I’m sure you all consume some sort of media, whether on the TV or the internet and I’m sure you haven’t missed the messages calling for change in how we display and talk about women’s bodies. There seems to be something about this every single day especially on the harmful effects it has on women and men – we’ll get to men next month for sure. So for this blog post today I want to talk a little bit about me, Alice Clayton and how we can change how women’s bodies are seen in literature.
Personal time: I have issues with my weight. I am a bit overweight and a lot of my issues have to do with some of the women in my life pushing me to wear more makeup or to lose x number of pounds in order to make a shirt or what not look better on my frame. Plus I see all these gorgeous and airbrushed women telling me how I should look. I am definitely not going to look like those women – ever. All that criticism about my looks and my body from people I trust, respect and love have definitely messed up my image of myself, my self-esteem and my self-confidence. It has gotten to the that I have been going to counselling to make sure I am healthy in how I think of my body and how I react with it.
I internalized body image really early in life. My mom loves to tell the story when we went to preschool one day and I proudly declared that I was going to be an easy, breezy, beautiful Covergirl one day. Yes, at the time, I didn’t really know what that was, but what I can remember is that she was pretty and I wanted to be just like her. Fast forward a few years and I started putting on weight because I didn’t get a lot of time to play outside (I was in a private school that loved to hand out homework) and this is when a lot of criticism from my family came in.
As I started going through my teen years the criticism not only continued – it got worse. Not only was I getting this criticism from the media and my family, but from my peers as well. I went through a dark phase where I hated my body. I dressed in baggy clothing, steadfastly refused to wear makeup, put on even more weight and ate my feelings while I wondered why boys weren’t interested in me. I even got picked on by my gym teachers because I couldn’t run for twelve minutes at a time. My teen years, in a nutshell, just sucked. It wasn’t really until my first year of university that I started to change how I looked at my body. I think a lot of that had to do with my sociology classes and the fact that the people at university were more interested in what I had to say and think than how I looked. During that first year I started practicing yoga and I really can’t describe the feeling of being able to move your bodies into bizarre positions and knowing that your body is miraculous and wonderful. This was my turning point in my body image story.I started to eat healthier, I still practice yoga, I started running in my third year of university, I practiced self-confidence until it is a natural thing to me (fake it until you make it works), I started dressing for my body type and not the way someone wants me to dress, and I worked (and am continuing to work on) loving myself. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have issues with my body anymore, and I don’t think that it’s ever going to completely go away, but I know that those issues are powerless when I go over all the things I love about my body or the cool things I can do with it.
Alice Clayton. She has a new series that came out last year and it is set up in northern New York. Her second book in the series, Cream of the Crop, has a character that is explicitly overweight. This is one of the only times I’ve seen an author write consciously of an overweight character in a book. I love that there’s an overweight character and that she kills it. Natalie owns her body and doesn’t let that get in the way of her living her life. She’s successful, has lots of sex, wears what she wants – and looks stellar in it – and has an overload of confidence. Aside from what I just described I have a couple issues with Natalie, and warning there will be a couple spoilers. The only big hurtle she has with her weight is when an ex-boyfriend trapped her into an abusive relationship by making her grateful that he dated her. That’s it. She didn’t really have a lot of problems or insecurity with her body. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with this! My issue with it is most people don’t just accept their body like this with little thought to it. Even my “skinny” friends have issues with their bodies. The same with some of my friends that are on the heavier side. In this book I would have liked to see some more insecurity in Natalie as it would have allowed me to relate to her more.
Alice Clayton’s Redhead series was also really interesting to read. We have Grace, who is an older and overweight, by Hollywood’s standards, actress trying to make it big after Hollywood chewed her up and spit her out in her youth. I really like the last book in this series because it pointed out with great accuracy the injustice of how Hollywood portrays the female ideal. They don’t like to deviate from what they think the perfect body type should look like and those who don’t fit that type go to extremes to try to comply with that ideal. This portrayal of an “overweight” actress I enjoyed more because it’s a bit more relateable. You can see yourself as this character at some point in your life and you can emphasize with her body issues.
Literature: So how does this affect women readers and female characters? As a woman reading the book or watching the movie you generally see the heroine as being the ideal that you see in the media unless directly stated or shown otherwise. By not having different bodies included in literature, and presenting them in stereotypical ways, we are perpetuating the body image problem.
So things we can do to change this:
- Have different body types in literature OR we imagine a different body type instead of going for what the author describes.
- Stop having the overweight girl as sassy and/or funny. Or tall, dumb blondes with big boobs. Break the stereotypes!
- Have your characters act human. They don’t have to be okay with their appearance. They can have doubts and low self-esteem or confidence.
- Talk about issues like bulimia and anorexia. Talk about how women binge eat. The fad diets. Talk about the consequences of those things, but treat them not with condescension, but with empathy and compassion. It’s an illness and not just because women are crazy.
- Use your personal experience in your stories. Whether you’re female or not.
- I know I didn’t really touch upon the objectification of women, but talk about the cat calling and the insecurities of being a woman. How women are supposed to dress alluringly but not too alluringly.
- Talk about how women have legislation passed or denied based on their reproductive rights. This is especially true in the Untied States.
- Talk about menstrual cycles and menopause.
- Talk about female masturbation and orgasm in realistic ways.
- Discuss sexual assault. Make sure your characters are dealing with things realistically.
Until next week.