Last week I shared my story of learning to love my body. This week, I’m sharing inspiration for practicing self love and changing the expectations for the next generation.
My earliest messages about body image started at home. Dove’s Legacy campaign (video below) posts similar findings. When moms and daughters were asked what they liked and disliked about themselves, their responses were eerily similar.
As one mom realized, “Self-worth and beauty are an echo. [The messages] can echo from us to [our daughters], and from them to others.”
Our body image issues are not all originating at home, however. Throughout American society, girls are taught that their physical appearance equates to or reflects their worth. Many of these messages are propagated by the media, as discussed in the documentary Miss Representation (extended trailer below, full documentary on Netflix):
Also watch Jes Baker‘s Tedx talk about the social impact of body image and how to take back your power:
Whether you’re a size 2 or 24, hating your body will never serve you. Negative thoughts never create a positive experience. So, embrace your body, own it, even when you want to make some changes to feel healthier. You are who you are now. Accept it.
Lest you’re beginning to think otherwise, women and girls aren’t the only ones receiving negative messages about themselves and their value. Boys and men are treated to these kinds of mind trips, too. From a young age, boys are taught that they must “man up” and never cry or show weakness. Men are taught that, to have value, they must be a provider.
That’s why I’m excited to see the next documentary from the Miss Representation team, The Mask You Live In (previewed below). Coming soon to a home or school near you.
The human experience is interesting, isn’t it. If you look around, you might think none of us are really doing it right. But we can—beginning with loving ourselves and following our dreams to a life that feels personally fulfilling.
Think about all the kids who need role models to be their best selves as well: boys or girls, Caucasian or African American or Asian or Latino, of humble or wealthy origins, of Christian, Muslim, or non-religious upbringing. You can be that. Starting now.
It’s the month of Valentines. The winter holidays have come and gone, New Year’s resolutions may already be history, but love is in the air. Isn’t it time to love yourself as much as you do others?
I hated my body for much of my life. From a young age, I understood that I’d inherited the “thunder thighs” my Mom complained of having. As for my peers, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to see that my body shape would never match their thin, coltish frames.
Over the years, regular ballet classes increased my musculature and my hips and bust expanded to create a solid, hourglass frame. Unfortunately, these changes drew only negative attention. Men too old for me wanted to chat and boys my own age thought I was fat.
Truth be told, I agreed with the latter and was unsurprised when the school heartthrob started “moo”ing at me and making earth-shaking noises as I walked by in middle school. Yes, like a Godzilla-sized heifer. Nice, right?
Back in those days it was clear that I didn’t meet the standard of female beauty. As I looked around, I saw sleek physiques, graceful curves, and perky, petite breasts. Magazines with their images of airbrushed perfection certainly didn’t help matters.
Well, as we all know now and I learned firsthand working briefly as an assistant in Hollywood, stars are often retouched beyond recognition. It was quite the eye opener to see before-and-after photos with red mark-ups like “fix under eye circles,” “slim thighs,” and “cellulite!!!” That was in the early 2000s before everyone started talking about Photoshop fails.
Still, being sturdy in L.A., land of pocket-sized waifs, didn’t do anything for my self-esteem. I remained self-conscious about my body throughout my 20s. My happiest point during that period came after ending a six-year relationship when I visited the gym almost daily for the endorphin rush and slimmed down to a size 8.
Then, one day, I decided I wasn’t competing anymore. What others thought about my appearance no longer mattered. I had to accept the facts: I would never be a 5’2″, 100-pound starlet and, frankly, I didn’t aspire to be. Secretly, I’d always wished to be 5’10”, but that wasn’t in the cards either. I was stuck with what my mama gave me and I could either learn to live with it or continue castigating myself.
Since then, I’ve done a lot of work to repair my self-esteem. I started reading books by Louise Hay to learn to love myself as I am, body and all. I began consciously listening to praise to counteract the criticism so ingrained in my mind. And I stopped obsessively looking in the mirror for flaws. This is the appearance I have in this lifetime. I can tweak it through diet and exercise, or make-up, but there are some things I must accept:
My weight may never go below 160 pounds again. I’m a solid size 10, edging into a 12 at times. And my husband’s idea of praising my form is (of course!) to call it sturdy, which is apparently a desirable trait to someone who is 6’4″, 200 pounds, and accustomed to squashing womankind’s delicate flowers.
All of that is fine by me.
If you still have work to do on body love:
Remember: You are one of a kind, made from the same magnificent materials as stardust, oceans, and skyscrapers—and equal to all other beings on this planet.
Try some mirror work. Louise Hay suggests that you look at yourself in the mirror each day, call yourself by name, and say, “I love you.” Sure it feels ridiculous but if it helps, it helps.
Train your eye to look for your beauty instead of your flaws, and revise your inner monologue. When you hear yourself thinking something like, “I’m so fat, look at those arms,” find something to praise about yourself instead. How about: “Yeah, but my hair is awesome.” — or — “I look hot in this dress.” — or — “I love my feet. They’re a perfect size [whatever].”
Close your eyes and touch yourself. Ok, get your mind out of the gutter, people. Close your eyes and touch your arms, your thighs, your belly. Feel how warm and smooth you are. Let your hands appreciate your beauty until your eyes can get with the program.
Steal some positivity from Meghan Trainor and sing, “Every inch of you is perfect, from the bottom to the top,” preferably while dancing in front of the mirror. Naked.
What are your body love secrets? Do you have any to add to mine?
Last week, when I shared limitations of “following the ease,” I left something out. I didn’t want to confuse the issue at the time, but it would be unfair to ignore why I personally don’t want to “follow the ease” and that’s mindset. Let me explain.
When it comes to intelligence, I’ve always believed that we have a certain allocation and that’s that. Luckily, I seemed to do pretty well with what I had. As a child, I was frequently praised for being smart and invited into the gifted program. By high school, I equated expending effort with having less intelligence. If something came easily to me, I felt validated and kept exploring it. If something was hard, I took it as a sign that course of action wasn’t for me.
I’ve realized recently, thanks to Stanford psychology professor and author Carol Dweck, PhD, that I had a fixed mindset (at least where intellect is concerned). In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dweck explains: “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits.” If this resonates with you, you can test your mindset at Dweck’s website.
The alternative to a fixed mindset is one of growth. “In a growth mindset,” Dweck outlines, “people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point.”
In recent years, having a fixed mindset caught up with me. And the assertion that I should follow the ease didn’t help.
When I moved my successful photography business—one that had been fairly easy to launch—from Virginia to California and things no longer came so easily, I wondered what had changed. Was the Universe telling me something? Was I on the wrong path? Was I manifesting challenges because my heart was no longer in it? Or was I not trying hard enough?
It’s that last question that gave me pause.
Remember, I equated effort with being less able. I’d grown accustomed to not applying myself. As embarrassing as I find this to admit, apparently it is fairly common.
According to Dweck, “Malcolm Gladwell, the author and New Yorker writer, has suggested that as a society we value natural, effortless accomplishment over achievement through effort. We endow our heroes with superhuman abilities that led them inevitably toward their greatness.”
Now, the way I see it, if I continue along my current path, I could live my entire life without reaching my full potential. That doesn’t sound like such a good idea to me.
The good news is, “mindsets are just beliefs. They’re powerful beliefs, but they’re just something in your mind, and you can change your mind.”
I may have been born with a fixed mindset—or my upbringing may have helped to evolve one, I don’t know—but it is my choice whether I want to stick with it or cultivate a growth mindset instead.
I’m going to have to go with change. In the growth mindset, struggles don’t define you. They are a step along the path and signify that you need to try harder and learn more.
Thus I can’t follow the ease. Doing so is too close to my natural inclination to stop trying at any sign of resistance. It’s time to internalize that I am not diminished by effort—that, in fact, success stems from effort—and that I must apply myself when something really matters.
As Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, a violinist and child prodigy who once struggled with fixed mindset, said, “This is something I know for a fact: You have to work hardest for the things you love most.” Ok, Nadja, let’s do this.
Who’s with me?
P.S. This is my second read through Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset. I’m learning a lot and it’s not all fixed mindsets.
Someone encouraged me to “follow the ease” a few years back. I don’t remember who but it was something I took to heart. I’ve been trying to figure out what it meant and how to apply it to my life ever since. But, after much consideration and analysis, I’ve come to the conclusion that I disagree with the idea completely. Here’s why.
What does it mean to follow the ease?
Ease can be a noun or verb depending on usage and, in the case above, I see a noun. Therefore, here’s the definition straight from Google:
1. freedom from labor, pain, or physical annoyance; tranquil rest; comfort: to enjoy one’s ease.
2. freedom from concern, anxiety, or solicitude; a quiet state of mind.
Thus, I take “follow the ease” to mean that you should go where you’re free from labor or pain, both physical and mental. To trust what comes easily. To follow the path of least resistance.
To make sure I was getting the concept, I asked some friends what “follow the ease” meant to them. One told me it meant that you should “act from a place of peace.” Another said to “go with the flow.” Still another suggested that ease was more of a mindset whereby you strive to be at ease with yourself despite what’s going on in your life.
And one last posted a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson as explanation: “You are like a ship in a river; you run against obstructions on every side but one; on that side all obstruction is taken away and you sweep serenely over God’s depths into infinite sea.”
Ok, have we got a handle on what it means to follow the ease? I don’t know about you but I’m taking the message pretty literally: To follow the path of least resistance.
Why following the ease is limiting
Many things in my life have come easily. School was easy and, frankly, so was college. Starting my photography business was easy. But moving my business to California wasn’t easy. Neither was launching Art Aligned. Doors didn’t open naturally as if I was drifting down a river of rightness.
Does that mean I was on the wrong path? Maybe. Or maybe it means I wasn’t applying myself, that I didn’t try hard enough.
Was the Universe trying to tell me something? That it was a bad time for my offerings or perhaps that my heart was no longer in what I was doing and I should stop?
These are all questions I’ve asked myself to better understand this “follow the ease” concept.
You might say that I’m misinterpreting, that it really means to follow your interests or to allow life to unfold on its own schedule. Well, if that’s true, then I think ease is a misnomer.
Perhaps by “follow the ease,” what people really mean is follow your passions. Or find your flow, the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter, as defined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
I agree with both of the latter. I wholeheartedly believe that we’ll live our happiest, most authentic lives by finding something that we love to do and doing it as often as we can. But—and here’s the real rub with this ease concept—you still have to work for it. Not every day is going to be a picnic and boat ride.
By taking the idea of “follow the ease” literally, I could simply make a wish and sit around all day watching tv, waiting for it to come true. That’s too passive, too easy, and likely not to result in my deepest wishes or goals coming true.
So I say to heck with following the ease. Try this instead:
Agree, disagree, or think I’m being overly semantic? Tell me why in the comments.
This month’s inFocus interview is with artist and changemaker Kira Corser. Kira is an award-winning photographic artist, writer, and video-producer with over 26 years’ experience, including 8 years teaching at California State University Monterey Bay, specializing in Service Learning courses and community arts.
She has a Master of Fine Arts Degree and a BS in Journalism. Her nationally traveled collaborative exhibitions, along with 3 books and 9 videos, have been supported in part by many foundations and awards. Her photography has shown in major museums, including the Smithsonian and the Museum of Photographic Art, as well as in many state capitals and the U.S. Senate and Congress Buildings.
Kira, tell me a little bit about yourself and your work.
I am an artist who believes that art is a voice for social justice, for building community strength, for healing and education.
What brought you to combine art and social justice in your work?
I think I always have been a person who believes in social justice; maybe because my parents were active in the Democratic Party, my mother was a social worker and my father an English professor. I grew up in a small town in Georgia, and saw prejudice in my daily life with neighborhood and school segregation. I used to get in trouble because I would stop and play with African American kids on my way home from school.
In 1984, I got my undergraduate degree in Photojournalism and produced the first of four nationally traveled collaborations with poet Frances Payne Adler. That exhibition and book was called Home Street Home, and included stories, poems, photographs, and statistics. That work helped legislation pass in Sacramento, hung in the Cannon Congress Building in Washington DC, in the Arizona state capital, and in Los Angeles was part of the Comic Relief HBO broadcast with Whoopi Goldberg and Robin Williams. The goal was to help people who were homeless.
President Clinton in a national CNN Broadcast, Oct. 1993. Ten of Corser’s photographs, from the exhibition “A Matriot’s Dream: Health Care for All,” were enlarged and used on the set with the President, as well as the exhibition showing in the Rotunda of Congress.
What is it about art that helps people absorb such transformative and important messages?
I have seen my art stop legislators long enough to open their hearts and hear the roots of a problem, I have heard stories from people who have felt emotionally moved enough to try change, to help others less fortunate, to keep living despite depression or family illness. Thousands have read and experienced my art as my collaborative exhibitions were shown in 19 states, many state capitals, national conferences, universities, galleries, and museums.
I think the average person and many artists don’t understand the power of art or perhaps HOW to structure a supportive collection of elements that, when combined with art, have the power to change. This is why all of next year I will be working on four small eBooks about Creating Effective Art for Changemakers that will include lesson plans, videos, and templates.
Children participating in a workshop by Kira Corser to promote nonviolent resolutions to gangs, bullying, and domestic violence, as part of First Night Monterey Artworks.
What do you think is the most important skill to be a successful artist or changemaker?
I think persistence, patience, and the belief in the power of collaboration and partnerships are more important than artistic talent. But artistic presentation has a major part in how the audience accepts the message you want to voice.
If the technical skill of the artist makes the work beautiful, then the eye and the heart of the observer work together to create caring. No change takes place without someone who cares enough to listen.
In my exhibitions, I often print large—sometimes 30″ x 40″—on silver gelatin paper that was toned or more recently hand-painted color prints on watercolor paper, matted and framed with the words so each piece tells a story with beauty and pathos. These skills are difficult for many artists because the ego, or ideals, of personalities often are challenging.
You’re working on a couple of big projects right now, Sea Changes and Art Is the Next Peace: Connecting Communities. Tell me about them. What is the expected outcome from each and how can people get involved, if they want to?
Sea Changes is a project that started in San Diego and we are growing statewide and internationally. On New Years Eve this year, we projected Save the Earth and Ocean messages and imagery on the front of the Monterey Conference Center for thousands who attended First Night Monterey. We welcomed visitors to experience the Virtual Undersea Experience, Ocean Creature Shadow Puppets, and much more.
People can contact us, the seven scientists and artists who have been collaborating on this project for the past three years, via our website www.seachanges.org and Facebook page.
The other project is titled Art is the Next Peace: Connecting Communities. I have been working on it for eight years, since my partner was murdered and gangs threatened the lives of kids in Salinas where I was living. This project has a website, www.artconnectingcommunties.org, and Facebook page so people can share what they feel and what they are doing to promote peace and justice.
I will be in Atlanta in January and February of this year, and in Washington DC with that project later in 2015. The work includes One Billion Rising for Justice Atlanta, the Martin Luther King Center, the Carter Center, the International Child Art Festival, and schools in El Cajon with Iraqi refugee children.