I guess we can forever discuss women and body image and never fully be able to navigate through it all. Women often get reduced to very one dimensional view. And are often criticized for our hair, our clothing, and most often our bodies. Our bodies become something society tells us to be ashamed about, as well as our sexuality. When I practice Bikram Yoga, mostly with a room full of barely dressed, sweaty women, I often hear conversations, after class about women feeling uncomfortable about their bodies and how they look. In the 90 minute Bikram Yoga class we are practicing in front of mirrors, forced to look at our bodies, and learning how to accept what we see. Do we see someone that’s beautiful? What makes a woman beautiful?
My father used to tell me, when I was a little girl that I was beautiful. He would say that to me most often when I returned home from playing with my friends, after running around outside, my hair plastered in sweat, clothes rumpled and fingernails dirty. He also said I didn’t need to wear make up to be beautiful. When I obsessed about my hair, wanting every strand to be in the right place, he would say that it looks better natural, not too perfect. I danced as a child and adolescent, and never had any issues with my body image, until a dance teacher, a man, commented when I was in high school that my thighs were “big.” Dance is about freedom of expression and telling a story, and yes dance is beautiful. Dancers are beautiful. I guess what I heard from my dance teacher is that I wasn’t perfect. The message from my father was don’t try to be perfect. What my Dad did instill was that reading and being knowledgable about world events, and being kind to others, that’s beautiful. Not how my hair, clothes, or body looked.
Many young girls struggle with this concept of beauty. They look for heros, women who are beautiful, inside and out to inspire. When I was a child, there weren’t many female literary figures to read about that were heros. The fairy tales had princesses that often seemed a bit helpless to me, I didn’t think being helpless was beautiful and couldn’t identify with these princesses. I was a news junkie at a very young age, since I learned how to read via Time Magazine and the New York Times. One of my greatest heros as a young girl was Margaret Thatcher, and I thought she was beautiful because of what she did, and not because of how she looked. Political figures and leaders were mostly men, until the Iron Lady came along. So I had a woman to follow and look up to and admire because I thought she was beautiful inside and out. She was a leader. She was unlike Cinderella and Snow White in that she didn’t need a man to rescue her. But how people hated her. Tried to take her down. I never understood why that was, she was my hero.
Today, many young girls, find their hero in Katniss Everdeen, the main character in the Hunger Games book series, by Suzanne Collins. Many young girls today also look up to Jennifer Lawrence, who portrays Katniss Everdeen in the films. She’s a fighter, a rebel, a warrior. I find her character most beautiful when she is sweaty and running and standing up for peace and justice. And yes, when she is glorious and spinning in her Mocking Jay Dress, she is applauded, for the beautiful woman she is on the outside, and for what she represents.
So now, what message are the young girls that admire her, that strive to be heros, leaders, beautiful on the inside and out do with the leak of these private photographs. It makes me as angry and hurt as that dance teacher made me. Everything positive and productive and complex about a woman gets reduced to our bodies. I don’t have daughters, I have two sons and we have all read the Hunger Games series and await the film, Mockingjay Part 1. They have heard this story on the news and I talked to them about it. How in life, when someone is a hero, or is striving for good, there will always be someone trying to take them down, to strip them in one way or another.
If I had a daughter, here is what I would say to her. I would tell her that the imperfections in a person, are what makes them beautiful. That caring for your body and your health are a good thing. And there is nothing wrong with princesses, but don’t just limit your dreams in life to be the princess that wears the tiara. You can rock a tiara, but you can also be anything. It is your brain and your creativity and your ability to touch another’s life, that makes you beautiful. Don’t be afraid of beauty. Create it. And to the people that try to bring you down, ignore them, don’t let them strip you, but try to love them anyway. Chin-Ning Chu, in “The Art of War for Women” says: “If you don’t have a righteous objective, eventually you will suffer. When you do the right thing for the right reason, the right result awaits.”
So be righteous and be beautiful. And be proud of your body.