Thursday, March 19, 2015

Fight Body Issues by Reinforcing Patriarchy?

No.

No no no no no.

Also no.

According to a piece in The Telegraph (a right-wing British newspaper. Do Not Link used here), here's how to fight body image issues among girls:  A doctor and author says teachers should ask boys to tell girls what boys find attractive. Then girls will realize that boys like girls with some fat, because of evolution and child breeding. And all the girls who fit within those new standards of beauty will feel great.

1. It is true that people find many body types attractive and that the single-type of female beauty betrayed [Edit - I meant portrayal. I'm leaving this Freudian slip in] is not the sum total of "what is attractive."

2. This is a terrible idea.

Here's the key quote:
To fight a “neurosis” amongst school girls on body fat, teachers should get boys to tell girls what they find attractive, including other qualities beyond pure looks, said Aric Sigman, author of “The Body Wars: why body dissatisfaction is at epidemic proportions”.

He said it was important that teachers picked boys from an older year group because girls look up to them and they are not direct peers so it would be easier to talk about body image issues.

“It would be helpful for them to explain that what they find attractive is not just physical qualities but also qualities like caring, the sound of a girl’s voice and her body language.
Science stuff follows.

This is fine in a way, except that it reinforces the patriarchal notion that what girls should be concerned about is to what extent they are or are not attractive to boys. Attractiveness remains the key arbiter of personal worth.

Instead, the way to fight body image issues is to de-legitimize the male gaze as the arbiter of what is and is not "good."

The notion that a girls' body exists to be attractive starts very young, the minute we call a girl baby pretty and put a pink hat on her (while the strong boy gets a blue one). I wrote about this issue when she was in pre-school, almost two years ago, on the occasion of her winning a "best dressed" award.

The other day, then, I arrived at after-school to find my daughter in a big loose school t-shirt because her pants were a little saggy. The teacher said that she "didn't want Ellie to fell uncomfortable." I guarantee you that Ellie didn't feel uncomfortable until the teacher told her that having too much of her body showing was something to feel uncomfortable about. My daughter is five. She does need to learn about privacy, but making her feel ashamed of part of her body being visible is not the way (in this case, the issue is two-fold: She doesn't have enough of a butt to hold up pants, and the tie had become snagged and wasn't re-tying).

I asked them, very politely, to let me know if there was a problem with her clothes and not to intervene directly in that way again, and discussed body shaming. And you know what, her feminist teachers were probably very upset, because they don't see the way they replicate patriarchal culture through these kinds of little micro-aggressions.

And we, of course, went out to buy more pants with better elastic waistbands.

Micro-aggressions matter. They build up over time, in tiny ways. I find the particular stresses of raising a girl in our culture to be very tiring, but I try to push back against the grain and hope it helps.

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