By Heather F.
How do you feel about your body? If you’re like the overwhelming majority of people in American society, then you probably would use some of the following statements to describe yourself: I’m too fat, too skinny, too big, too small, not muscular enough. The bottom line is you’re not happy with how you look.
Unfortunately, these statements about our bodies are all too often commonly held views in not only the overwhelming majority of American society, but increasingly in other societies where a diversity of body types, shapes and sizes are often celebrated. These views stem partly from a steady diet of images on TV and in the magazines that we read where bodies are always in "perfect shape." We are told and made to believe that this is what we have to look like in order to be accepted, to be beautiful or handsome. While many of us acknowledge that we could never achieve this model of "perfection" we still act as if we can attain perfection, if only we'd try harder. Sadly, we have as a society become so paranoid and obsessive about our looks and our bodies that we don't know whether to hide it or show it off, to be proud of it or to be ashamed of it. So just what are the factors that affect our acceptance of our bodies, what is body acceptance, and why is it so important, and how is body acceptance linked to naturism.
When I first met my husband, George, back in 1998, it would be more than accurate to say that I struggled with the way I looked. The first three lines of this page would describe me perfectly back then. I struggled with acceptance of my body and by extension myself for multiple reasons. First and foremost I saw all these women and girls around me on TV and in the magazines I read and looked at that looked like models. 5’8” to 5’11”, 110 to 115 pounds, large breasts, small hips and waist, and a tight little butt; everyone around me, the other girls at school, the characters in the programs I watched on TV, and even society as a whole held - and still holds - these images up as what I had to look like to be beautiful, to get a guy, to be one of the popular girls.
Then there was the teasing, the snide comments and remarks about my appearance and my body by my family and some of my so-called friends. Combine these things together and it’s no wonder I was struggling with body acceptance, or that females in general have such problems with body acceptance.
However, these problems are not just limited to females; males struggle with this too. Many males (writing with my husband’s help here for the male’s view) feel that they have to be muscular, thin, and without an inch of flab to be found anywhere on their bodies to fit the mold of what they are told a man is supposed to look like. My husband feels that there seems to be less societal pressure, though there is definitely lots of peer pressure, especially in the teenage years, for a male to conform to this ideal or model of “perfection” than there is for a female to conform to the same standard.
All around us we are bombarded by messages from the media, our families, our friends, and society as a whole that we have to look a certain way. The media’s portrayal, especially of women, is so skewed to the non-realistic side of things that it is sickening. The average American woman is 5’4” and weighs 140 pounds, while the average American model is 5’11” and weighs 117 pounds.1 In fact, today's fashion models weigh 23% less than the average female, and a young woman between the ages of 18-34 has a 7% chance of being as slim as a catwalk model and a 1% chance of being as thin as a supermodel.2 Women and men are trying to achieve impossible beauty standards that are produced through much media trickery - photo cropping, airbrushing, composite bodies, and body doubles. Just think of the magazines in the checkout lines at the supermarkets. Talk about needing truth in advertising! For a quick demonstration of how altered a photo can be made to appear with all of these editing tricks and digital photography please see the following website: http://homepage.mac.com/gapodaca/digital/bikini.
So, as you can see, and most likely already know from personal experience, the media around us plays a significant role in shaping how we, especially women, view ourselves and others; though this is not to say that our families and friends don’t affect our body acceptance. Our families and friends, often times while meaning good, reinforce these unrealistic standards and images that are produced by the media as being what we have to or need to look like.
With this in mind, lets examine just what exactly the concept of body acceptance is really all about. Doing a quick search on any of the search engines on the Internet will quickly reveal that there is no one set standard or definition for body acceptance. Below is a sampling of people’s definitions of body acceptance from an online naturism forum that my husband and I both post in and view on a regular basis:3
Run a search engine web search on the keywords "Body Acceptance" and the search will yield you an even more diverse set of opinions as to what exactly does body acceptance stand for. Of the top ten results (Yahoo search engine), you will find three different articles / announcements regarding different universities holding body acceptance week events, five sites advocating size / fat acceptance (their words, not mine), one about acceptance of all body parts / functions (i.e. erections), and one site discussing body acceptance from a spiritual and biblical standpoint. So, as you can see, there really is no one word or set of words that best describes what is body acceptance or what "body acceptance" means.
For my husband and I we define body acceptance as this:
Obviously, not everyone will agree with our definition, nor do we expect everyone to. Unfortunately, since there is no one set word or set of words to define the concept of body acceptance, we are left to decide for ourselves how we will define body acceptance for ourselves. Just remember, there is no one right definition and that what works for you may not work for someone. Body acceptance isn’t so much a set definition as it is a feeling or state of being or thought.
So, just why is body acceptance so important, you may ask. Body acceptance is important to have for multiple reasons: without it we suffer from lower levels of self-esteem, self-confidence, and poor self-image / body image. This can lead to any number of mental / emotional health issues or problems, which can also manifest themselves or result in physical health or behavior problems as well. On the mental / emotional health side of things, no or low body acceptance can result in or be a cause of a number things4: poor self image and low self esteem, anxiety and increased levels of stress (especially in social situations), depression, and is a contributing factor in eating disorders. While eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia are not exclusively caused by a lack of body acceptance they are undeniably linked to it as a contributing factor. Physical manifestations / behaviors that can result from low body acceptance are withdrawal from social functions or gatherings, withdrawal from family and friends, anxiety or stress attacks, alcoholism or drug use (illicit and legal), aggressive behaviors or tendencies (bullying), depression, and eating disorders (eating disorders can be considered both a physical and mental disorder)4.
So as you can see, body acceptance issues can result in and manifest itself in a number of ways that can negatively or destructively affect a person. Body acceptance not only can help prevent or decrease some of these negative or destructive behaviors, it can also help a person to have higher levels of self-esteem, greater feelings of self worth, decreased levels of sensitivity regarding a person’s appearance / body image, increased levels of relaxation, a reduction in the amount of stress and / or anxiety a person feels in private or social settings, and the development of a more wholesome attitude toward the other people in society.
By now you are probably scratching your head wondering what an article about body acceptance is doing in a packet concerning naturism. Well here is the short version of the answer to your question: Naturism is a means of working towards the goal of having body acceptance of your self and others.
Naturists as a whole are probably the most accepting group of people you will find when it comes to a person’s appearance. Both of the national naturist organizations (TNS & AANR) and Clothes Free International (CFI, which is more of an online presence) believe in and promote the concepts of body acceptance and that all bodies are good bodies.
Many people who participate in the naturist way of life find that others accept them as they are despite what we view as our flaws. Be it our varicose vein roadmaps on our legs, stretch marks from pregnancy, c-section scars, or the extra weight that we try so hard to make disappear. When we are naked it is hard to tell if the person you are looking at or talking to is a salesperson, grocery store worker, doctor or a nuclear scientist. (True-life occurrence for my husband, we were at a house party and he was talking to a man who he later found out was a nuclear scientist). Not having any clothing on removes the social status symbols that we as a society use to make our first judgement. In essence it creates a level playing field for all of us by removing all traces of social distinctions that might make us less or more likely to accept someone or not. You see the real deal, the unrefined, unaltered person. You see that someone else has the same scars or our so called flaws, you realize that it is not just you that has them even though I seriously doubt anybody believes they are the only person to have this or that.
As for me, my participation in naturism has helped me to have a better self-image of myself and has helped to greatly improve the level of self-esteem that I have. It has also helped both my husband and I to become more accepting of others and to become more accepting of a diversity of body types, shapes, and sizes.
Hopefully by reading this you will be inspired to stop and seriously think about the reasons that you hold the views that you do about your own body and the bodies of others. That your respect for your own body and your respect of others (regardless of appearance) will increase. And that by having read this you will consider the harmful effects that mass media has on how we view our bodies and others, and the reinforcement of these views by society, and in our families and friends. It is my hope that by reading this and the rest of the materials in this packet that you will truly examine the real reasons you feel the way you do about yourself and that you will become more accepting our what you view as flaws in yourself and others and that you can be an influence to your friends, families, and coworker in acceptance of others.
|©2013 - Heartland Naturists of Kansas City|