The Visual Diet Study and Pinterest and Me

Before I dive into the Visual Diet study, I just want to say thanks again (and again and again and again!) for your support and patience while I handle Cake’s last big hurdle– shipping logistics.  I can scarcely believe the difficulties that cropped up in the past week, but I’m working through them as efficiently as possible.

I haven’t been blogging because I have been digging deep personally to handle these logistics problems- constant email streams, compiling files, creating new shipping labels for Snow White the Distributor, staying up late and getting up early so I can talk to the United States on the phone- all while attempting to maintain a healthy work-life balance.  The laundry still needs folding.  That is not a metaphor, it is all over the kitchen bench.

The lesson here is that no amount of research can protect a project from “issues.”  For those of you in the Northern Hemisphere, your pre-order patterns will arrive at your house next week!  Woohoo!  For the rest of us, well, the patterns should arrive next week, too!  Each pre-sale order will receive a shipping notice once your pattern leaves our (mine or Snow White’s) possession.  Once all pre-orders ship, I will make the digital download and paper version of Tiramisu available for purchase.  Whew!  Nearly there!

Don’t you love it when a study comes out that quantifies and verifies an idea you already believed?  I certainly do.  On November 7th, Plos One (an open-access journal) published the findings of a team of British and Dutch evolutionary psychologists and neuroscientists titled “Visual Diet versus Associative Learning as Mechanisms of Change in Body Size Preferences.”  Basically, they discovered that exposure to various images of bodies influences the brain’s perception of a body’s attractiveness.  It’s not a long paper, very interesting, please take a look if you’re interested in media and body image.

The researchers used images divided into two groups: Aspirational and Non-Aspirational.  Aspirational images included women from a range of body sizes from underweight to plus sized, but all well-dressed and well-presented.   Non-aspirational images were women in gray leotards without heads, of a similar range of body sizes and shapes.  They exposed groups of women to various collections of images and recorded the results.

Then they discovered something interesting:

click for article

I am not surprised.  The images we ingest through our eyes affect our mind as much as food ingested affects the body.   I was raised in a very Christian household.  A strong emphasis was placed on guarding our eyes (and also our ears) against things that weren’t positive or useful in some way:

I’m not trying to be preachy, and I apologize if it comes across this way.  These verses and several others were etched on my soul early in life, there’s no removing them.  They surface in my mind every time I look at a screen or a magazine (though it’s been a while since I looked at one of those).  Besides, I don’t want them removed, even if I haven’t always followed the excellent advice they express.

I don’t know about you, but I count anything that makes women (or men) feel like sh*t in order to sell them a product they probably could live without to be an evil thing- vile, worthless, dare I say wicked?  Is that word too old-fashioned?  I have less than zero sense of humor about it- it’s a predatory practice.  It makes me mad.  I wrote about this in kinder terms some time ago- advertising as mental pollution.

So what do we do about it?  Well, friends, we make our own media.  We take our own photos, with tripods and remotes or loved ones pressed into service.  We define our own boundaries by exhibiting the rare beauty of strong and smart and nimble-fingered women and men who slowly stitch fashions in quiet, private moments.  We celebrate their achievements.  We share our experiences with others, and support those who share a piece of themselves with us.  The online sewing community has been doing this gently for years, and I have very much enjoyed contributing.

And then came Pinterest.  Y’all know I find Pinterest infinitely useful, but it’s also very interesting to peruse as an observer.  When I find a new Pinterest friend, I take a quick look at their boards.  At some point, I realized that checking out someone’s pinterest collection was somewhat akin to looking around the inside of their brain.  The images represent a thought or idea the curator wanted to save.  Pinterest feeds are much the same- it’s a visual snapshot of what a group of people decided was worth saving and remembering at a given point in time.  I find the “popular” button particularly interesting.

I have a few “visual diet” pinboards.  One is labelled “Females.”  It’s too easy to get wrapped up in my own little world and begin to believe that I’m ordinary and most women are more or less like me.  That’s not true, not even a little bit.  Statistically speaking, brown-haired white women (me) are not the majority of women who tread this planet.   There are as many ways to be female as there are women on the face of the earth, who am I to walk around believing I’m “typical”?  As a mindfulness exercise, I keep an eye out for images to add to my Females board that wordlessly express to me qualities that are essentially female.  It’s a work in progress.

Another work in progress is my “beauty” board.  Too often, I think the word “beauty” conjures images in our minds that are very much influenced by the entrenched status quo.  That is, I noticed at some point that my Pinterest feed and my boards were dominated by pretty pictures of young, slim white ladies with impeccable hair and makeup.  There is nothing wrong with being any of those things, but it’s a very narrow representation of beauty.  Is this 1955?  No?  I thought not.  Are well-groomed, slim white women the only beautiful people in the world?

No, ma’am.  I don’t have to accept that standard, and neither does anyone else.  We have the power to change our perspectives.

These are just the thoughts in my head- my opinion.   What’s yours?


  1. Amen.
    I do agree that only by celebrating the multitude of incarnations of beauty in the world will we negate the insidious manipulation of our minds and bodies by faceless corporations who’s only agenda is financial.
    Wicked is neither old-fashion or inappropriate when we consider these practices.
    But…I would add…it’s not just ourselves and our daughters we need to protect from this. I had a run in at a car-park recently when a guy pulled out in front of me nearly crashing into my car. I peeped my horn and received a stream of invective for my trouble. Most of it was unprintable, but also most of it was about my size. That I was “fat” and therefore worthless because of it. Repeat ad nauseum!
    Pre-blogging, I would have been upset by this because the only images around me were of tall, white, very slim, very young women. I am non of these. Now I surround myself with images of beautiful, intelligent, creative, opinionated women, and am less vulnerable as a result. This can only be a good thing, no?
    So…let’s not forget to include our sons in this dialogue so that they will grow to appreciate women as fabulous people with amazing qualities, rather than a collection of body parts to be scrutinised and objectified.
    And now I’ll get off my soapbox… ;-)

    • I am so heartsick to think of that happening to you, Evie. The confrontational, fiesty person I am sometimes, I would have undoubtedly shown him a finger and the sharp side of my tongue. I am sure you conducted yourself with greater dignity. The husband reminds me that returning evil for evil is a silly idea, I know. I know. But still. It’s satisfying. Besides, that jerk’s behavior is not ok.

      Yes, let’s indeed include the sons. I just assume most of my readers are women. :)

      • Thank you…it’s awfully kind of you. I did point out to him his lack of brain cells…but I’m made of tough stuff and even I was shaken.
        I pray my boy is never so crass. It’s a work in progress but even at 3 he holds doors for people and doesn’t like to see me carrying a bag without helping, so there is hope.

  2. Thanks for that. I immediately shared the link with my best friend who works w/ girls/women who have eating disorders.

    • Too many girls without strong and useful women in their lives, too many insidiously toxic messages about being a woman broadcast through our culture… Your friend is doing good work.

  3. Thank you for this.

    For a long while, I’ve been wanting to see more images of women like me (fat), but lately, I’ve also been hungry for images of women who are note-worthy for more than their looks. For example, I find photos of Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim the English channe, very gratifying to look at.

    • There’s sooooo many fat blogs that are great for helping shift perspectives. “Hey, Fat Chick” is one of my faves, though I’ll tell you there’s also sometimes nudity and sexuality. I like this, to me it’s an accurate portrayal of being a human being. good place to start understanding the fat acceptance movement… It’s fascinating.

      Yes! Me too! Athletes, politicians, old women, comediennes, pretty much anyone who has worked hard to make the world a better place, etc… :) I always catch myself scrutinizing photos of “good” or solid people to see if I can spot the kindness, the joy, the determination… And you know, usually I can..

  4. This is my favorite post of all that you’ve done. (And you’ve done a myriad of fantastic posts!)

  5. Thanks you for a very interesting article. I teach and run activities for 12 to 18 year old girls at my church and we encourage them to choose good media and to dress in a way which shows they respect themsleves. I have to admit that the impact of the media on their body image wasn’t something I’d thought about before, so I’ll be more aware of that in the future.
    Thanks, Gemma

    • I think perhaps girls are more susceptible to it than grown women, and of those girls the ones more likely to internalize toxic messages are the ones without strong women in their lives… :)

      There’s an exercise you might find interesting… Take an ad/whatever, and deconstruct it. Hold each of its components up to the light. Talk about it. I think it’s a great habit to get into…

  6. Wow! Thanks for posting about this! I hadn’t heard of the visual diet before. This is so needed for so many women of all ages. It hits the sewing community too. I was visiting with someone about buying a pattern and mentioned the difference between RTW and pattern sizing and she immediately replied, “Oh, I’m not that big!” It broke my heart a bit because it has nothing to do with her size and everything to do with how things are sized in the RTW world.
    Sewing should allow us to objectively view our bodies and create clothes that fit us well no matter our size. Which I think helps us all to look and feel beautiful.
    Thanks, also for the reminder on what God thinks of all this propaganda about beauty.

    • I hadn’t heard or used the term “visual diet” before reading the study, but I immediately recognized it. (Also… it hasn’t come up, but I’m wondering about the potential broader implications of the study…. Like… Does anything we look at influence our perceptions? I’m going to say yes.)

      I know. I know. The sizing thing really kills some people, I remember being quite upset when I got married because I realized I had to make a size 10 dress based on my measurements. Ooooh how I didn’t want to admit to myself I was a size 10. Seems a bit silly to me now, but at the time it was really deeply upsetting.

      I think sewing opens up a lot of positive wells in people… Learning to fit the body you have, taking pride in a garment well-stitched, and discovering the freedom of sewing your own style…

      • I totally agree this applies to other areas in life as well. I’ve started paying attention to organic fabrics and responsible consumerism after trolling your and So Zoe’s blog. :)
        I’m so glad sewing impacts more positively than negative. I think it is because we have more positive emotions connected to something we have made so we are not just looking at our bodies and how we perceive them to look in the clothes.

  7. Yes. You can tell a very great deal about someone from a well-edited pinterest board. I know every time I look at just my pins, I’m struck by the overall mood. That’s how I changed my aesthetic direction shortly after joining pinterest – what I had thought about my own aesthetic (in the word section of my brain) was very apparently not true when faced with the clothes I found beautiful.

    As for verses… ;) You know my creativity motto is: Philippians 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things (KJV) Making pretty things is how I concentrate on beauty. There are a lot of insoluble problems in this life, a lot of people acting with great ugliness. What little I can do is make an island of prettiness – or just think about pretty things when I’m tempted to think about junk I can’t do anything about.

    • Ooooh, well-edited, sure, but maybe stream of consciousness is revealing, too? I try not to read too much into it, but the idea crosses my mind almost every time I log into Pinterest. That is so cool that you found a little more connection between words and images…

      Agreed. I do the same, and when I get out of the habit of seeking/creating beauty, I get depressed. I just don’t have a study to back that up… ;) hehe.

  8. Great post! I follow some blogs that celebrate curvy and fat women and it has helped me to get rid of the brainwashed idea that only skinny is beautiful. I realize I find many features, especially weird and interesting ones, beautiful because so much variety is amazing. This is why I don’t subscribe to fashion magazines and find my inspiration from other places, real life, pinterest, etc. (w/ people of all sizes and colors). I do not want to surround my daughter and son with the idea that just skinny and white is beautiful in my own house when they will be plastered with it everywhere else. I also make sure to have books, and soon some art, with people of color so that my kids can feel represented in their own home. I have found some art I like on Etsy, but my favorite ones didn’t portray anything other than white and when they did they were sold out. Before anyone says there is some out there, I realize that, but my point is that you have to make a concerted effort to find it. So much of the messages we send to our kids are subliminal and seemingly innocent, but they are not because kids notice EVERYTHING. Also, I love that you went in a different direction with your first pattern illustration!

    • Yeah- blogs are GREAT for that. :)

      Once you keep an eye out for “skinny white lady” she’s just everywhere. Everywhere, isn’t she? The disconnect between the Ideal and Reality is astonishing once you stand back a bit and take a good long look. Especially if one considers that the skinny white lady ideal is a hangover from times when people of color were considered to be less than human or inferior. Terrible, why is that still such a pervasive part of our culture? Let’s get rid of that… And I think that’s the way things are heading, anyway.

      Cool! I love that you did that! :) I would wonder if the artist would see that there’s a demand for that kind of art…

      If you like Penelope, then I think you’ll enjoy meeting the rest of the crew. :)

  9. as usual I agree with you wholeheartedly. what an interesting study! i think this is something i have become more aware of since having my daughter – i don’t want her to have to worry about her weight/ height/ face/ hair constantly but i don’t see any other way given how media is, short of cutting her off from it completely. she loves disney princesses and i also worry that she’s going to spend her life waiting for some man to come and rescue her (at least the newer princesses are a bit more ballsy). but that’s beside the point!

    like the person above, i’d like to see women talked about for more than their looks (whether fat/ thin/ black/ white/ whatever). even those with great achievements – for example in the UK 2 of our recently successful olympians jessica ennis and victoria pendleton have been racking up serious column inches, but mainly about how they look, fashion shoots etc. how about featuring the less photogenic/ older but equally successful helen glover or katherine copeland? surely the interesting thing about them is not how they look in a posh frock but how they train and motivate themselves to achieve so much?

    • Thanks- yeah, it’s really interesting… I’m wanting to focus on the aspirational vs. non-aspirational aspect of the study… Like.. regardless of size, good grooming and nice dressing has a dramatic effect on how we are perceived.. Which is kind of a no-brainer, sure…

      If you cut her off completely, she would live. We didn’t have TV in our house for most of my childhood (the 90s) and I lived… ;) You don’t mention her age but I guess if she’s school age she’d probably scream and fight and hate it, but she would live and perhaps be grateful later on in life. But that’s really none of my beeswax! Your daughter. :)

      I think the sensible consensus is that most little girls go through something of a princess stage and turn out ok in the end. I was especially fond of Belle from Beauty and the Beast when I was a little girl, and to my astonishment it’s still an excellent movie when I watch it as an adult… Normal girl, a bit bookish, saves a beastly man with the power of love and goodness… She’s not a princess, but a girl of some substance.

      Anyway I figure it’s a darn sight better than “ooooh nooo, I’m such a helpless damsel, if only some man would come and kiss me in my sleep then everything would be sooo lovely and perfect!” ;) :D

      You absolutely hit the nail on the head with that last observation. Love it.

  10. Beauty comes in so many shapes and sizes, I don’t understand the need for only reed thin women in magazines. I don’t quite understand the appeal of putting identical boney women on the runway year after year. That’s a really interesting study.

    • They are coathangers. The point originally was to make the clothes look good, and of course over time the message got flipped – it became OUR job to make clothes look good too, not vice versa, so it is assumed the model figure is desireable. It’s a hot mess, given what we mostly want is to see what the clothes would look like on us i.e. normal types of women!

      • There’s more in the study I want to dig into… So much that’s interesting, so little space!

        MrsC is right. Also- laziness, I suspect. There’s a fair number of modern designers who do not sew. I believe sewing is an essential skill to a clothing designer. The greats were masters of the craft, though they had workers to do the actual stitching on most of the clothes… When you sew, you build an intuitive understanding of the way the fabric behaves and can be manipulated, and how a garment interacts with the body. A LOT of moderns don’t have that knowledge in their minds and hands.

        Also, I think it’s just plain old easier to fit a garment on an extremely slim shape.

  11. I had not heard of the visual diet before reading your post. Fascinating stuff. And everything you’ve added contributes to starting me thinking.

    Veering off the topic slightly, I read recently that since early Medieval times, the Church controlled the distribution and appropriateness of images to the masses. You can see that in the art of the time. During the Renaissance things shifted slightly towards more freedom from individuals, but the Church continued to hold large sway. In the early 1900s media took over the distribution of images and control of what people see. Now, with the internet and the ability for individuals to upload images and design, WE, the populace, control the distribution. And thus the wonderful plethora of blogs and websites that I can personally choose to read. Just a click takes me away from anything I find ugly or abhorrent.

    This ties in with your comment about Pinterest boards being a glimpse into individual’s brains and hearts.

    I love Hearthie’s creativity motto – that is one of my most favourite verses. Creating beauty, and finding beauty is what I strive for, too.

    • Woohoo! Such a thrill to fire up the neurons, isn’t it?

      Sure, as much as it’s possible to distill 600 years of cultural history into a paragraph, yes. :) :) I see where you’re driving and I agree. We’re in charge now. What will we do with that? Will we try to make the world a better place, or will we merely “maintain” because it’s easy?

      Yes. I like that one. I also like (for my creativity) “Whatsoever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.” Ecc 9:10 and “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord and not for men.” Colossians 3:23

  12. I’d like to express my opinion on the body image issue, which is something I feel strongly about, and so I hope that I don’t offend anybody…

    I know that the negative affect of media images is a popular perspective, but after much thought, it is one that I find is not mine. As a college student in the mid-late 80s, I found the feminism of that time to be based in negativism and substantially based upon self-victimization. All culture was male-dominated victimizing culture and fashion was a part of that. I was angry a lot of the time then, and that was not productive or personally useful. It was destructive. It took me some time change this. One small step was seeing a lecture by Bettina Aptheker, who taught feminism as People-ism. It was an inclusive perspective, and there was none of the self-victimizing anger that was pervasive in feminist dialogues at the time. In regard to body image, I ultimately came to the conclusion that blaming the (fashion) media as producing negative (i.e., skinny) images of women is a form of displacement and avoidance of the real problem.

    Fashion images are fantasy; an ultimate and improbable ideal. If I believe that I should match the fantasy, then I should consider why I feel that need. Probably, I already feel insufficient myself and I’m trying to find a ‘sufficient’ self. This is also a form of materialism. The problem is that when that fantasy is unattainable, and I should know that it is unattainable, then I am intentionally causing mental distress (aka self-victimization). It is a way of excusing my own responsibility for my own unhappiness, and a way of avoiding looking at the root basis for my feeling.

    On the other hand, if I think that fashion images should match to Me, that is rather ego-driven as well. There has always been idealized images of the human body, and ideals are just that. It is important that I face the plain fact that I am not an Ideal, and accept it. If I accept it, then maybe I can appreciate the beauty of the ideal without being threatened by it. Maybe I can appreciate It, but I don’t have to Be it, and I am not an insufficient woman if I am not It. It is a liberating realization, I think.

    Ultimately, I feel that this issue is about attachment to form, that is, an attachment to materiality, and the self-centricity that is pervasive our culture. These, I think, are the real issues.


    • Wow, I appreciate your insightful and well-spoken counter-argument. I think perhaps a bit of both perspectives is needed (being the middle child I do love a compromise!). Accepting that I am not the Ideal and learning to appreciate the beauty of the Ideal is wise advice. However, I do not think this sexualization of women (or even young men) that we see so often in the media is excusable under the label of Ideal. I am also concerned that young women, often the targets of the media, lack the mental and emotional ability to process such a complex view of self in the face of the onslaught of images around them. All of this is definitely good food for thought.

    • Hi Jen, I don’t think what you are saying is contrary to what Steph is saying at all. We are programmed to behave a certain way, and knowledge, insight and self learning can disrupt that, as we are also intelligent and have choices. In the extreme, if we lived in a world that only delivered up safe and agreed images and messages, it would be very dull indeed, and I don’t think anyone wants that. So there has to be some self-responsibility in the mix. So what this is all about is balance.
      Balance of imagery where not so many images are of the Ideal, which is of course a Universal, tempered with some self responsibility. But on the level of society, there is such a range of abilities to be self aware – children and teens for example who are so sure they think only their own thoughts, they have no idea how much external influence they suffer from. And many, many people are not remotely aware. So, the balance is needed across our society. And where we cannot set up an ad agency, transform the media and have it be a more balanced place, we can do our bit on the internet. I don’t see this as negative or an angry reaction. It’s an empowerment.
      So for me it is about the harmony and dissonance of individual actions and responses with social norms and experiences. They are both important, and work best when balanced. Well, that’s how I see it anyhow :)

      • Thanks Mrs. C and Heather. I see your perspectives.

        I guess that my underlying argument is that fashion images etc. would not have a negative affect upon a person if there wasn’t an underlying basis for that affect. In other words, the self-doubt, insufficiency, or other negativity comes first and the response to an image is a secondary response. As a fourth or fifth grader I remember having negative thoughts about my body. That did not come from the media (I rarely watched tv or saw any magazines then) but it was communicated to me primarily by my mother primarily. (I don’t blame her, but it is a fact). This was due to her own negative body image and she transferred it to me through criticism or just comments, e.g., by encouraging food deprivation. I was not a fat kid at all, but I saw myself as fat and flawed. If other girls had similar experiences, then I think that seeing media images of ‘perfect’ bodies can elicit a negative response, but the real damage was preexisting.

        In other words, if we only deal with the idealized/media images of women, we are focusing on a symptom and not the real problem. I’m still working on that one myself.

        Okay, it’s been a long day… : )

    • First- Excellent, excellent writing, Jen. Opinions are welcome around here, especially when so clearly and respectfully expressed. Thank you for raising the tone!

      Second- I have no argument with anything you wrote. Zero. I find the self-victimization thing doesn’t wash with me, either. However- it took me a while to get to this place, and I had to recognize at some point that the journey is a little tougher for some. Just because I’m generally pretty secure doesn’t mean everyone else is.

      Since I like to write about certain social issues, I try to think how the information presented would be useful to people in a broader sense than just my own personal experience- though sharing my experience does come into play, too.

      I agree completely about what you said about sufficiency and insufficiency. This is why I find the whole mess of advertising predatory and revolting- especially beauty and fashion advertising. It plays on people’s insecurities in order to turn a profit. That’s disgusting and shameful, even if it is pretty to look at. Yes- idealized images play on insecurities already in place that might have absolutely nothing to do with the media.

      Humans have always favored exaggerated ideals, and it’s also found in the animal world. I’ll need to go digging around and find the excellent documentary series on that topic… For example, the research team measured Greek statues and discovered the proportions that are so often idealized are impossible to attain on a human being and are actually quite disproportionate. Yet classical statuary has been revered for ages for its perfection and beauty…

      You are exactly correct about the importance of cultivating one’s mind/spirit/character outside the material world. One step at a time…. :)

  13. Thank you for such a thought provoking article and some fascinating discussion in the comments too.
    I’m not going to lie, I struggle to accept the way I look. Part of my appearance e is due to massive changes in my life in the last few years that have drastically altered my body. My biggest challenge is accepting and hopefully learning to love my post baby body. Boy will be 3 in January and whilst I am proud and somewhat astonished by what my body allowed me to do, the result on physical appearance is something I struggle with every time I look in the mirror.
    I also know I am my own worst enemy in comparing myself to others (who may not have had children) and in particular those that have and seem to have magically retained their pre-baby shape!
    Knowing that my expectations of myself may be unreasonable (I also have a prolactinoma which means my hormones are a bit out of kilter) in comparison to what I see doesn’t stop the whistful thoughts – I guess more of the visual diet has sunk in than I thought…
    Sewing has helped enormously (as well as some stark realisations!) which has helped me towards a level of acceptance.
    I’m not sure where I’m going with all this really! I just wanted to say thank you for such an interesting article and for making me examine why I think the way I do and why I aspire to certain ‘looks’.

    • Thanks for that! Some very bright comments here, I agree.. :)

      I think you speak of a very common struggle. I had a hard time with that, myself. Is it ok if I tell you a few things I learned? Really, I’m talking to myself four years ago… It might be helpful, and if it isn’t, well, pinch of salt….

      No one magically returns to pre-baby shape and they are damn liars if they tell you so. Magic does not exist. This was something that haunted me when I was struggling with body issues about a year after Lila was born… Why do some people bounce back and other people dont? What can I do? Which one am I? It must be fate! Magic! Pixies!

      But then I realized- no, Virginia, there’s no such thing as magic. People who “bounce back” may have the luck of the gene pool behind them, and that’s something we either have or don’t. Even then, those types would hardly have bounced back if they “ate for two” during pregnancy or laid around doing very little. (Yes, babies drain the energy away, but exercise very quickly becomes a source of extra energy and vitality.) I am not saying that’s what you do, I don’t know your life and would not presume. I am just saying that the bouncers don’t do that.

      But that’s not all…. Many people who “bounce back” do it through plain old ordinary sensible eating and moderate exercise regardless of genes. I know that’s not sexy, but it is an actual, tangible action. I really found that quite empowering- that slowly and steadily I had the power to become healthier and as a side effect, a bit slimmer. Besides, childbearing takes a huge toll on abdominal muscles and pelvic floor muscles. A little bit of Pilates now might prevent a prolapse later… (sorry if I’m being too graphic)

      Comparison between women is poison. Run! Run far away! Don’t look back!! I’m a competitive person, but I don’t compete against other women. Sometimes this is something I have to remind myself- no two women are alike, so how is it possible to compare them adequately? I prefer to compete against myself. Can I be just a little bit better today at X than I was yesterday? Better than a week ago? Better than five years ago? That’s more like it, I find that kind of thinking encourages me to focus on being the best version of myself rather than getting all caught up in being jealous and envious and competitive with people who should be my friends. Make sense?

      And when I can’t be better, well, just pick up and keep going. No use abusing myself over it.

      Smile at yourself when you look in the mirror, even if you have to fake it sometimes. Smile at yourself the same way you would at a good friend.


      Like I said, pinch of salt… but I’ve been there..

      • Thanks Steph. That’s all sound advice and helpful. Especially about running away from comparrisons and smiling at (and competing only with) myself. I’ll take it on board…

  14. Hmm.. This is quite a little hot button in my life. I was anorexic during high school mostly because my visual diet wasn’t healthy, but mostly because I grew up in a household that emphasized “looking perfect”. I also had no positive feedback during that period in my life except when I made every possible effort to look like a Vogue magazine page. Ridiculous. I am, as you can see from my blog, not unhealthy anymore. Thank God! I have three beautiful daughters, and I work VERY hard to emphasize the entertainment/artistic bent of the fashion world. Real people do not look like magazine photos every single day! I’m hoping they’ve got the message, although my 9 yr old surprised me this morning by commenting on her weight: she thinks she’s too skinny because she can feel her ribs while she’s stretching! I’d rather have that than the negative stuff that was rolling around non-stop in my head when I was her age! Interesting thoughts and post again, Steph!

    • Wow. Thanks for sharing, Tia. I never personally struggled with that (I had my own stuff…) but I know many girls and women do. It’s heart-breaking to me because it’s a physical manifestation of a cultural sickness.

      De-constructing the myths while exposing the kids to it is a sort of mental inoculation against the power of these cultural forces, I firmly believe. Firmly. Keep up the good work, I say.

  15. Thank you so much for sharing this interesting study! We made a conscious effort with our home and with our children to make positive personal choices about what we let in, what we surround ourselves with. We have not owned a television in the 30 years of our marriage and are selective about radio, music, movies, etc. I know that we did not raise our kids in a bubble, they watched tv at my Mom’s house and at friends houses, but we read a lot together and listened to books, watched movies together and talked about them.
    Barbie dolls were not allowed until I discovered how much my older girls enjoyed playing with them on a visit to my sister. My husband was very critical of this breach until he heard about the party the girls were planning with a Barbies and trolls fashion show!
    They are now healthy young adults with very different body types and I think they feel very good about how they look and enjoy choosing and wearing their clothing. Our youngest child was born a girl but now lives as a trangendered man… but that is another story for another day!
    One more thing – when I had my first baby, I didn’t lose what the baby weighed and I didn’t shed the weight until she began eating solid food at about 6 months of age. So when I had my second baby, I decided not to look in full length mirrors for most of a year, until I knew I had lost some weight. I was happy breast feeding my baby and if that meant carrying my own “back 40” around with me, so be it. I knew I would regain a healthy non-nursing weight in the course of time, and I did. Three times!

    • Thanks for sharing! :)

      We mostly didn’t have tv growing up in my house, too… That meant when I left home at 16 (long story), I had an entire universe of pop culture to catch up on… I really had no choice, because its essential to understand pop cultural references to be able to communicate with other people… I can’t tell you what a pain it was to have to learn all that stuff so I didn’t come across as a complete alien to most people I met. Every now and then, I still bump into something that “everyone knows!” and I don’t.

      So I confess I’m ambivalent. On one hand, I can look at that and think “well, I wasn’t missing much, just a lot of Sound and Fury that is apparently important to a lot of people for some reason.” No tv? No big deal. I learned to sew, we used to hike and fish, bake, pick berries, build huge wigwams, write stories… Reading… Because we had the time.

      But on the other hand, I don’t really want my daughter to have to work so hard to be able to communicate with people as I had to (and have to) work… So we try to keep it balanced, generally positive and as ad-free as possible when it comes to her TV viewing habits. Her exposure is minimal, but she’s still much more exposed than I was…

      Barbies… Hehehe… We had a couple of Barbies, we mostly used them as small scale historical re-enactors… Most notably when learning about the Salem witch trials…

      I’m so curious about your daughter…

      I was thinking about it, and I think there’s definitely something in your “don’t look at the mirror, just be happy and get on with it” attitude. Definitely.

  16. I don’t often weigh in and comment but I think of weight/size in terms of ‘health’ rather than ‘beautiful’ or not. What the researchers showed was that we have become used to seeing people slightly overweight (therefore, often unhealthy ‘inside’) and no longer see that as an non-normal state. This is born out by current health researchers who interview thousands of people in the health system and say that a fair portion of them who are overweight now consider this ‘ok’ or normal.

    No doubt most of this discussion is about self-esteem and body-image. It is important for people to consider as the lady above mentioned that life is about making positive choices comfortably and opening a dialogue about ‘everday’ choices and ‘sometimes’ choices. I’ve been on both sides of this (in adolescence, before and after births) and I can honestly say that ‘health’ has convinced me on all occasions to make better choices. It isn’t about being a ‘slim white woman’. I think we may need to adopt the child & barbie viewpoint where they often simply use them as play things missing the messages adults see. Perhaps we should see the opportunity for dress ups in what’s on screen/mags or better yet… a health message. Most (though I concede not all) stick thin, anorexic models have disappeared and plenty of research supports a long life by being within the normal weight range.

    This leads to whole other questions regarding self-esteem and body image being related to lifestyle, simplicity, consumption overdrive, pressures of society, mental health etc. I like to see healthy and happy people, but this is so much more complex than being viewed as ‘ideal’ or not. Frankly the health system is far more affected by the problems above than women starving themselves to be thin. Just a few thoughts.

    • Hey Tammy, good to “see” you!

      Hmmm… Since we know each other offline and we’ve had some debates between us, I don’t think you’ll mind a frank reply.

      I agree with you as far as “health” being more important to me personally (my own body) than “thinness” or “beauty”. Besides, traits considered beautiful are often simply the hallmarks of good health (strong hair and nails, clear skin, toned appearance, bright eyes, etc).

      When I close my eyes, I can’t feel “beauty.” Physical beauty is pretty subjective and open to interpretation. I generally think I’m beautiful despite my obvious physical flaws, but at the end of the day it’s not everything or even very high on my list of priorities. Yes, I like to present myself well, but no, I don’t spend a whole lot of time worrying about it. And like I said, I can’t feel beauty.

      Health, however, I can feel from the ends of my toes to the tips of my fingers and everywhere in between. When I am in good health, my body feels strong, supple, able, energetic. I get sick less often. I can keep up with my husband on long hikes. I can get out and enjoy life because I have the strength and stamina.

      When I am in bad health, my body feels terrible and gross. I have no energy, which makes me cranky and has a cascade effect on the rest of my life. When I get like that, I know I better look after what I eat and how much I move to improve the way I feel. The funny funny thing is that it’s nearly impossible to tell from looking at the outside of my body whether I’m healthy or not. My weight doesn’t fluctuate a whole lot, but my fitness levels do.

      This brings me to my major point of disagreement with what you wrote. Thin or slim does not automatically equal healthy. Fat does not equal unhealthy. You didn’t say that explicitly, so correct me if I’m mis-reading. I think it’s a common misconception. Believing these myths is incorrect on an empirical level, and hurtful to fat people on a personal level. It’s poisonous. It’s taking your own personal values and projecting them on another person, with little basis in fact. It’s too simple, too neat.

      I have been “thin” and unhealthy (eating garbage, exercising sporadically) before. However, I find I have greater physical strength and stamina as a slightly heavier, but active woman who strives to take care about what she puts in her mouth. Every now and then a female member of my family will tut tut at me about my weight (oooooh nooo! I weigh more than I did in highschool! Call oprah! Call jenny craig! Call someone who will shame me into losing that weight!) and I just laugh. It’s really silly. It’s a nasty type of female competition that I think most of us are hard-wired to perpetuate, but it is not useful.

      Start here: Research. Data. Science. I can find more if you would like, but this is fairly recent.

      I am especially troubled (and very, very shocked) by your support for continuing a visual culture that represents an exceedingly narrow view of femininity and beauty. I can see what you’re saying about “playing barbie” and that it’s all dress up and imagination but you are a beautiful, slim, white woman. Your skin is pretty and pristine, your figure is enviable after giving birth to three fantastic children. Your hair is pretty. You are in a very small minority of women who can look at these images and more or less see themselves reflected back. That is not a dig at you, not even a little bit, and I know you might not think you are as gorgeous as you are but my point is – you are status quo on a skin deep level.

      Have you seen this: It’s an experiment run in the 30’s to show how children perceive their race. It’s been repeated many, many times with similar results. I know you as an intelligent and kind woman, I want to challenge you to look at the experiment and maybe put “clark doll experiment” into google and explore what you find. Then I hope we can talk about strategies to change our narrow culturally defined parameters of what is beautiful.

      By the way, now that you have a bit of time, wanna meet up for tacos, margaritas and feminism? That’d be nice.

  17. “The lesson here is that no amount of research can protect a project from ‘issues.’”

    Oh my, this is SO true. No matter how well you plan, things can still go awry.

    I’ve been through the same journey you’re on, when you try to fix everything, and it seems SO close, but you keep thinking “if I just spend a few more hours tonight, then everything will be fixed.”, but that stretches on… and on… and on… so make sure you take a break so you don’t get burned out. And *hugs*. You can do it!

    Interesting thoughts regarding body image, and I would say, for the most part, that they are true. It’s a lot of what you surround yourself with. Being a girl who was never into the mainstream, and being hopelessly skinny when I was a kid and teen, I yearned for the hourglass figures I saw in Victorian and Edwardian books and movies themed in that way, and the curvy ladies of classic film… so I had serious body image issues… in a time that emaciated models were super fashionable. But I saw that as ugly. So, yes, I agree :)

    • Yes! Oh yes! That’s exactly, exactly exactly what the past few months have felt like… ! Thank you for reminding me it will ease up.. We went to an old, old friends house over the weekend, our two little families spending the weekend together.. Quite relaxing and very nice to unplug for a bit… Thank you for the very good advice about resting, it’s too easy not to… :)

      I want to hug nerdy teenage Lauren! :) Thank you for sharing that.

  18. Very very interesting post and comments. As a skinny nerdy kid I too was given a hard time at school and am now enjoying the fact that bodies come in all shapes and sizes. How unfashionable for me?!

    • Yes!

      Why are kids so mean to each other? Sigh. I know it’s probably some sort of primal survival instinct thing but it’s dreadful how kids treat each other.

      Yeah, I think the variety of human form is pretty cool and exciting.

  19. Sitting here in Costa Rica, visiting a recovering father. Beauty ideals here really are somewhat different. Great post. Let’s to think about.

  20. I love your pinterest board. I was also raised with the same idea and I know it’s true. Beauty has a “way of seeing” about it. You could take the same naked woman from a porn image and put her in a figure drawing class and the way of seeing would completely change. I loved figure drawing for that reason–I was just full of awe and wonder at the variety of womens’ beauty. Anyway, just wanted to say that–that your board teaches a way of seeing, and it’s wordless and it’s beautiful and it trains the eye ;).

    • Cool…! :) Yes, I know what you mean about context and seeing… I used to collage “seeing” boards into my visual journals, but these days I’m just lazy and use pinterest… Thanks!

      Trains the eye… :)

  21. Hmm. As a teen I hated my body, not because I didn’t look like everyone else – my friends were all sorts of different shapes, sizes, and colours – or some ‘ideal’ I had picked up from TV or magazines (didn’t read magazines, would rather read books than watch TV), but because when I was 13 my hips were already broader than my mum’s had been in her 30s (she kept all her clothes and I liked to try them on), while my waist was smaller, and I could not find clothes that fit, so I assumed I was a freak. So I dressed in very potato-sack like clothes in an effort to both hide myself, and not have to worry about things fitting. Things still don’t fit, I still don’t read magazines or watch much TV, but now I sew and I don’t care if bought stuff doesn’t fit because I can fix it – I like myself more now, with 2x baby weight that won’t shift no matter what I do, than I did then. I’m overweight, massively so according to doctors, but my body does what I want it to, and despite the extra weight, I’m quite healthy. I have occasionaly attacks of “ARGH MY THIGHS!” but on the whole, I don’t care too much. But I worry about my daughter, and how she’ll be influenced, and also how she will be percieved by others who are being influenced by all the images, concepts, and ideals in the media. She’s bubbly, she’s blond, she’s got HUGE blue eyes, and looking at her genetic background, theres only a slim chance she won’t be full of curve. If societal perception continues in its current direction, she’s going to need a lot of strength or ignorance to cope with the expectations and assumptions foisted on her. She also has a split earlobe, which could lead to a lot of self consciousness, and I don’t know how to alleviate that. We don’t make a fuss, other than the slight extra cleaning it necessitates, but as soon as school-mates start pointing out that she looks different…
    Sigh. Theres such a fine line between guarding our eyes (ears, hearts, etc) and those of our children, and just being unaware of whats going on around us. Its hard to know where to set the limits, what to accept as inevitable, and how to steer in a healthy direction.

    • *hugs* I get that… Teenage potato sack clothes…

      Sounds like you found a place that works for you…

      You can’t alleviate your daughter’s troubles. I can’t tell you how much I was tortured as a kid for the gap between my front teeth- a physical trait I could not do anything about as an 8 year old. Just love her and support her, maybe teach her something that will take her “outside herself”… Like sewing, or baking, or baseball. But I’m sure she’s in good hands with you, you love her enough to pre-worry. :)

  22. I’ve had an erratic exposure to popular depictions of beauty—while I’ve always lived a fairly mainstream life (and yes, I played with Barbies), we didn’t have cable or beauty magazines or whatnot lying around the house. And I’ve definitely noticed a change in my own perceptions the few times I have over-indulged in those media sources—like when we first got cable shortly after my oldest was born, and I watched a lot of MTV (I love music videos) because for the first time in my life I could, or when I was going to the gym and there was nothing to read but fitness and “women’s” magazines while I was on the elliptical. It felt like junk-food for my mind. It’s so cool to see this quantified. I think bellydancing from a young (ok, teenage) age helped, as I got to see lots of women with different bodies, all beautiful, all “real” (in the sense of not being airbrushed or posed for a photo shoot.)

    I remember Tasia (Sewaholic) writing once that, when she drew up her business plan, they had to brainstorm possible problems. Every single one she came up with happened in the first six months of business. Good luck with getting the Tiramisu complications figured out—I can’t wait to see my pattern! :)

    • Yes! I’ve noticed the same hangover feeling, too.

      Bellydance seems to me like one of those activities that has extra awareness and acceptance of body shapes.. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like it.

      Thank you. I did something similar, and yep, same. It’s especially irritating because in a way it’s the kind of stuff that you don’t know you don’t know until you make some irritating mistake. So… We’ll see. Upward and onward.

  23. As an African American Woman, it’s safe to say I don’t fit into the “well groomed, slim white woman” category (smile). Beauty is everywhere and hopefully we won’t allow our cultures to trick us into being biased. Very interesting thoughts here, thanks for sharing. BTW, excellent scripture reference!!!

  24. I enjoyed your post. I’ve had a chance to see life in a small petite body, not by choice but because of health issues. I’m very proportionate and have found over the years that people feel comfortable to tell me most outlandish things. I’ve had ladies tell me they would love to be as thin as me. I just shutter to imagine how our brains can make us think one thing is better even to the far degree as I am.
    It has also been interesting having only one sister only and she happens to be morbidly obese. We are the exact opposites in body shape. Now I say all that because I truely feel our personal body shapes are caused by many things genetics, stress and mental processing of such stresses and a lot of learned behavior or environmental exposures.
    My daughter who is now only six years old has expressed the desire to be small since she was three. I know she see’s me and wants to be like mama. It’s hard to know that she is so unlikely to be anywhere near my size because of my health. I want her to feel confidant in who she is. I must say my mother did a great job of that on both my sister(plus size) and I.
    Reading the word of God as shown me the importance of guarding our eyes and our tongues. My sister and I both endured so much shameful comments from each other and the world because of our size and shapes.
    It all sort of reminds me of that children’s song O Be Careful, Little Eyes

  25. Pingback: The Three Graces: Women’s Bodies in Art « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

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