Screw the Beauty Standards Created by Marketing Teams

I was thrilled and honored to be selected for this interview originally posted at the fantastic new website Real Women's Bodies. I was given permission by the site owner and interviewer to repost the interview here as it appears on the site.

Today I am interviewing Kristen Tsetsi, who is an author, feature writer, and columnist for a Connecticut newspaper. She recently had two posts on Blogher.com that caught my attention because of how well she articulates our cultural challenges with body-image and also because she offers such a refreshing perspective on body-image, modeling for us the wonderful possibility of loving ourselves just the way we are.

Those two articles are:

I thought I would ask Kristen to share her perspective on body-image and how women can learn to love themselves more.

Her answers are powerful. They will change how you think, maybe even change your life.

 

Kristen, what is your personal history with body-image?

I went from being the too-skinny younger sister of the best looking girl in town – and being very conscious of that role – to gaining twenty pounds in my twenties and feeling perfectly fine about it until I saw myself in pictures.

I did what it took to fix it both times. When I was a skinny child, I rode my bike several miles every few days to build muscle “weight” around all my bones, and as a twenty- (and later, thirty-) something I would speed-walk for 45 minutes every morning in disgusting Alabama humidity (and switched from pasta and ice cream to a balanced diet) to lose fat weight.

There was a period after my second weight loss when I could understand the extreme weight loss some people experience. I had a goal weight, but any time I hit it, I felt like I couldn’t eat, because I’d go over goal if I did. So, I’d try to stay under goal. That new “under goal” weight would somehow suddenly become the new goal weight, and so I’d try to stay below that – all so I could pig out at dinner without worrying about going over goal.

“When you get to 110, we’re having a talk,” my husband said, and I suddenly realized how ridiculous I was being. (The realization was heightened when I saw pictures of myself in a bikini. I hated how thin I looked. The goal was never “skinny,” but “pleasantly proportional.”)

So, there were what I’d call little struggles. Feeling not pretty enough compared to other women, feeling too skinny compared to other women, too fat compared to other women, etc. It was always “compared to other women,” and a lot of how I thought I should look was coming from what the media and magazines say about how we should look.

However, aside from being made fun of for being skinny and flat-chested when I was between 11 and 13, I haven’t had serious problems with body issues. I haven’t been told, “I’m sure we have nothing in your size,” and I haven’t been told I should visit another store for “people like me.”  So I can’t speak to that kind of challenge.

How did you arrive at your present body-image?

I should probably first say what my present body-image is: I like it. And I should, because I do what I need to do to keep my body where I want it. What I’m actually more interested in is what drives us, as women, to want other women to not be happy with their bodies or faces unless they’re someone we can all pretty much agree are considered “unattractive,” or were at the very least overweight or had an eating disorder at some point, so that we can rest assured (wrong or not) that they probably don’t really like the way they look, but aren’t they brave and sweet for trying? (That’s the subject of “You’ll Love Your Body When We Say You Can,” which you link to above.)

It’s hard to be happy with how you look when there’s this unspoken understanding floating around in woman-land that we’re supposed to be constantly armed with self-criticisms – and excited to use them.

Last year, I was walking onto a passenger plane when one of the flight attendants noticed the boots I was wearing. “I love your boots!” she said. “But I could never wear them with legs like mine.”

She weighed a little bit more than I did, but she was about the same height, so I could only assume she was referencing her weight (as opposed to leg length). I’m almost positive I was supposed to say, “Oh, what are you talking about? You have beautiful legs! My boots would look better on you than they do on me!”

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