Monday, May 21, 2012

gchat conversation with C about women and men and conversations about body image and beauty

me: It's okay. It was a good experience.
5:26 PM hey--have you checked out the body blog at all? (or even heard of it? I know you're so busy...)
5:29 PM C: Is it the one you've been posting on Facebook?
5:30 PM me: yupperz
 C: I haven't been to it yet, but I've seen your posts
 me: you should check it out if you get some time.
 C: Yeah, I will
5:31 PM me: This is the most recent post
  i helped a girl make a documentary about eating disorders.
  anyhow...the blog naturally attracts female readers, and I'm okay with that. I wish there was a way I could better reach the male population as well.
5:32 PM C: Yeah
  I was just noticing that most of the followers are women
5:33 PM me: the people who make comments, the people who like and share the posts on facebook, and most of all, the people who contribute
5:35 PM C: That's tough
  The problem is, guys don't worry about what girls worry about when it comes to bodies
5:37 PM me: for sure. But do guys ever worry about the girls in their lives, and what they worry about?
  suffer anxiety over/spend money on/experience depression over/etc?
5:38 PM or just about bodies in general
5:39 PM C: Yeah, I worry about girls' perception of their bodies but the overall message I get is "don't bring it up because if a girl has a problem, talking about it with you isn't going to help"
 me: I think these posts (so far) can be valuable to anyone who interacts with women or who might one day be the father of a daughter. Also, I'd like to find a way to make it more directly related to men--find a way to get somem ale authors.
  I'm sorry that's the impression you've gotten
  that kills me.
  I think it would be SO HEALTHY for women to have an open dialogue about these things with men.
  and for men to have it with women.
5:40 PM I think it could be very, very healing on both ends.
5:41 PM C: Yeah, but would it really help if I brought up eating disorders with a girl who has one?
5:42 PM me: of course!
  do you know a girl who has one?
  i mean, obviously it depends on who, and in what context.
  but I think about when I had my eating disorder, and how healing it was/would have been for men I trusted to speak openly with me about it.
5:43 PM C: Would you have believed them?
 me: in what sense? Their sincerity?
5:44 PM (this conversation we are having right now is VERY interesting to me, especially if it is repesentative of how other men feel)
5:45 PM C: Yeah, like would you have believed a guy talking to you about how he perceived your body if you had an eating disorder?
5:46 PM me: hmmm...give me an example because I feel like you're referring to something specific. You don't have to use names, etc.
5:47 PM C: Oh, I'm not
5:48 PM Well, I guess I'm talking from a High School Health class that I took
  (that's the last time I talked about eating disorders in a big way)
5:49 PM The sense I got was that talking about a girl's body to her would only insight more of a problem
5:50 PM It didn't matter if what I was saying was true or not, it was just better to not talk about their bodies than to say positive things
 me: well. Here's what's true. Words DO contain a lot of power, and I understand the need to play it safe out of fear of doing greater damage.
5:51 PM But these things are already on the mind. ESPECIALLY on the mind of a girl with an eating disorder.
  She's being talked to every day by imaginary voices coming from imaginary men. (they actually come from diet and fashion industries, but you get the point)
5:52 PM These voices tell her that how she looks means EVERYTHING.
  That she isn't thin enough, her boobs aren't big enough, her stomach isn't flat enough, her hair isn't smooth enough, her skin isn't clear enough, and the list goes on.
5:53 PM That all men fear that the women they date/marry/etc. will gain weight, get wrinkles, will have soft bodies post-pregnancy, etc. and as soon as this happens the men that loved them will leave them for someone younger, firmer, smoother.
  THIS ISN'T TRUE (Am I right?)
5:54 PM I'm not denying a need to feel physically attracted to the opposite gender.
 C: Hmmm
  I can see your point
 me: but the qualifications for attraction aren't so streamlined.
5:55 PM And love (I pray and hope) is not so shallow as the state, qualilty, size, and age of a woman's body parts.
  what women need
  is more conversations with real men.
  we don't know how you feel about our bodies both in general and specifically.
  and I could be wrong
  but I get the feeling that the truth (how you really feel) is far less frightening than what we fear.
5:57 PM C: That's true!
  I love women.
  In general.
  And their bodies.
  Just in general.
  Love 'em.
5:58 PM me: Right. And think about the girls you've dated. I doubted you thought to yourself "Gosh...I wish this part of her body was just a little more/less ___."
  it was probably more along the lines of "Gosh! I love this girl!"
 C: Yeah
  That's a total media scam
  at some point or another and to varying degrees. but yes. even the very wise.
5:59 PM C: Well, how do I get you guys to come to my store and buy my opinion?
 me: lol
 C: Haha
  I'm serious.
 me: share it. We'll take it! We just don't know it exists, and sometimes we're afraid to ask.
6:00 PM Also, in regards to women you don't have a crush on, you can still share affirming thoughts and words.
  I think both sides would be surprised in this conversation. I think you'd be surprised how much we want to have it with you. And I think we'd be surprised at what you have to say.
6:01 PM C: Huh
  That's cool.
  I want to have that conversation more, now
 me: here. Let me give you an example. You may or may not remember this, but I know you were in the room.
  it was right before I left Utah.
 C: I remember it.
 me: Do you?
6:02 PM when I was expressing frustrations about my body and how I felt it kept men from giving me a chance, etc?
  and then S piped up. S didn't say "Dana! I think you're smokin' and I have a crush on you!"
6:03 PM he said "Dana, those guys are shallow. The last girl I dated was around your size or bigger, and I thought she was beautiful."
  Are guys who date skinny girls necessarily shallow? No. Was S professing his undying love for me in affirmation? No.
  S gave to me something that I didn't know he had, and in the moment, didn't believe that the male gender could possibly possess.
6:04 PM the capacity to find beauty in a woman larger than a size 8.
  That was SO HEALING. I wrote it in my journal and think of it often.
 C: That's good.
  Know what else/
  Most of us don't even know what 'size 8' means.
  Nor do we care.
6:05 PM This is super fascinating for me.
6:06 PM me: I think about when I had my eating disorder--I had conversations like that from time to time. They were few and far between, but they were heaven-sent. And though they didn't cure me overnight, they contributed greatly to the healing process.
  We need and crave real conversations with real men.
  about these topics
  but we fear it is as uncomfortable for you as you fear it is for us.
6:07 PM C: Yeah
  is a really good point
 me: I just imagine a world where fathers could have these kinds of conversations regularly with their daughters.
 C: "but we fear it is as uncomfortable for you as you fear it is for us."
 me: Can I give you a challenge, C?
6:08 PM It's Monday. First day of the working week. Can you try and have a conversation about bodies/body image with a woman in your life this week?
  she can be a crush or just a friend. It doesn't matter.
  (and this doesn't count :) )
6:12 PM C: YEah, sure
  I'm down.
 me: Will you? I will ask you how it went if you don't get back to me before then.
  Maybe you should write down some questions you'd like to ask.
6:13 PM Ways to start the conversation.
  And then just be a good listener. I'm really curious to hear her reaction and your experience.
6:15 PM Also...would you mind if I shared this conversation on the blog? I can take out your name if you like.
6:18 PM C: Yeah, go for it.
  That's actually what I was thinking.
  This is how you can get guys interested
 me: right! :) Okay. So, I want you to have that conversation, (hell! have a few if you ilke!) and I want you to write about it. It only need be a page.
6:19 PM Can you do that for me?
 C: Haha, sure
  I'm not a great writer but I can do it.
 me: Thanks, C. I really appreciate it.


  1. Dana, I've read several posts on your blog and have appreciated them all. But I don't get much chance to comment. Anyway, reading this reminded me of my six week postpartum visit with my midwife after having baby 4. She was pleasantly shocked that my husband is still attracted to me after 10 years of marriage and 4 kids. I have to think it's the influence if the media that made her feel that way. I find it very sad if she'd formed that opinion from personal experience.

    And I totally agree that having more conversations like these with the men in our lives would be very healing.

  2. I just have to say that not all men are shy about talking about it/ My now-husband has always been good about being reaffirming and supportive and loving about me as a person, including how I look and how I will look (umpteen many kids down the road or what have you). As he often says "I'm certainly not going to look the same in 10 years, why should you?" I think there are plenty of men out there who are so supportive, it's just like you say, sometimes they're afraid to share or talk about it because they think it'll offend or upset more than it helps.

  3. Yeah, I would say that I know some men who are really good about talking about bodies and some that definitely aren't, but most of the men who are really good (of which I am probably not, although I am not terrible) are all married, just like the two comments above. And although I wish we lived in a society where it was okay for married men to have conversations with other women about their bodies without them coming off as being creepers, I'm not sure we do. I'd be really interested to hear (honestly) if there are any women who would feel great about their husband or even boyfriend having a conversation with another woman about her body and be totally fine with it. Married men wanting to be faithful to their wives isn't the whole problem, obviously, but it's part of the problem. All these men who have learned to talk constructively about the female body only do so with their wives.

    Another problem that doens't seem to be addressed in the gchat is that I feel that a lot of men don't talk about bodies, whether male or female, for fear of coming off as gay. I don't think women understand how important "not being gay" has become in many parts of male society (most of it driven by men and some driven by women). I would say that is another big part of why men don't have conversations with women about their bodies.

  4. Hey Tim--

    Some very good points. Thank you for bringing them up. And I am definitely on board with emotional fidelity betweent husband and wife. I don't think it's wise for a married man or woman to have deep, emotionally vulnerable conversations with anyone of the opposite gender.

    A few things.

    I don't know if the conversation has to be specifically about the woman you are speaking with's body. It can be general and still effective. You can discuss media and social influences, why they are damaging, the message that women recieve next to the reality for men.

    It's a conversation that can be had in a small-group setting with your wife present. I think of some very helpful conversations on this topic sitting in M and C's living room. They brought different opinions to the conversation and are obviously different people, but they spoke as one, reperesenting one unit.

    Unfortunatelly, there are a number of boyfriends and husbands who still don't know how to have this conversation with their signficant other. And though the occasional and simple "you're beautiful!" can be very affirming, I imagine a number of women, especially those who continue to suffer from body-image issues might desire a more flushed-out conversation about what she's feeling where it's coming from, and why it's hurting her with her significant other.

    Also--there are definitely some women you CAN have this conversation with--your mom, your sisters. This can be tricky depending on the existing relationship. Honestly, it has been difficult to have this conversation with my mom and my sisters (though most rewarding when it finally happens/ed!) and I'm not a guy! If my brother tried to talk with me about these things I would be terribly confused (what? are you serious?) but also thrilled. Part of it comes with maturity I think. I trained my childhood brain to see him as a nerdy mutant ninja turtle, but I can now say that he is a handsome fella. I tell it to his face sometimes even though, as of yet, all he does is shift uncomfortably and say "uhhh...okay". So. it's a work in progress. But if you can, do it.

    I think that your wife aside, and maybe on par, one of the most important women you can have this conversation with is your daughter. From a very young age, comments like "look at your strong, healthy body! You can run so fast! You can jump very high! You sing so well, and think great thoughts. You are my beautiful girl" Moving to questions like "Mom tells me you feel ugly. What makes you feel that way? Mom tells me you want to lose weight. What brought this on?" and then just listening. In the end affirming, asking her how you can help. Is there a woman amongst us who couldn't have, in earnest, used regular conversations like that from her father (or the father-figure in her life). It's good to start practicing now, because heaven only knows it won't just HAPPEN when we have daughters. (parenthetically, Tim, I have total confidence in your capacity to love, strengthen, and empower little T)

    For single men, I think there is a fear that this conversation, once again, has to be an indication of romantic interest in the girl he is having it with. I repeat this. It need not be. Granted, different women will react differently to the conversation, but you can feel it out. I know who amongst my guy friends are friends, and I've had these conversations with some of them (often initiated by me) and didn't leave them feeling "Oh...does so-and-so have a crush on me?" Rather, " is a great guy. It's so good to know that there are guys out there with his perspective. It's so good to know how a real man feels about media influences and real female bodies."

  5. Regarding the gay thing-well...I could be wrong, but I think we are (hopefully?) moving towards a society where people are less worried about whether or not certain behaviors will make them sound gay. Actually...that is a conversation that could be had in mixed-gendered company. About how advertisement and media stereotypes about men and manliness can greatly limit the richness of our relationships, personalities, and conversations when a man feels that there are certain subjects he cannot breach or at least not in a certain way without running the risk of being percieved as something he is not.

    I think that's wrong, and I think that we can fight it. To those who struggle I understand, and take baby steps. To those who are confident enough in your sexuality/identity, have these conversations and don't look back. Be the change you wish to see in the world, etc.

    Some really great points, Tim. Please respond to them when you get a chance. I'm curious to hear what you think.

  6. I'd be happy to write a post about this if you want Dana, my full thoughts would probably be too long for a comment. There are other posts that I would be interested in writing about male body image too if you would like me to. Or I can just write a long comment.

  7. Tim! I want you to write a post about this and SO MANY MORE. Did you get my invite to be a contributor on this blog? You've been on my radar since day one. Please, please do.

  8. Yeah, I lost the invite, sorry. Would you like to send me another?