Body Image and Barbie: Bye Bye, Barbie

Featured

BARBIE™ A FASHION FAIRYTALE GLITTERIZER™ Wardrobe and BARBIE® Doll Playset - Shop.Mattel.com

Dear Barbie,

Today I’m officially saying goodbye.  I haven’t actually played with you in decades, but nevertheless I feel I need to write you a formal goodbye letter.  I know you’re wondering why I decided to take such a drastic measure.  I hope this letter explains my concerns. I used to love and admire you, but in the past several years I’ve realized our relationship isn’t healthy.

My main concern is that you’re completely unrealistic in your dimensions. Media Awareness Network says, “Researchers generating a computer model of a woman with Barbie-doll proportions, for example, found that her back would be too weak to support the weight of her upper body, and her body would be too narrow to contain more than half a liver and a few centimeters of bowel. A real woman built that way would suffer from chronic diarrhea and eventually die from malnutrition.” BARBIE™ IN A MERMAID TALE 2 MERLIAH™ Doll - Shop.Mattel.com

 

Barbie, I imagine you’re familiar with the problem of eating disorders in every advanced nation.  Americans, for example, see over 250,000 ads by the time they’re 17.  Most of them show ultra thin models, which tell girls and women, “To be thin is beautiful, and beauty is almost everything.”

The majority of American girls have played with Barbies fairly often , and this reinforces that thinness is next to godliness.  Yet your unrealistic body type pushes the envelope further, making girls feel less beautiful if they don’t have large chests.  This grieves my heart.  Frankly, Barbie, it makes me angry.  I know you’ve made some improvements over the years, and I’m thankful for your efforts.  For example, your wider waistline is a bit more realistic than the original.  Also I congratulate you on your addition of Barbies of color.  In fact, this architect Barbie helps girls to believe they can chase and pursue their passions.  I believe if we don’t pursue our passions, we wilt and die from the inside out.  So the architect Barbie offers them a great taste of hope.

BARBIE® I CAN BE...™ Architect Doll - Shop.Mattel.comThose are great steps in the right directions.  Even so, Barbie, you’ve had almost 52 years to get it right.  Enough is enough.

So I’m writing to say goodbye, and I’m going to encourage people to stop buying you.  I hope Mattel or another manufacturer designs and sells a doll that is similar, yet has realistic proportions.  I hope you’ll consider resigning if you continue to resist necessary changes.  I wish you the best.

Sincerely,

Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC

Barbie® Designable Hair Bundle - Shop.Mattel.com

“Man looks at outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.”  I Samuel 16:7

 

Body Image and Research: Stop Obsessing!

Featured

How much time do women and teen girls obsess about body image?  “The average woman spends about an hour a day contemplating her size, her calorie intake, and her exercise regimen starting at the age of twelve.” (Research compiled by Courtney E. Martin for her book, Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters:  How the Quest for Perfection Is Harming Young Women.)

Although I’ve worked with women for several years, an hour seemed hard to believe.   I’m sure I‘m not even close. So I’m trying to catch myself each time I think about body image, even for a millisecond.  At first I couldn’t catch myself.  But that evening I attended a meeting of about 100 people.  Many of us had pulled our chairs back about a foot to listen to the speaker more comfortably.  I caught myself comparing my thighs to the woman beside me, which surprised me.  It was very subtle but I have to admit that’s where my mind went.  Hmmm….interesting.

Right now I’m in the lobby of a restaurant waiting for a friend, who called to say she would be late. A woman walked in and I noticed myself subtly sizing up her legs.  Since I was seated next to the door, I saw each person walk in.  Another young woman arrived with a man who was about 5’2”.  It must be hard to be a short man. I hardly even noticed the woman.  Next, a pretty blonde woman walked in, and I saw her belly hanging over the top of her jeans.  As people walked toward their tables, I felt my eyes scanning their bodies from head to foot.  Another part of my brain was actively trying to decide what to eat for lunch, and whether I would indulge, deprive myself, or order something in between.

Am I unconsciously comparing myself to these people? If I was my therapist, I would take the conversation deeper to find out what this was about.  But since I live in a culture where people view 250,000 ads before the age of seventeen, I know what it’s about.  Most of the ads scream, “Beauty is almost everything, and to be thin, flawless, and young is beautiful.”  We are bombarded by a tsunami of such messages, and our natural instinct is to obsess about bodies, food, and working out (for some).  I reminded myself that thankfully, God is concerned much more about my heart than my body.  I will practice the stop sign technique from the last blog entry I wrote because it works well, and will continue to re-focus on positive thoughts.

“Man looks at outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.”  I Samuel 16:7

Body Image: Getting Work Done to Meet the Standard

Featured

I hadn’t seen my friend Rebecca in over a year, and as we sat sipping coffee, I prayed that I wouldn’t stare at her lips, which had quadrupled in size since the last time I saw her.  I could feel my gaze slipping from her eyes onto the pair of pink slugs.

Some people are born with full, beautiful lips.  But not Rebecca.  She always had thin little lipettes until today.  They used to just sit on her face, but now they had their own reality show.  Every so often I had to force my eyes up to meet hers, as mine kept getting hung up on the big shiny blobs that sat where her lips used to reside.  They looked swollen and took up about a third of her face.

Cotton candy colored sparkly lip gloss gave The Lips a larger-than-life look.  I noticed people shielding their eyes from the glare.  Bubble-gum pink lip liner gave The Lips a multi-dimensional reality.   Apparently she had slapped on a jar of Vaseline to finish off the look.  I could not believe that she could talk with all the gunk on her lips.  It was a miracle.  I half expected The Lips to get stuck together, and then I would have to call 911.  I slipped into a daydream…

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

“Emergency Services.  How can I help you?”

Breathing heavily, I gasped for air.  “It’s my friend Rebecca,” I sputtered.

“What’s the problem, ma’am?”

“It’s her lips.”  There.  I managed to get it out.

“Her lips?”

“Yes, that’s right.  Her lips are stuck together, and …”

“Did she accidentally swallow Elmer’s glue?  That happens to a lot of first graders.”

“No, I think she wanted to have voluminous, movie-star lips, and had a lip job, then piled on truckloads of lip gloss, lip liner, and Vaseline to get the fullest look possible.  And now she can’t pry her lips apart.”

“Okay, this is obviously a prank call, and I’m gonna have to report you.”  Click.

“Cherrie, hello, are you listening?”  Rebecca rolled her eyes at me. “For a minute it looked like you were off in your own little world.”

Oops.  I guess she could talk after all.  I could barely track with Rebecca, even though I’m usually present with people nowadays.  I used to be off in my own head during conversations – thinking about what to make for dinner, where to go kayaking, or what color to paint my bathroom.   All the while people thought I was really tracking with them.  Then I went to graduate school where I learned the importance of being present with all people as much as possible.  Actually it’s a great idea, as Jesus was always present.  He wasn’t thinking about what color to paint his bathroom (oh yeah, I just remembered he didn’t have one), or what to build next while he was interacting with people.  Bummer I had to spend $60,000 to find that out. But it was well worth it, and I wouldn’t trade what I learned for all the Sweet Caroline’s truffles in the world.

I figured Rebecca had her lips inflated with collagen or whatever people do to fluff them up.  I admit I have tried to get fuller lips on several occasions using various over-the-counter products.  They worked well and made my lips dazzle.  The problem is it is impossible to eat or drink anything without the globby lip goo getting all over the place.   I couldn’t talk very well either without having the goop slide out the corners of my mouth.  So I could wear the lip fattener as long as I was not going anywhere that I would need to eat, drink, or talk.  My lips would look movie starrish, but I wouldn’t be able to talk!

The other problem I encountered after wearing lip fattener was that the next day I always would wake up with a big zit on the line between my lip and skin.  Ugh.  I usually refer to it as a “cold sore,” but everyone knows it is a lip zit.

Driving home from the coffee shop, I thought about the hundreds of conversations about body image that came up while I counseled women.  No matter why they initially came in, almost all women eventually expressed dissatisfaction with their bodies.  Only a few had issues with their lips, as in Rebecca’s case.  Some of them told of dissatisfaction with their hips or waists.  But many believed that if they attained a certain size or weight, they would finally achieve happiness and most – if not all – of their problems would dissolve.   Some of them exercised until their joints ached every waking moment as well as when they tried to sleep.  They fit our society’s standard of beauty, but their joints ached like a hundred-year-old woman’s from working out hours upon hours for years on end.

Still others had gained lots of weight.  Usually the weight gain started when they endured difficult life situations, and they had been roller coaster dieting for years and never addressing the underlying issues in their hearts that led them to food addiction.  They continued to wonder why they could sometimes lose weight, but could never keep the weight off. They were often shocked as they slowly lost weight during the counseling process.  This often happened even though we hardly ever not talked about food, eating, or exercising.  Instead, we focused on the roots of their issues and why they always went to food as their drug of choice for self-medication.  Issues with weight are much more about the heart than food.  People often try diet after diet after diet, losing weight, then gaining weight, then losing and gaining again until they feel dizzy.  But of course the weight almost never stays off because they are treating the symptoms only and not the underlying issues.

Some of my clients have lost weight and kept it off due to working through the issues of the heart that I am talking about.  I ran into a former client a few years ago at a grocery store, and noticed she had lost a significant amount of weight.  We started talking about it, and she said she had lost about eighty pounds.  I asked her how she did it, and she told me that most of her weight loss came from working on her issues in our counseling sessions.  This happened even though we had rarely devoted counseling time to food or weight issues.  The weight just gradually melted away as she worked the underlying issues which had brought her through the door in the first place.

Some of you may be thinking, “Oh, that’s the answer.  I’ll just go into therapy and work on my issues, then I’ll lose the weight I need to lose.”  While I am glad that some of you are considering this, I would like to tell you this a great start, but at the same time tell you that it will be hard work – something like climbing a mountain.   Some days you will get exhausted and feel as though you are walking in circles, covering the same ground.  Other times the therapy sessions will be exhausting and you will want to call a helicopter to get you off of the blizzardy mountain because it is so grueling.  Those are the times you will drive to Dairy Queen and order a gigantic blizzard, then  pull over to a lonely spot in the parking lot.  You will gorge yourself, shoving in the food as though you had not eaten in a week.  When you finish your last bite, you will feel a flood of shame drowning you in despair.

At this point, instead of giving up, my hope is that you will consider telling your therapist exactly what happened, as well as the fact that you want to pull out of therapy.  Then the two of you can process through the obstacles so you can recalibrate, just like your GPS says.  Notice that when the computer lady from your GPS says, “Recalibrating…” she does not say, “Recalibrating, you idiot!  I can’t believe you loused up yet AGAIN!  What is wrong with you, jerk?!”  She is always firm, yet gentle.  She is never shaming.  What would happen if you could take a lesson from her and be gentle and kind to yourself?

Body Image Stories: My Body Image Story, Part 3

            I never did reach the “magic number” of 105.  But this is probably a good thing because even when I weigh 134 pounds, I have a body fat percentage of 17%.  That is quite low.  In fact, the models in Europe are now required to maintain a body fat percentage of 17% or more.

At different times, depending on my life circumstances, I have varied in body fat percentage.  Like almost all American women, I have felt better about my body when I am at a body fat percentage less than 24% (23-24% is considered the high end of healthy).  I wish I could tell you that this was not the case, but I have been strongly influenced by the tsunami of advertisements that have come across my eyes since the day I was born.  The good thing is that since I love to exercise so much, I have always been pretty fit, even when I have been my heaviest.

I can honestly say that I do not want to be ultra thin.  I don’t think that is beautiful, but see it as a sickness.  And yes, most of the top models, many actresses, and some popular singers are ultra-thin.  (I don’t want to give examples because I don’t want to slander.)  I have always preferred a more fit look, with a degree of muscle tone as opposed to the skinny, bony look.  We have to remember that if a person does not keep her weight at 80% of the ideal, she is anorexic (unless she has a medical condition which causes her low body weight).  But anorexic women almost always deny they are anorexic.  That is the nature of this eating disorder.

Like most of you, my body has varied in body fat percentage depending on many factors.  I am glad to realize that if I weighed 105, I would be anorexic and I have no desire whatsoever to be anorexic.  At various times in my life I have achieved a low body fat percentage, but due to my curvy figure, this brings me a lot of attention that I dislike.  I sincerely believe that I carry about ten to twenty extra pounds to protect myself from this unwanted attention.  But okay, I will also admit that I really enjoy food!  (Friends and family are seeking a 12-step program for my chocolate addiction at this very minute!)

After struggling for years with SLE lupus and ankylosing spondylitis, I have developed a great appreciation for my body.  I remember a whole month when I could not walk at all due to arthritis.  The whole month I spent on the couch.  To use the restroom, I had to roll off the couch and crawl on my knees.  I had steroid injections in my feet and went on methotrexate (a low dose of chemotherapy) so I could walk.  At one point, I moved to Phoenix due to my arthritis.  My heart cried many tears because I had been athletic since I was about seven.  For a while I could hardly use the bathroom myself.  I was 28 years old, didn’t drink much or use drugs, and always treated my body well.  At one point I was nutrition major and ate much better than most people.  So developing two chronic illnesses sent me into emotional shock.

Nowadays I feel extremely blessed that I can move well and walk.  I can’t ski or hike or backpack much anymore, but I am so grateful that the Lord has given me the ability to swim, kayak, and take part in many other fun activities.  My latest passion is water aerobics.  If you thought it was for old ladies and sick people, think again.  Princeton researchers discovered that competent swimmers can burn 420-700 calories an hour doing water aerobic (25% more than land aerobics).  But the real deal is that water aerobics is so fun, I start to get giddy every time I think about it.  And that is what it’s really about, isn’t it?  Not so much the end result as the joy in the journey.

Water Aerobics Class

As the sun sets on my forties, I still struggle with body image bandit but often win the battles.  As far as “getting there,” I realize that will not happen until I go to heaven and live with Jesus because we live in a fallen world.  Part of this fallenness, in America, means that we are saturated with images that scream “To be thin is to be beautiful, and beauty is everything.”  In the meantime, I invite you to join me in the war against the body image bandit, who is the father of lies and tries to get us to believe that we are ugly.  We can do many things to fight the bandit, and I will offer helpful suggestions along the way.  The first is to make a commitment to stop looking at beauty, fashion, and celebrity magazines which poison our minds with people that are so thin, they are actually sick.

I thank God that he has created us all in his image, and that we are all beautiful, unique works of art.  Let’s celebrate this and embrace the bodies the Lord has given us, and thank him for what our bodies can do.

“Man looks at outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.”

I Samuel 16:7

© Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC and Fannies:  Reflections on Cookie Dough, Life, and Your Derriere and Fannies:  Reclaiming the Plunder of the Body Image Bandit, 2007 – 2047. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC and Fannies:  Reflections on Cookie Dough, Life, and Your Derriere with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

My Body Image Story, Part 2: The Magic Number

Featured

About two years after moving to Maui, my family moved back to the Mainland. But the bubbly, outgoing teen that landed back at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport had changed forever. The new version had been ravaged by daily harassment until she grew into a shy, depressed young woman who had only a fraction of the confidence she had two years prior. Stepping out of the plane that blustery November day, we drove to Southcenter first to buy some warm coats. We no longer owned any. All we had were windbreakers, and the Pacific Northwest weather laughed at our flimsy attempts at warmth.

The first days of school are somewhat of a blur. All I wanted was to fit in. I was certain I would be able to find my place in the middle school, and greatly looked forward to belonging, just like in the days before moving to so-called “Paradise.” Belonging is something all people crave, but young teens crave more than other age groups. Our hearts long to be assured that we are connected and loved. I had always been very well-liked, and a leader. So I assumed I would pick up where I had left off.

But I had forgotten one important detail. That is, my skin now glowed with a deep golden bronze tan, and my hair had been painted white-blonde by the paintbrush of the Hawaiian sun. Just as I did not fit in living on Maui as a haole in a school with only a handful of white students, I now did not blend in because of my deep, dark tan and white-blonde hair. Since it was November and tanning salons had not been invented, most people were very pale – kind of like my legs right now, which almost glow in the dark! Also, my body had blossomed and now appeared athletic but full-figured. This sparked interest by the boys, and jealousy in the girls, even though I didn’t want a boyfriend. All I wanted was to fit in like I used to do so well, before we moved to Maui. Thankfully, another girl moved from southern California at about the same time, which took some of the pressure off.

Over time, the tan faded and my hair darkened until it reached “dish blonde” color. (That’s such a weird phrase. I think of after Thanksgiving, when the dish water looks grody and gross, with little food particles water-skiing on top of the muck!) Even so, my soul had been changed forever and now felt heavy and dark. But my entire Maui experience is another book for another time. I have several parts written, but for now it hangs out under my bed with the dust bunnies. Overall, I felt good about my body. I liked the fact that I was strong and able to swim and run. I didn’t worry too much about what to eat until I started looking at a lot of beauty and fashion magazines, such as Seventeen. How could I help but notice the tall, thin models? Not one of them had a curvy figure like mine, and not one was under 5’9. So I decided, for the first time, I needed to lose weight. I was fat, I thought, and baffled because I had never realized it.

I told my dad I was going to go “on a diet,” and he said he thought I didn’t need to. “If you want to lose 5 pounds or so, why don’t you just cut down a little each time you eat?” I could not believe how out-of-the loop he was. I looked at him as if he had three heads, and told him, ”Dad, I have to go on a diet. Nobody just cuts back a little – dieting is how everybody does it.” I sighed at his ignorance on the subject of beauty. He definitely needed to spend more time reading beauty and fashion magazines, and less time working, hunting, and fishing. I wondered if he would ever get a clue. How could he be in his late thirties and be ignorant to one of the best inventions of mankind – dieting?

I decided to start my diet on – drum roll please- Monday. Of course you already knew that, because after all, isn’t that the way the cookie always crumbles? I think there is an unwritten eleventh commandment, “You shall start all diets on Mondays.” But as soon as I began to even think about my first diet, I started to crave almost everything. Except Brussels sprouts. Food, food, food was on my mind what seemed like 24/7. I craved chocolate, chips, hamburgers, donuts, and even white cake. And the weird thing is that I had never really liked donuts or white cake much. So why was I craving it? Because as soon as I limited the foods and categorized them into “good” and “bad,” the cravings began. And that is how I started a cycle of going on and off diets, throwing my poor body into a tailspin. (Years later I realized that God doesn’t even categorize foods as good and bad. So if he doesn’t, why should I?)

During high school, my family moved once again (we moved about every two years, so I never had the chance to establish roots)and I became good friends with Diane. She had a lot of friends and had been elected ASB president. Diane was athletic and brilliant, but she continued to get gnawed on by the Body Image Bandit because her brother and sister were models. Not long after we met, she did some number crunching and informed me that I should weigh 105, based on a chart she had discovered in one of her beauty and fashion magazines. Because I had been brainwashed by the fashion and beauty magazines, I believed she was right. And so I hyper focused on food, fat, and my fanny. Day in and day out, I thought, read, and studied about food, calories, and how to look good. I started to believe that my value was mostly in my packaging, and based my value on whether or not I could weigh 105. I had a new formula for a perfect life- 105. The magic number.

© Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC and Fannies:  Reflections on Cookie Dough, Life, and Your Derriere and Fannies:  Reclaiming the Plunder of the Body Image Bandit, 2007 – 2047. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC and Fannies:  Reflections on Cookie Dough, Life, and Your Derriere with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.