There was a poster put out a few years ago by The Body Shop -- a skin and hair care products company with a conscience. Reclining on a divan is a beautiful, voluptuous (think Venus of Willendorf body type here) Nude Barbie doll. The caption reads: "There are 3 billion women who don't look like supermodels and only 8 who do."
This is the first Barbie doll I've ever been able to relate to. For the first time, I can see a Barbie as Goddess. Too bad they don't manufacture them for sale. If I saw them in all sizes - just like real life(!) -- I would consider purchasing my first ever Barbie doll and get one for my daughter too. I can hear some of you thinking, "Right, like they're ever going to make a Barbie in any size but impossibly thin." Well, why not? What makes us accept that only thin is beautiful?
One obvious culprit is the media. Print media bombards us with the idea that only thin is in. Any woman of size on television or the movies is usually portrayed in a humorous role, and very seldom as a serious, leading character. One exception is the talented and outspoken actress Camryn Mannheim. Ms. Mannheim, who accepted an Emmy Award by proclaiming, "This is for all the fat girls!" spent years coming to terms with her body size and now is a strong advocate for size acceptance. She is one of the few who has managed to get there.
It seems to me that even within the Goddess movement, most of us are still not able to accept our own beauty. Though almost all women find something they don't like about their bodies, women of size tend to be particularly hard on ourselves. We feel that we must be weak and have only ourselves to blame for being "overweight." We buy into what is fed to us by the media, our culture and the medical community without ever questioning (or realizing that we should question) that only thin bodies can be beautiful and healthy. I bought into it for 40 years and now I'm mad as hell that I wasted that time. In the last several years I've been trying to do something about it.
I was put on my first diet at the age of eight. My concerned mother and the doctor thought the best thing to do with a chubby little girl was to give her diet pills and drastically curb her food intake. The cycle that was set in motion of losing and gaining weight lasted for the next 30 years. It never occurred to me that there was something wrong with the dieting cycle, not something wrong with me. The awakening that let me see myself in a different light and start to become vocal about size acceptance was gradual. However, two occurrences in my life stand out. The first was a performance of the Pickle Family Circus which included an acrobat. She was a young, large woman who performed some amazing, athletic feats and made them look so smooth and easy. What an eye opener!
The second occurrence stopped my life long dieting cycle for ever. About eight years ago I was faced with a life and death situation - I had to have emergency gall bladder surgery. It was a shock for me! I have always been very healthy. Other than my own birth, I had never been admitted to a hospital - not even for the births of my two children. There is no doubt that the doctor who performed the surgery saved my life. His assumptions about what had caused the emergency, however, stopped me in my tracks. When I asked what might have caused the illness, he casually explained to me that I belonged to the 3F Category - Female, Forty and Fat! (He apparently was safe because he was only 2 of those F's.) He then went on, knowing nothing of my eating habits, to sternly tell me that I must now quit eating all those fried foods!
If he had asked he would have known that I seldom have eaten fried foods and have been a vegetarian since my early 20's. I decided to do a little research of my own and found some interesting studies the doctor didn't mention. Several articles and books talked about a link between gall bladder problems and constant dieting. Further reading led me to discover that, while dieting, I had suffered some of the classic symptoms of starvation. It's a sign of how deeply I had accepted the idea that dieting is healthy that I hadn't realized anything was wrong when my periods stopped, or that I often couldn't sleep and was always cold.
Since then I have discovered many other books and studies which refute the medical claims of health benefits attributed to dieting and losing weight. I found that claims of heart disease attributed to obesity in women don't stand up in other cultures. Samoa, for example, is a place where large women are thought of as highly attractive and so they do not strive to lose weight. Up through at least the 1980's there was very little incident of heart disease in women in that culture. Could it be that the stress of feeling shamed and constant dieting are the more likely causes of heart disease in our fat phobic culture? If a large woman is eating well and exercising, she can be just as healthy as a thinner one doing the same things. She can also be just as beautiful.
Three years ago I began writing a play with another big, beautiful Goddessy woman named Theresa Chedoen. The title of the play is "Women of Substance." We had both come to the conclusion that we had to do something to bring attention to this subject. We describe our work as a humorous, poignant and even poetic play in nine short acts. Since we are both musicians, actors and playwrights we were already used to having our work presented to the public and being out there ourselves. But this was different. This was a play, no matter how funny, that said "We're beautiful and so are you and don't forget it!" By the time we finished the writing early in 1999 we knew we had to perform it ourselves. We easily got a sponsor and a director but we weren't so sure we could get any audiences. And if we did get audiences… could they relate? We performed a seven night run in November 1999 and were amazed to have to turn people away from several performances as the theater filled. We held discussions after two of the performances and heard people's reactions and their own feelings about body image. What a lot of needless pain has been caused by this issue!
One of my favorite acts in the play is called "Venus." It's a very funny tale of two Stone Age Goddess worshipers who find it just as hard to aspire to their culture's beauty ideal as we do today. There is a slight difference between the two ideals though. An artist friend made a human size sculpture from styrofoam of the Venus of Willendorf Goddess for this act. She is so well made that she looks as if she is carved from a huge rock that weighs tons. However, one person can carry her easily and she now keeps me company by reigning in a corner of my witchy cabin where I write. I'm inspired by her beauty (which the twinkly lights draped around her only add to) everyday.
Besides writing and music making, until recently I worked as a children's librarian and was responsible for reading and recommending children's books and presenting story times and book talks. I am constantly amazed at how easily size prejudice is presented to children (and the adults who read the books too) with very little notice. For example, I am a huge fan of the magical Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling. However, fat prejudice is so accepted and subconscious that very few people have noticed or commented on the fact that the few fat characters are bad guys like Harry's Uncle Vernon and cousin Dudley or slightly ridiculous and humorous such as the fat lady in the portrait that guards the entrance to Gryffindor Tower. There are other books out there that are much worse. There are also a few that treat people of size as the humans we all are, but I have to work at finding them. It's almost too obvious a statement to make, but, when children are presented with certain views over and over without any challenge, they usually grow up holding those same views without question.
It may be hard to believe, but the acceptance of thinness as the criteria for beauty and health has not been the norm in American culture for very long. In fact it is a twentieth century invention that was reinforced by the development of rigid health insurance weight tables in the early part of the century. Previously, "plump" babies and young women were considered the picture of health and beauty.
The next time you catch yourself thinking that you are too fat, or that someone you know has such a pretty face if only…, take another look. Recall all the gorgeous pictures you've seen of the Goddess in all Her guises. Whether She's small or large, fat or thin or somewhere in between She is truly beautiful. And guess what? As Her daughters, so are we!
More information about body image on my forum: