I walk through aisles and aisles of pre-packaged plastic paper doll faces. Everywhere. I can’t escape it. It’s like the tainted blood of pop culture spreading its disease far and wide. It repulses me. It repulses me so much that I feel guilty when I enjoy it. You know what I’m talking about.
In light of my recent bombardment of “girly” magazines urging me desperately to shape up my thighs and abs in time for spring, I have been moved to incite some body pride activism. If V-Day and The Vagina Monologues is all about loving your vagina, body pride is all about the rest of the package (vagina included). Every year on my campus there is a “Body Pride Week” just before the end of winter quarter. But I swear, this issue is so expansive that there could be body pride activism every week of the year and you would never run out of topics to cover.
So let us begin. The major bummer issue of body image is eating disorders. National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is approximately Feb 27th through March 5th (it changes, for obvious reasons, from year to year). In the past, my campus has offered a speak-out panel on eating disorders to give survivors an arena to share their stories. This type of activism helps to spread awareness about the issue, but it’s kind of an after the fact thing. The best way to really combat eating disorders is to go to the root of the problem. Oftentimes, after a panel like I just mentioned, much of the audience will leave feeling angry toward the source of the problem (beauty standards). This is good. You can use this. This is the perfect time to recruit participants who want to work toward ending these atrocities. This is where the body pride aspect comes in.
The glaring target for body pride activism is the media and the portrayal of women in the media. This has been a feminist issue for a long, long time, such as the New York Radical Feminists protest against the Miss America pageant in the sixties. Today it is such a pervasive issue that many of the proponents of the problem (such as Seventeen magazine and the like) print letters from readers demanding more diversity in the body type of women featured in the magazine. Every now and again, these magazines will even throw us a bone and feature a “plus-size” model. But that’s not really what we’re asking for is it? It’s all of it. It’s the seeming minimum requirement that the magazine remind its readers that they are in every way physically inadequate twenty-five times an issue. So what to do about it?
Well, Liz Funk at the Capital District Chapter of NOW in Voorheesville, NY organized a protest in front of MTV studios called “I Don’t Want My MTV: A Feminist Protest of MTV.” This is a pretty outstanding example of this kind of activism, but for many organizers it may not be feasible for any number of factors (time, money, location, membership, etc.). However, the same organization also sent 10,000 postcards to MTV CEO Judy McGrath asking her to stop manipulating viewers and to take sexism off MTV. That is something that could be duplicated no matter where you are. And this type of campaign can be targeted at any figure you see as volatile to women’s self-esteem.
Body Pride activism can be confrontational (like a protest or postcard campaign), or it can be non-confrontational. Since such a huge part of body issues has to with the way women view themselves and their bodies, activism that empowers women to see their physical selves as attractive and capable can be very effective. One of the coolest things the Women’s Center on my campus did last year was to start this “Women in Sports” retreat series. Each quarter, the Women’s Center took a group of about fifteen women on an overnight excursion of some kind (rock climbing, snowboarding/skiing, and white water rafting). The adventures were geared for all levels of experience and were designed to help women feel as though they are physically capable of doing these challenging things in a noncompetitive, supportive feminist environment. There’s a group on my campus called Women in the Woods that does this type of thing all the time, only it’s specifically hiking trips. Women love this type of thing. These types of events has been really successful on my campus. The main thing to keep in mind is that these trips can potentially be dangerous. It’s a really good idea to make sure that you are utilize your resources to find a handful of people who really know what they’re doing. This is not to say that you and your friends don’t know what you’re doing. For many things it’s not necessary to get a professional (use your discretion). Just promise me you won’t run off into the deep wilderness with fifteen girls who have no survival skills what-so-ever.
On the empowerment note, there are many aspects of women’s bodies that are in need of some empowerment. Menstruation is a great example of this. In this culture, menstruation is totally taboo and viewed as way gross. This needs to change. Something like 85% of all embarrassing moments letters to teen magazines have to do with girls and their periods. What are we so embarrassed of? I understand that some girls don’t really like their periods because they get really bad cramps and it can be messy at times. But the embarrassment part I just don’t get. There is this awesome group based out of Canada called Blood Sisters (http://bloodsisters.org/bloodsisters/index.html) that does pro-menstruation workshops such as pad making parties at the request of organizations around North America. Also, Tampaction (http://www.seac.org/tampons/) is a menstrual activism group with chapters on college campuses working to decrease the demand for harmful menstrual products by introducing, supporting, and using sustainable alternatives as well as working to change negative cultural attitudes and conceptions regarding menstruation.
Finally, I just want to say that while eating a well balanced diet, getting regular exercise, avoiding toxins such as cigarettes, junk food, drugs and alcohol, and getting enough sleep may not be a form of activism in and of itself, respecting your body in these ways is a form of body pride. Activists need all the energy they can get and taking care of yourself physically will help you stay motivated and mentally alert so that you can make the change you wish to see in the world.
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Brooke N. Benjestorf is a senior at Fairhaven College, an interdisciplinary concentration design program at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington. Her chosen concentration is Feminist Activism and it includes study in writing, film, women’s studies, and social change. When she is not being a feminist activist extraordinaire she loves to hang out with her girlfriends, make art, and take good care of her dog (her best friend), Paytah.