Thursday, July 8, 2010

"Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Lend Me Your Ears"

Men, Women, Children, Lend Me Your Eyes, Ears, Tongues, Fingers and Noses!

It doesn't matter who you are, we are all constantly bombarded with images, in whatever form, of the "perfect body," beauty (according to someone else) and ideals we are supposed to live up to.

We see magazine covers telling you how to "Get a Great Bikini Butt!" we hear conversations and advertisements right and left discussing what to eat, not to eat, how to lose inches, fat, burn calories etc. The tension is so high between our realities and the ideals imposed upon us, you can taste the anxiety. And, oh no, does that have calories?!

These images and soundbites are a global phenomenon. The tall-skinny-blond-white-girl standard of beauty has spread like mono at a make-out party, as illustrated by the picture above, showing the first page of results of a Google search for "perfect body." It amazes me how widespread the issue of body image is, and the slight differences in the way cultures handle it.

Friends of mine in another Spanish class here in Mexico had a lesson based around vocabulary and verbs having to do with (drumroll please..) weightloss. Mexican culture is such that discussions about bodies are less sensitive and a lot more common. Apparently, the teacher discussed in depth her dissatisfaction with her body (like I said, nearly a universal sentiment at this point) as well as techniques she's tried (and suggested to some specific students in the class) to lose weight. Every morning my host here and I have a cute little back-and-forth in which she urges me to eat yet another mango because she doesn't want me to get too slim! (Even though she's told me now three times that she's gotten fat since moving out of the city and that she wants to lose weight) To which I laughingly respond, "si, pero no quiero volver a estar gorda!" (yes, but I don't want to get fat!) We laugh, and sometimes I have another mango. Sometimes I don't.

And despite the fact that I am at a healthy weight, eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly and am fairly well educated about my personal health, and despite the fact that my digestive system is in better working order here than it usually is in the States, those images and soundbites make their way crawling back to my mind.
"lose x # of pounds.."
"just a little bit thinner"
"not quite good enough.."
"Argh! Shut up!"

Just goes to show.. it's not about the weight, the jean size, the number. Something else must be up.. and I wonder if it's connected to this notion of a globalized, standardized image of beauty.
Of course it's connected. Everything is connected, it's the 21st Century.

So maybe it has to do with the fact that in colonizing lands around the world, our identities have been destroyed, our roots have been ripped out from underneath the soil we've fled/been kicked off, and the sense of self that was once innate, now is sold to us. Our minds have been colonized and so we're left with the only option we can see, and that is to purchase it- to buy into the system that feeds insecurity, to feed the system that sells self-doubt.
We are generationally predisposed to self-dissatisfaction.

However, I watched a documentary several months back, "America, The Beautiful," in which Darryl Roberst investigates the "Western/Northern/European" standard of beauty. He covers topics from modeling agencies, fashion industry, cosmetic surgery, to eating disorders, and some opinions of some men. He conducts an interview with Eve Ensler, someone for whom I personally have tons of respect (if you don't know her, she's the playwright for the Vagina Monologues- and if you don't know the show/movement, don't be grossed out, go see a performance). In this interview she recounts a story taking place in the Nairobi Desert in Kenya. She was talking with Leah, a 74 year old African Masai Woman and the conversation went like this:

Leah: Do I like my body? Do I like my body? My body. My body. I love my body. God made this body. God gave me this body. My body. Oh goodness, I love my body. My fingers, look at my fingers. I love my fingernails, little crescent moons. My hands, my hands, the way they flutter in the air and fall, they lead right up to my arms- so strong-they carry things along- I love my arms – and my legs, my legs can wrap around a man and hold him there. My breasts…My breasts, well look at them, they’re mine, my breasts still round and full and fine.

Eve: Leah, wait, I don’t know how to do this. I want to feel like you. I want to love my body and stop hating my stomach.

Leah: What’s wrong with it?

Eve: It’s round. It used to be flat.

Leah: It’s your stomach. It’s meant to be seen. Eve, look at that tree? Do you see that tree? Now look at that tree. (points to another tree) Do you like that tree? Do you hate that tree ’cause it doesn’t look like that tree? Do you say that tree isn’t pretty ’cause it doesn’t look like that tree? We’re all trees. You’re a tree. I’m a tree. You’ve got to love your tree! Love your tree.

So maybe we can begin to love our trees. Maybe loving our trees will bring us back to our roots, and we won't need to buy into insecurities that give us a false foundation. Maybe we can begin to actually be grounded, in ourselves, in the wonders we hide from ourselves.

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