It’s time to talk about #MidtownPlazaGate – one year later. :)
One year ago I asked my community in a Facebook post if we were all ok with these particular advertisements being in this particular spot.
One year ago I was full of anxiety, sadness and regret as I read through comments and messages in response to my post. It was rather traumatic.
“Your children are going to grow up to hate you,” wrote a teenage girl from my home city, Saskatoon.
“I’m going to ruin your life,” said another, a grown man from Swift Current, Saskatchewan.
I did a phone interview with John Gormley, a local radio talk show host. After the interview was over the station started receiving text message comments. Gormley announced, “I just want everyone texting in comments to know that I’m not going to read profanities out over the air.”
I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume I was the target of the profanities.
And on and on it went, people from my community letting me know what an idiot they think I am.
There were other messages, like the teenage girl who wrote me and told me she felt fat and ugly and thought about killing herself every single day. There were the Moms that told me that battling their own body image issues have made them feel sick for their children. And one memorable message from a young man who said, “I just want to tell you I understand you. My friends think you’re some conservative prude but I think it’s quite the opposite.” It’s so refreshing when someone who is the least likely to understand you actually does.
What’s This All About?
This Facebook post:
And it saddens me to say that instead of uniting my community, I divided them. Those who “got it” and those who did not.
Some thought I had a problem with nudity.
Some thought I was “thin shaming” the model.
Some thought it was about my own insecurities.
They were wrong.
The topic of my post was about body image, the sexualisation and objectification of bodies, and what we subject our children to before their minds have developed to the maturity needed to think critically about all of this. (On that note, how many adults are thinking critically about what they see in media and advertising? And are they stopping to explain it to their children?)
This wasn’t about ONE Victoria’s Secret ad. It was, and continues to be about the visual assault we are under every single day that erodes our faith in ourselves, the strengths we possess, the capabilities we have…. Outside of our faces and bodies.
But overwhelmingly the comments I received kept addressing what was thought to be my “problem” with the model as a PERSON and the level of nudity. Pleeeeeeease.
Let’s Get Serious.
Let’s have a REAL community discussion about body image. Eating disorders. Body objectification. Come on all of you smart people who have the answer for everything, what is the answer to these public health issues? And can you have a conversation about it without accusing the concerned individuals of being jealous and insecure?
Some people did, indeed, think they had the answer.
It’s bad parenting!
Of course. If children and young adults develop into anything other than “perfect,” it will always be blamed on parenting.
Society, overall, refuses to accept any responsibility for failing children and families. If we accept this responsibility it would mean accepting that we have to do things differently. And change is hard.
Shut-Up and Take Care of Your Children, Mama Lion
Shut-up. Get over it. It doesn’t matter. You can’t change things.
I had to revisit the Facebook post to write this article and I’ll be honest, it still hurts. That’s why it’s taken me so long to come back to it. It’s depressing that people believe we are powerless. It’s depressing that people don’t agree that a village raises a child. I have been told to shut-up and take care of my children a thousand times since I started blogging and speaking up about body image. Why does using my voice for issues I believe in mean that I’m neglecting my children?
I’m doing my best to raise my children in a healthy environment, and for me that includes trying to make the world a better place than it is now.
Who Else is Raising Our Children?
We can’t be naive to the factors affecting our children’s development.
Obviously family, genetics and biology have a huge impact on who our children become. But environment, community, and society also influence their development as do relationships they may have with extended family and peers. There are so many external influences that shape a young mind. Whether we like it or not, the media plays a role in educating our children.
The influence of the media on the psychosocial development of children is profound.
– The Canadian Pediatric Society (source)
When the dust settles I pray that it’s my voice my son’s hear in their hearts, but I can’t be sure of that.
My Body Positive Upbringing
Growing up my home was as body positive as it comes. We didn’t own a scale. We didn’t have women’s fitness magazines laying around. My Mom didn’t diet nor did she entertain teenage girl’s ideas of dieting. We were encouraged to play sports, do well in school, to pursue post-secondary education and become financially independent. My Mom was a feminist. She wanted me and my sister to feel valued because of our brains, our compassion, our kindness. My mother never reduced me or my sister to our body sizes, even though we had significantly different body types. We were always MORE than our bodies.
Yet I have suffered. Somewhere along the way I began reducing MYSELF to a body size. I have tortured myself physically and emotionally. I have starved myself. I have said hateful things to myself in the mirror. I have put my desire to have the “thin ideal” body over my health. And even when I was wearing a size zero jeans it wasn’t enough. Because you’re never enough.
Whose “fault” was it that I starved and hated my body? It’s certainly not something my mother talked about or role modelled to me.
As my activist friend Erin Brown says:
That means if WE have a problem with the society our children are being raised in then WE have to change. You and me.
Body Image and Thinness
Are body image and the desire to be thin intertwined? Of course they are. It’s the “thin ideal” that is driving the body image crisis. It is often unhappiness about one’s body that leads to dieting and over exercising. This can lead to disordered eating and an unhealthy pre-occupation with weight. The next step is developing anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, compulsive overeating or binge eating disorder (source). Let me remind you….
- 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner.
- 80% of ten-year-olds are afraid of being “fat.”
- 40% of girls in grade ten believe they are “too fat.”
- The rate of anorexia in 15-19 year olds has gone up every decade.
- The incidence of bulimia tripled between 1988 and 1993.
What is the Answer?
There is not ONE answer here. But here are some ideas for you…
1. Role Model Healthy Body Image at Home
Do you role model healthy body image in your home? Here are some signs of unhealthy body image:
- Regularly criticizing your appearance
- Overly preoccupied with your reflection
- Frequently comparing yourself to others
- Envying other people’s bodies: friends, family, celebrities
It’s hard to look at your own behaviour critically. Many people are so caught up in their own body image, or their fear of being unable to lose weight, they don’t realize they are teaching their children that “fat is bad.”
Fat is not bad. Your size will not have an effect on your child. Your behaviours and your attitude towards your size will. I always encourage women to seek professional help for their body image issues. In addition, here are a few books I recommend:
- As Is: A 21 Day Practice for Finding a Home and Peace in Your Skin by Erin Brown
- The Gifts of Imperfections: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown
A few years ago I said to a friend of mine, “you know that you are more than a body, right?” To this day she swears that those simple words changed her life. So I ask you today to please consider if you are treating yourself as a whole person that is good and kind and deserving of love from others and yourself, regardless of what you look like. Because you are.
2. Media Literacy is IMPORTANT
Research has found that media literacy skills helped high school girls increase their self-acceptance and feel more empowered when viewing media images of women’s bodies. Other studies have found that even brief, peer-guided workshops can effectively counteract messages that perpetuate unrealistic body images and promote unhealthy eating (source).
Here are some ideas for encouraging media literacy:
Find media literacy books to read with your children like “The Body Image Workbook for Teens: Activities to Help Girls Develop a Healthy Body Image in an Image-Obsessed World.”
Involve the community. Consider sponsoring an organization like Rebel: The Peer Education Program in your child’s school. They have in-school programs and classroom presentations that focus on positive body image including teaching critical thinking regarding cultural and media messages about food and appearance.
Educate and empower yourself. In 2012 the Saskatchewan Prevention Institute prepared a document called “Mitigating the Impacts of Sex and Sexuality in the Media on Children: Best Practices for Parents Literature Review.” You can find it here. There are other organization’s like Beauty Redefined and Media Smarts that you can use as resources for media literacy.
3. Take a Stand
To ignite any kind of changes in your community, you need to take a stand. And when you do, you have to be brave. Not everyone will agree with you and that’s ok. People do not like when their cultural norms are challenged. Strive to educate your community in an approachable and positive way. I have been able to get this conversation started with my friends by recommending they watch the documentary Miss Representation by The Representation Project. It’s currently available on Netflix.
So What Happened?
After public pressure and even a petition that was started (not by me) the mall took these advertisements off of the elevators. It may have been a controversial topic, and many people may have disagreed with me, but it got people thinking and talking… And for that, I am happy.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.