrasted with a more socially accepted image.

My tipping point and why I wrote this post rather than engage with anyone on a social media platform was when someone who has been interviewed as an eating disorder recovery advocate and partnered with an expert to teach a virtual class on body image in 2017, through Oiselle presented an older image of herself shortly after having a baby but still in shape enough to be engaging in a high-intensity sport next to an image of herself looking extremely fit in a fashion show for a women's athletic apparel company. Since a few people already said what I was thinking, there was no need to beat a dead horse and get involved in any direct conversations. It was surprising that she posted something like this, and there was a lot of explaining afterward about how it's really a good thing, somehow aimed at progress, which I fail to see given the meme movement and the images themselves. When a few people called her out on what appeared to many as an odd way to support body positivity, what followed from both her and the clothing company was more than a little concerning. I couldn't help but have a reaction, one that I felt deserved a more measured response on my blog.

Before I even get into what was tweeted, let me remind everyone that it's widely accepted and has been for years that there's a strong correlation between social media and body image concerns. We already know the line between fitspiration and thinspiration is a slim and often blurred one, and the content of the two is often indistinguishable. I'm not going to get into how common it is for images to be stolen and use as pro-ana content. That's a separate issue, but it happens and is one more reason people should be more concerned about the types of images they post. Teens and young adults are especially vulnerable when it comes to being influenced by the messages and images found on social media, but it's not limited to women and girls. Boys and men are also affected, as are people in the LGBTQ community.

Blasting others with images of your body in such a way that draws disproportionate attention to the body itself will always have the potential to negatively affect those who are prone to compare themselves to others and seek approval through their weight, size, or fitness level. This kind of image with a strong emphasis on looks is obviously different from an image of someone simply engaging in a certain activity or enjoying a moment in front of the camera. In the case of the former, excessively promoting images that fit into the narrow definition of our society's warped definition of beauty is likely to negatively influence some, and contrasting two images that focus entirely on the body is certain to cause at least a few people to engage in unhealthy comparisons.

Most individuals post images on social media without thinking about the potential damage they can cause. What's surprising is how many individuals are unaware and uncaring in this area. Can we please just stop it and shift the focus away from women's bodies, period? We don't need new and different ways of looking at the aesthetics of a woman's body. This isn't helpful in the long run because the focus is still on looks rather than wellbeing, health, or anything deeper. Why must everything come back to this?

I know this seems like an impossible task. Everyone has rights and wants and needs, and many people want to get some validation through the images they post. The argument is that everyone wants to look good and be their best versions of themselves, Oprah style, which is all fine; just stop shoving your body parts, toned or not, in our faces and intentionally drawing attention to them at the expense of real content. Nobody should be supporting or encouraging people who post memes and images that very clearly send potentially harmful messages, even if the intentions of the poster are... the best. I'm sure some people will misinterpret what I'm saying and think, incorrectly, that I'm for a world with no images of bodies at all be it in fashion, athletics, or in general. That's not what I'm saying. If you feel that posting images of yourself somehow betters the world, by all means, post away. All I'm doing is presenting another side.

Let me spare you more ruminations and just post some of the thread responses along with my thoughts in red.

Q1: Why is her natural post-partum body at her worst?

(Exactly what I was thinking. Shouldn't this be a highlight in life, especially if you have a child and are able to return to the activities you love?)

 A: Our interpretation of the meme was not that the first image equals worse but more what is real - and not traditionally shared (as LF’s original blog points out). Either way, thank you for the comment.

(Despite the original quote very clearly stating "worst/best," we are somehow supposed to magically know by looking at the images that the OP had a different interpretation. In addition, aren't we the fools for not having read every single word of the OP's blog, especially posts dating back to 2013 and 2014. Shame on us, but since it has been brought to your attention that it's unlikely that anyone would take the images in the way they were supposedly intended, what now?) 

Q2: I think this trend should just be "if you don't love me at my don't deserve me." The implication of "non-ideal" photos/bodies as "worst" & "beautiful" photos/bodies as "best" is not a healthy subtext

(This is one of the best responses I have seen. Yes, it's not healthy. I wish more people would understand this.) 

OP: I see it as a powerful way to say “take all of me or have none of me.” I think it subverts rather than endorses simply by encouraging the posting of a range of images as lovable. To each her own!

(OK, fair enough, but what about the message the images send without the added explanation? How many people are going to look at the images and then take the time to read all the responses to get to this explanation?)

Q3: "So let's review this," he said, incredulous. "Oiselle uses strategic lighting and angles so that its athletes look maximally lean and ripped for its ads, and now it's imploring its own target audience to be real about women's bodies."

 Q3: "I really think you should replace your entire marketing department," he said with unconcealed scorn. "I thought the 'Drink Responsibly' crap from booze-peddlers was patently hypocritical, but this is several levels worse."

 OP: For the record, both are my actual body :). And it is worth pointing out that the meme never says “worst” or “best” in reference to the images. Could be “candid” or “posed,” or any number of things. It’s telling that many assume “worst/best!

(Again, the original quote specifically states this, and the answer below couldn't be better, right down to the third-person panache.) 

 Q3: "I didn't assume anything!" he thundered. "But only a fool could fail to note what's implied by this juxtaposition. Oiselle is like virtually every other women's active-wear company in trying to have it both ways. It's as simple as that."

 Q4: Have you looked at their advertising lately? Oiselle makes it a point to have models of various shapes and sizes and clothing to fit them. Maybe you should become informed before you speak.

 Q3: "Well, isn't that sweet!" he trilled. "But the use of bigger models elsewhere has nothing to do with THIS post, which implies that it's OK to look 'normal' IF 'normal' is a temporary condition. I 'get' the intent, but trust me, it backfires."

I don't claim to have all the answers. Free speech includes freedom of expression, and anyone who wants can flaunt her body in any way she sees fit. I just wish more people would consider how easy it is to reinforce unhealthy or unrealistic standards of health, fitness, and beauty when the online audience is so vast. My concern is that if those who consider themselves knowledgeable about eating disorders are unaware of how potentially damaging certain kinds of memes and images can be, you can imagine how little is known about the toxic side of social media in the general public. Given this, it's likely we are going to see more and more people developing eating disorders. And that's why this kind of trend is so upsetting.

Few people take the time to consider the impact the images they post can have. Images send a message in an instant. You don't always have the luxury of looking away before an image pops up in your feed, and whatever message comes from it is internalized quickly. With some posters -- and I'm not suggesting this is the case with this particular situation but I'm sure it happens a lot -- as long as they're getting whatever benefit posting brings them, and as long as they get those reinforcing "likes," it's doubtful anything will change any time soon. One can hope, though. Damn, one can hope.

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