"Ok ladies, let's all go around the circle and say one thing we don't like about our bodies and one thing we really do like! Who's first?"
I remember participating in a number of different groups where an older, well meaning woman would lead a discussion on the importance of positive body image. Growing up in the public school system and also working at a few different summer camps over the years, I've seen a lot of creative ways to get young women to talk about body image. At the time I remember thinking how great it was to be able to talk about my physical insecurities with my peers and to affirm what I though was beautiful about my friends bodies. I even lead discussions like these with girls younger than myself. It was so empowering!
Or was it?
I was recently listening to a TedTalk given by Meaghan Ramsey the Global Director of the Dove Self Esteem Project. Though I have conflicting feelings about the Dove Self Esteem Project I really appreciated Ramsey's insight. She mentioned that women who think they are overweight, regardless if they are or not, have higher rates of absenteeism. She said, "Seventeen percent of women would not show up to a job interview on a day they weren't feeling confident about the way they look." She also commented that girls tend to choose not to do something because they don't want to draw attention to how they look.
These comments did not surprise me at all, In fact I identify with this more than I care to admit. But my question is this; are we really empowering young women when we facilitate conversations where we focus solely on physical appearance? As I reflect on my own experience (which I recognize may not be the same for everyone) I would have to say no. In fact I think it's very backwards. If young women are taught to believe that body image is one of the most important things to improve, then we are perpetuating the idea that women need to look and feel beautiful in order to have success. Yes I think it is important to love yourself, and take care of your body, but when I think about my most beautiful friends I don't think about their style or their haircut. I think about how they contribute to their world and offer their abilities and unique personality to the people around them. I am convinced we need to change the conversation and build confidence in our female friends by affirming the uniqueness that they bring when they are doing what they do best in their own way, regardless of how they may look that day.
You can find Meaghan Ramsey's talk here.