Posts Tagged ‘body image’

I can distinctly remember feeling uncomfortable as a child when I heard ‘grown-ups’ say that someone-or-other was “no oil painting” or such-and-such had “a fine figure”. I think these comments stood out to me because they were absent from my own home.  I am lucky enough to have come from a family where we rarely talked about what a person looked like and concerns about our own appearance were low on the list of priorities. However it didn’t take long for outside influences to take hold. I might not have cared about my looks when I started secondary school but I had transformed into a self-conscious young woman by the time I started college and I cringe when I think of the bitchy conversations of my teenage years. Like the young women around me, I went on passively absorbing and internalizing the messages that bombard us every day. A woman’s real value is in her appearance. Perfection is attainable. Thin equals good, beautiful and successful and anything else is unacceptable.

It might seem easy to dismiss the impact these messages have on our lives. After all, we are intelligent human beings who understand that people come in a variety of shapes and sizes and that the limited representation of beauty that we see in the media is not a reflection of reality. We can laugh at the ridiculous false promises made by anti-wrinkle creams or the obvious photo-shopping of the latest fragile looking teen model. However, the damaging effect of this constant pressure is all too evident from the statistics on body dissatisfaction, eating disorders, self-harm and depression.

When I finished my undergrad degree in psychology and decided to continue on in the world of academic research, I was drawn to the area of prevention of mental health difficulties. I became fascinated with interventions aimed at preventing negative body image and unhealthy weight loss practices. Suddenly it became clear that feeling uncomfortable in your skin was not inevitable! Programmes that promote self-acceptance, media literacy and understanding of the natural variation in body size and shape are being evaluated in different settings around the world and they are having varying degrees of success. This is the topic I chose to pursue in own research and four and a bit years later, I’m as passionate about it as ever!

Last year, this passion led me to apply for the position of intern with the Endangered Species campaign. Susie Orbach and a team of committed body image activists around the world are planning a series of international summits to challenge the culture that teaches girls and women to hate their own bodies. Crucially, the summits will not only recognize what is being done, but also hold panel discussions on what needs to be done and make recommendations to government to protect future generations from the misery of body hatred. My role at the Endangered Species summit is to represent what is going on in Ireland at the London summit on the 5th of March.

In my preparation for the summit, I have been reaching out to groups and individuals in Ireland who are working towards making change here and it is encouraging to see the variety of approaches being taken. For example, Bodywhys has been getting more involved in awareness and prevention work in recent years. They now offer a ‘Be Body Positive’ school programme, an interactive psychoeduactional CDRom, and an online preventative tool called SeeMySelf for people who have concerns about body image and self-esteem. In recognition of the need for resources aimed at younger children, myself and my colleague Deirdre Ryan have recently collaborated with Bodywhys to launch a children’s book which aims to promote positive body image and acceptance of diversity. There’s more good news from Jigsaw Kerry, a group that brings together community supports to meet the mental health and wellbeing needs of young people. With help from Jigsaw, a group of 15 year old girls successfully applied for funding to organize a body positive fashion show called ‘Beauty is an outfit, one size fits all’. Here’s hoping the enthusiasm and commitment of these young people is infectious and leads to actual change!

If you know of other projects that deserve a mention or would like your point of view to be shared, please contact me at deirdre.cowman@any-body.org. For the campaign to be successful we need to spread the word as much as possible so you can really contribute by just telling people about it! Talk about it with your friends, post it online and if you are on Twitter please tweet #EndangeredSpecies to get it trending. Thanks!

Deirdre is working on her PhD in Psychology in UCD. For more info on the summit see http://www.endangeredspecieswomen.org.uk/. ‘The Magnificent Toby Plum’ is available online at http://www.magnificentlyu.com/.



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Self esteem can be a fragile thing. While some people have a strong, inbuilt sense of self-confidence and self-worth, others struggle to see the true beauty in themselves, unable to see the good, and instead focusing on the negative. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but sometimes all that is beholden is a messed-up, backwards, magic-mirror image.

Women who may to the outside viewer appear to ‘have it all’ (that loathed phrase beloved of lady-mags) can in fact feel as though they have nothing, are nothing, and all because they are fixated on what they dislike about themselves – be it a physical or emotional aspect of their self.

One woman who is on a crusade to promote a positive self-image amongst people worldwide is Caitlin Boyle, an American food and fitness blogger. One day in 2009, while feeling utterly down in the dumps about herself, she had a lightbulb moment: why not do something that would make not only herself feel better, but other people too? So she scribbled an affirmation on a post-it-note, stuck it to a mirror, and with that, a movement was born.

Operation Beautiful became an almost overnight success, with Caitlin receiving email after email from women who had stuck post-it notes in offices, on toilet doors, at traffic lights, inside magazines and on scales. Women told her that Operation Beautiful helped them feel more beautiful – inside and out.

As a follower of Caitlin’s blog for the past two years, I was intrigued by the concept of Operation Beautiful. Reading health blogs changed my attitude to myself and my health in an overwhelmingly positive way (even motivating me to start my own food blog) and I loved that Operation Beautiful harnesses the goodwill and positivity of strangers to help others.

For me, the ‘beautiful‘ in the name doesn’t mean being classically beautiful on the outside – it means the inner beauty and spirit that radiates from those who are truly happy in their own skin.

Operation Beautiful started off as one post-it note, turned into a website, and was released as a book two months ago. Wanting to know more, I got in touch with Caitlin (pictured below) and asked her some questions about Operation Beautiful.

Hi Caitlin, for those not familiar with the concept, what is Operation Beautiful, and what inspired you to start it?

Operation Beautiful involves posting random notes in public places for other people to find.  These notes typically encourage a positive body image or outlook and include phrases like “You are beautiful inside and out” or “Scales measure weight, not worth.” I was inspired to start Operation Beautiful after having a really bad day; I wanted to do something small and simple for someone else to make me feel better!

Were you surprised at how quickly Operation Beautiful became popular?

The idea definitely went viral. I was surprised at first, but in hindsight, I see why it’s been so successful.  We need this type of positive messaging in society, and Operation Beautiful is simple, quick, and effective – both for the note poster and the finder!

Why do you think a note from a stranger can have a positive impact on a person’s self- esteem?

I think it makes people smile when they realize how much goodness there is in the world.  The idea that someone would do this for a stranger is so uplifting.  Also, people place these notes in locations where negative self-talk often occurs, such as the bathroom mirror, the scale, or the changing room at the gym.

What’s your favourite Operation Beautiful note story?

My favorite story is Vit’s.  A teenager in Canada, Vit was in a treatment center for severe anorexia.  Her doctors were concerned that it was going to eventually kill her.  She slipped into the bathroom to throw up her lunch and found an Operation Beautiful note on the stall.  The simple message – “You are good enough the way you are” – made her pause and reconsider her destructive behavior.  She followed up with me a few months later and said she was out of the hospital and healthier than ever.  Vit knew a stranger posted the note, but she felt like the timing was a message from God.

Why do you think so many women struggle with self-esteem issues?

There is a lot of negative messaging in our society.  The biggest mistake we make is beating ourselves up for not looking like models or celebrities.  99% of images in magazines are photoshopped in some way.  It’s time we stop emulating or striving for a type of perfection that doesn’t even exist in the real world.  It’s OK to look like a human!

Your other blog, Healthy Tipping Point, is hugely successful – what drew you to blogging in the first place? What do you think makes Healthy Tipping Point so successful?

I had been a healthy living blog reader for about a year before I joined the community with my own blog.  I loved the sense of community between bloggers and readers and wanted to participate on a bigger scale. I think HTP is successful because I’m upbeat, relatable, and keep it real.  Plus, my fun recipes are simple!

Blogging has become a phenomenon, and blogs have given women a new space where they can express themselves in their own way. What do you love about blogging – and has it changed your life?

I wrote a post about this subject before. Check it out: http://www.healthytippingpoint.com/2010/08/blogging-changed-my-life.html

What keeps your spirits up and helps you feel good about yourself?

I really love running.  Training for races helps me stay motivated and positive.

I believe that many Operation Beautiful readers and participants have said the movement has changed their life. How does that make you feel?

It feels amazing to know that I am part of something so much bigger than myself.  The site wouldn’t exist without all these wonderful people who want to make the world a better place.  It’s awesome to be the one who gets to write about it everyday.

What has the press tour for Operation Beautiful, the book, been like – any highlights?

The highlight of my press tour was being on The Today Show [click for video link]. I was so excited to get to talk to millions about Operation Beautiful and the response has been so positive.

How did you find the transition from blogger to writer – was it always your intention to write a book? When did you decide to write a book about Operation Beautiful?

No! I never thought one post-it would become a website and a book.  I think it’s the natural progression of the site though because the book gives more details on how to lead a truly positive and healthy life – the Operation Beautiful lifestyle, if you will!

What’s next for Operation Beautiful?

I hope the site and book can really change the way we see ourselves and redefine what beautiful is about.

Do you have any more books in the pipeline?

Maybe 🙂 Wait and see!

Readers, what do you think of this initiative?

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