The Body Image Revolution: How one image started the conversation

Something revolutionary happened this week. A woman posted a photograph of herself in her underwear on the Internet. Although there are thousands of pictures of women in their underwear on-line (and in magazines, catalogs, television, billboards, etc…), this picture was different. It was different because this woman is fat (not my word).

Stella Boonshoft is an 18 year-old student at New York University and she loves her body. She is proud of her body and she wanted to use her body as an agent of change. She struggled with hating her body for much of her life. She was bullied and tormented as a child and adolescent. And she learned to make peace with her body. So she posted a semi-nude picture of herself on her blog and opened a nation-wide conversation about body image, misconceptions about health, and acceptance. She is extraordinarily courageous.

Stella posted this picture of herself along with the caption:

WARNING: Picture might be considered obscene because subject is not thin. And we all know that only skinny people can show their stomachs and celebrate themselves. Well I’m not going to stand for that. This is my body. Not yours. MINE. Meaning the choices I make about it, are none of your f*cking business. Meaning my size, IS NONE OF YOUR F*CKING BUSINESS. If my big belly and fat arms and stretch marks and thick thighs offend you, then that’s okay. I’m not going to hide my body and my being to benefit your delicate sensitivities.

Our nation has been leading a crusade against fat people. Rather than encouraging people to love our bodies and care for ourselves in healthy and nurturing ways, we encourage fat-shaming- a phenomenon where we blame people for their nerve to inhabit fat bodies. If you are fat, you are told to deprive yourself in an attempt to manipulate your body to be thin by whatever measures necessary. Health is secondary to thinness. Now, many people will argue that you cannot be healthy if you are overweight. This is simply not true. More and more research is emerging showing that not all obese people are unhealthy and that being overweight (according to Body Mass Index [BMI] charts) may actually be protective in certain ways (this is called the “Obesity Paradox”). In addition, being thin by any means necessary has significant health risks as evidenced by people who struggle with (and too often die from) anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. I believe that leading a healthy lifestyle, which integrates movement and a well-balanced diet of whole foods, is more predictive of an individual’s health than his or her BMI. Yet we stigmatize an entire group of people based on their body size under the pretense that this must mean that they are unhealthy. The stigmatization and bullying of fat people only leads to body-hatred and disordered eating behaviors. Think about it: if you hate your body, does this really motivate you to treat your body well? It usually results in the very antithesis- increased sickness and poor health. It was disheartening to read the comments on some of the blogs that featured the story about Stella Boonshoft. Although there were some supportive comments, the bullying and cruelty were hard to bear.

Fat-shaming simply does not work. If it worked, we would not be in the midst of an “obesity epidemic.” As a clinical psychologist, I work with patients of all different sizes (some considered underweight, average weight, overweight, or obese according to BMI) who struggle with accepting their bodies. For many people, how they feel about their body determines their mood and their daily activities. I hear from people who think that they are too fat to go to the movies, walk through the park, check out the new museum exhibition, exercise at the gym, or attend a party. People have stopped living their lives to the fullest because they feel that their fatness prevents them from being a productive member of society. They feel unacceptable, offensive, or less than because of their body size.  And feeling this way does not make them any thinner.

We need to learn to accept and love our bodies, to stop hiding and disengaging from life because our body weight isn’t considered “average.” From love-not hatred – comes nurturance and health.

by Alexis Conason, Psy.D

15 thoughts on “The Body Image Revolution: How one image started the conversation

  1. This is such a great post and really hit home for me. I am now in therapy and trying to get over my eating disorder because of the stigma of being “fat” and hating my own body. So I have an intense fear of being overweight and do all the wrong things to stay thin. Being bullied really changes a persons mental perception about themselves and it can take years to stop thinking about yourself the way others used to, at least for me this is true. Good for her for loving her body! I wish that they would teach us that it is okay to be any weight rather than thin is beautiful or more attractive somehow. It’s unsettling actually that so many women, including myself, are literally killing themselves to be thin.

  2. What a great post! I hadn’t realized this happened (geez don’t go online one day…). I am currently leading and participating in a mastermind coaching group dealing with this very topic! (Yes, Scott, I am a LIFE WELLNESS Coach! lol). This obviously is a topic close to my heart–that women & girls learn to love their bodies and themselves that motivates my BraveGirl Coaching community. (http://www.facebook.com/BraveGirlCoaching). Thanks for the like on my blog post!

  3. this is a touchy subject for me personally, a debate with myself each day as I am not the skinnie minnie, not obese, but heavy. i wish i could feel that comfortable in my own skin, but not to show it to the world, but to be proud of what I am and how I look. The media is constantly down everyone’s throat. there is something about each of us that we did not take notice of but the media did. we are taught to want to change everything about us, to not accept anything, to spend every dime we have on becoming artificialy beautiful. A gimmick for sales manufacturing. For me, I care of my brother who is terminally ill, and he and I are pretty much home bound. my exercise consist of tinkering around the house, and house cleaning. no gyms, no running, no speed walks. i watch myself gaining slowly and i don’t like it, but i have accepted this is the way it is for now. when this part of my life is over, i want to get healthier, but do not expect to ever be skinny.

  4. I am so proud of Stella and her willingness to share her story. As someone who has struggled with anorexia for 22 years…thin was never thin enough…I can count my bones, was growing lanugo (downy white ‘fur’), my body temperature was at 97, I was shaky, my hair was falling out and breaking in my hands, my nails were peeling. “Thin” or “skinny” would never be enough…because I just wanted to disappear. Until I started intensive treatment 13 weeks ago, I didn’t think I had any issue with body image…refeeding has a way of balancing the brain and I can make sense of things now. Recovery is an amazing process and I am becoming the person I am designed to be…and seeing Stella and hearing her story–it gives me hope. Well done, Stella!!!!!

  5. It’s wonderful to read this post. I admire her for her honesty and strength. I am a mother, and we all know what that means. Everything sags a little more than it used to, and often a lot of things get all marked up. I agonized about it for a long time, even though I am married. The pressure to meet the impossible standard of beauty that is out there is overwhelming. Good for this woman for standing up for the rest of us real ladies!

  6. I note that she has stretch marks, good for her to show them. She is one sexy looking woman, I might add, very pretty.

  7. You know, I am glad to read this post:-)
    I concur with your views. We all must learn to accept and love ourselves. Because this is OUR life! But this type of realisation comes only after a certain age and till that time people /children are bullied for what they look /what they are, which shapes their thoughts.Hmm….hope parents will help children to think in the right way from childhood and the grown-ups will start to think the same.

  8. Good for her, and her courage! I do not know what the answer to all of the rampant bullying is, but for a country that likes to say that it celebrates diversity, we have an odd way of showing it.

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