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Episode 80: Lessons Learned From More Than a Body

 In podcast

Welcome back to the show! I’m bringing you a good one today! As you know every tenth episode I share a book, teacher, something that has inspired me in deeply impactful ways so that you can go be inspired by them also and today  I’m bringing you one that will no doubt have you shifting your views about yourself, how you look at others, and the media that you take in.

We live in a culture that’s obsessed with our bodies. The beauty and dieting industry is a multi-billion dollar mammoth and it’s all centered on you not being satisfied with your body. Got a wrinkle? Try this cream, this lotion, this procedure. Eat to your body type – here’s a diet that specifically caters to your pear shape. Want toned abs? Take this supplement, try this workout, use this product! 

And this all goes well beyond creams, diets, and make-up. There’s clothing lines that market solely to you in the name of beauty. Shape-wear, slimming jeans, chest enhancing, hip reducing, leg-lengthening – it’s just endless and we’re surrounded by it day in and day out – all day long, every day.

The main message is clear: Who you are and what you look like is not enough and you need us (the beauty industry) to fix it for you.

Everyone has certain aspects or areas of their bodies they’re not satisfied with and we all have this belief that if we could just fix, trim, tone this section we’d feel differently, we’d feel attractive or worthy even. I remember for me for years I hated seeing full-body pictures of myself because I always believed I had big hips and thighs. I’m a total pear shape and so I’d carefully crop myself at the waist and I just believed that if I could just trim that area then I’d like my body because then I’d be beautiful.

And I spent years hating my figure, hating my body, thinking about it all the time, obsessing over what I ate, how much I exercised, what I thought my body looked like, what clothes I wore, what activities I’d allow myself to participate in – or not in all in the name of beauty – or more specifically that I didn’t feel beautiful because I had that terrible flaw. 

And that’s what I love so much about this book and about their non-profit organization, Beauty Redefined. These two warriors, Lindsay and Lexie Kite are Authors, twins, and PhD’s and they’re on a mission to change the way we see and define beauty. Their message is clear, that we are MORE THAN A BODY.

In their book they write, “Girls learn the most important thing about themselves is how they look. Boys learn the most important thing about girls is how they look. Girls look at themselves. Boys look at girls. Girls are held responsible for boys looking. Girls change how they look. Boys keep looking. The problem isn’t how girls look. The problem is how everyone looks at girls. Solve the problem by teaching everyone that girls don’t exist to be looked at.”

So let me start by asking you a question and this is one that they asked countless women and girls too, how do you feel about your body?

Just pause this podcast for a moment to answer that.

How do you feel about your body?

What they found is that most people interpreted that question to mean, “what do you most fear someone will see when they look at you? Or What do you love for people to see when they look at you?”

They noted that people commented how they looked, what areas they liked, what areas of their bodies they didn’t like, what they needed to work on, what they were currently working on but the main premise was always there – 

How do you feel about your body was really to mean, what do you see about your body?

This is a form of self-objectification. Which they write, “Self-objectification occurs when we learn to view our own bodies from an outside perspective – as an onlooker would…“I look fat” vs “I feel …” or “I have …””

We have been programmed, taught, shown that women are bodies first and people second and that includes ourselves. When you look in the mirror what do you see? 

You know what’s so interesting? My kids, I remember a few years ago I was checking out at the grocery store and I had my two littles with me – they were both under the age of 10 at the time and up at the front of the store there’s a window of 2-way glass – probably for the store manager and they were bored so they walked up to it and were both making the grossest, weirdest faces they could just laughing at themselves and finding amusement and entertainment in themselves and in their reflection and for a split second I caught a glimpse of my own reflection and without thought, just very automatic I fixed my posture, I was casually leaning on the stand and stood up straight and fixed my sweater and just did these tiny tweaks before I even realized what I was doing.

When they looked in the mirror, they saw someone they loved, someone to have fun with and as an adult I looked in the mirror and saw someone that needed fixing.

I remember reading an article years ago from National Geographic I believe that said that humans are the only animal that looks at themselves in the mirror with disgust. Other animals like dolphins are self-aware and they love looking at themselves in the mirror, they love seeing their reflection but humans are the only creatures that see themselves and frown.

This is because we’ve been socialized, taught, advertised to, and fed these objectifying views for our entire lives. There is something better than beauty. The Kite sisters teach that better than beauty, more than a body, is the ability to achieve peace with our bodies.

I love that their focus is on more. We are MORE than a body, MORE than beautiful, MORE than a body to be looked at, MORE than a figure that needs fixing.

There’s a danger among many that happens when we start to adopt this self-objectifying view of ourselves. They teach that we divide ourselves into two beings. The whole embodied human and the self-objectified body.

They write, “When we are self-objectifying, our identities are split in two: The one living her life and the one watching and judging her. We become an onlooker to ourselves, monitoring how we look rather than how we are feeling. We learn that the most important thing about women is their bodies, and the most important thing about women’s bodies is how they look.” 

They talk about how we’ve been taught to see ourselves as a disembodied version of ourselves and how we’re split in two. They say, “Watch as you catch yourself every time you slip away to picture how you look instead of just living.

You go from wondering what that stranger walking past you thinks of you to realizing what you’re doing and coming back inside your own body because you do NOT need to care what strangers might be thinking when they look at you. You now catch yourself staring at your own face on that Zoom call and you call yourself back home by hiding the view of your face or focusing your attention on the words being said. You’ll probably never totally stop the urge to slip away from yourself and monitor your body from an outsider’s perspective, but now you can name it, call it out, and choose a new response that serves YOU, not every potential onlooker!”

This self-objectification starts at such a young age and is targeted to our smallest of smalls. Think back at the difference between male and female cartoon animal characters. These female characters are introduced as curvy, long-lashed, hip-swinging, tinted cheeks, and red-lipped characters – all catching the male eye. 

Remember the movie, Bambi with the skunk that catches Thumper’s eye and he becomes all “twitterpated”? And so from a young age, we start to form this idea and belief that women need to look a certain way, act a certain way, and be a certain way for them to be attractive and desirable. 

And what’s so interesting about that is in nature it’s typically the male species that is the more colorful, attractive, and noticeable right? Think of a peacock – it’s the male that has the beautiful colorful feathers. It’s the male lion that has the gorgeous mane, the male birds that have more vibrant colors, right?

And this objectifying behavior goes beyond just looking at bodies but more so that only a certain type of body is acceptable and desirable. This wasn’t in their book but I remember reading one of their discussion posts where they pointed out female Disney characters and this is an interesting exercise so try this with me. Can you name 10 Disney Princesses? Pause this and see if you can do it.

Got your ten? Now, can you name 10 women in your life? Friends, family, co-workers, your neighbors, people from church – got your ten?

Now picture this, can those 10 Disney Princesses all share clothes? Ariel – when she’s on land, Belle, Cinderella, Mulan, Aurora – They could easily all swap dresses and clothes and be totally fine, right?

Now out of the ten real women, how many of them could share clothes? Chances are not many, right?

Because that’s real-life versus the tiny narrow mold that society likes to target and the tiny narrow version of what so many of us are trying to achieve.

You can start to recognize these harmful messages – notice when the camera does this angle that emphasizes on specific body features – and then reject these. Make a point either just in your head or our loud to whomever you’re with that this isn’t normal, this isn’t okay. 

From there you can then redefine what is beautiful, what is normal, what is acceptable and okay and then from there they teach that you can resist these harmful messages.

We can’t change what we’re not aware of and we need to be aware of the messages that we’re consuming either consciously or subconsciously. Each time we go to the checkout aisle and see the montage of magazine headlines that are centered on weight, size, body enhancement we’re soaking in messages. 

Every time you scroll through your social media apps and there’s an advertisement for shape, body size, beauty techniques, or slimming clothing we’re being taught to believe a certain message.

We need to be aware so that we can not only recognize these unhelpful messages when they come because you can’t change when you’re not aware of.

They write, “From head to toe, we have been trained to understand every part of our bodies as a potential problem to be solved, regardless of how common, natural, and unproblematic each ‘problem area’ really is. None of those supposed flaws would be of concern if we valued those parts of our bodies for the function they serve and how we experience them from inside ourselves. All of those supposed flaws and the pressure we feel to fix them are purely the result of evaluation our bodies (and being evaluated) based on how we appear.”

The solution then? Change we what we make these circumstances mean about us. Remember, your body is a circumstance – which makes neutral – it’s not good or bad, thin or fat, ugly, or beautiful until you decide it is. So be aware of what you’re allowing it to mean about you. 

Naomi Wolf says, “While cannot directly affect the images, we can drain them of their power. We can turn away from them, look directly at one another….We can lift ourselves and other women out of the myth.”

And while it’s easy to point our finger at the multibillion-dollar behemoth and blame the advertising company for these harmful messages, they’re not the only one to blame anymore. The problem today isn’t that we’re just consumers of these messages but we’re also creators and participants of these perpetual unhealthy ideas. Social media is a huge contributor to these messages. 

How many times have you seen or even posted an image talking about your appearance? How many before and afters have you seen where the before was meant to be “less than” – either heavier, not as attractive, not as fit, not as something and then the after which shows someone in more lighting for starters, slimming angles, trimmer waistlines, bigger smiles, and depicting an overall transformation because their appearance changed.

I saw one just recently from an acquaintance who posted a before and after of their weight loss and in the after they always comment that they look happier, they feel better than they ever have before, that this was the answer they’ve been looking for their whole life and so many of the comments below were asking, “how’d you do it?! You look amazing! You’re so incredible” and the like. 

These messages are harmful and we don’t even realize it because we’re so indoctrinated by it. The Kites write, 

“What is most frightening to us is the idea of putting their best face forward, which really means putting a different face forward. And changing their faces to fit ideals they’ve been trained to perceive as the best. But let’s be real, this is not about an individual’s best – this is about the beauty industry’s best-selling ideals. This is a dangerous, expensive, painful, and ultimately ineffective way to reduce body shame or keep your body image afloat. Selfies aren’t inherently wrong…Rather, they are a clear manifestation of exactly what we have been taught to be our entire lives: images to be looked at. Carefully posed, styled, and edited images of otherwise dynamic human beings for others to gave upon, evaluate, and like or comment on. They’re not just images you take of yourself for yourself to see; l they are the images you take off yourself for others to see….And what have girls and women been taught from day one brings them the most value? Looking good. Not being smart or funny or kind or talented. Mostly just looking hot.” (p.121)

And this then introduces what they define as the “selfie-objectification” – where WE are the ones that put ourselves as an object to be viewed and categorized. 

They organize this selfie-objectification in three stages:

1.) Capture and scrutinize – where it’s not about seeing and moving on or forgetting like you would just passing by a mirror or your reflection – the selfies are there to stay to see again and again and to scrutinize, again and again, imagining how others are seeing your face.

2.) Ranking, editing, and selecting a winner – where we choose “the best” image of ourselves and then edit it through the many abundance photo editing options at our disposal, “enhancing” our looks by taking out a wrinkle here, a blemish there.

They write, “We almost never get to see female reality in mainstream media, and those unreal ideals result in the pressure we feel to alter our images to look more like the normalize cartoonish ‘perfection’ we see everywhere else, subsequently perpetuating the unreality on social media”

And then stage 3: Sharing and monitoring where after we’ve posted the “winning shot” we then monitor how others see and respond to our images in likes, comments and then compare those to others likes and comments on their feeds.

They ask, “What happens when the number of likes isn’t to her liking? Or the comments are critical or there are no comments? What happens to her self-worth then? When that self-worth is largely based on others’ perceptions of her appearance, and others don’t seem to be appreciating it as hoped, her entire self-worth suffers. Here’s the bottom line: self-objectification is a serious threat to your ability to see more in yourself – who you really are and what you’re really capable of as a human, not as a body to be admired.”

Think about the angles in which you take your pictures, the types of pictures you allow to be posted, are they edited, enhanced, cropped, altered, adjusted, edited?

Think about your social media experience and what happens when all you see are edited, enhanced, carefully cropped and curated images of people’s lives?

It invites the compare and despair game and it’s damaging to your self-esteem and your ability to create self-confidence. 

I love what the Kites say about this, they write, “Research shows that women not only feel worse about their bodies after comparing them to others’ but also feel less connection and unity toward the women they’re measuring themselves against. If everyone is a competitor, no one is really on your team…We want people to feel good about themselves, including about their appearance. But what we really want people to know is: Regardless of how you look, or how you think you look, you can feel good about yourself because you are not your appearance! Your beauty is not your life’s work.”

What’s so fascinating here is that we need connection. It’s the single main contributor to your longevity and life expectancy, more than your diet, exercise, or other factors and we lose that connection, those bonds when we practice and support even unknowingly support objectification.

Remember, “If everyone is a competitor then no one is really on your team.”

And what a bleak and lonely reality. But even just being aware of this we can start to change it and to create unity, connection, and compassion for ourselves and others.

We can go from divided to united. They write, 

“ Imagine the collective weight we could lift off of each others’ shoulders if we could learn to see more in everyone around us and treat them accordingly. We could have more genuine, fulfilling relationships as we bond over more than the way we appear. We could build new friendships…as we go beyond the surface. We could collectively strengthen each other against the objectifying messages that permeate our lives and reduce the ways we dehumanize each other by valuing bodies over all else. We could develop greater compassion and empathy for each other as allies instead of competitors…When we are able to see more in each other, we can unite instead of divide.” (p.165)

I imagine that would be an incredible world, where we would thrive and be able to accomplish the most amazing things because together we are stronger and unbreakable. I wish I could just read the whole book to you but I want you to dive in and have your own experience and mind-blowing moments but I will share one way that we can start to create this kind of culture and life for us here are now. It’s something that you’re all too familiar with and it’s an easy thing to start with so they suggest being mindful of the compliments you share and give to others.

I remember years ago, like when I was in young women’s one of the leaders suggested that we give a compliment to someone each time we went out. It was an easy challenge and people love complements so win-win, right? But most of our compliments are beauty and appearance-based and no matter how well-intended these kinds of comments can be damaging and do more harm than good. So they suggest offering what they call, “better than body compliments”

They write, “Body compliments are often friendly and well-intended but they often reflect exactly what we have been taught to value in ourselves and others: smallness, thinness, youth, and all the other narrow ideals about beauty…if you give looks-based comments the power to build people up, you reinforce their power to tear people down. Continuing to focus on someone’s looks – even in positive ways – uses the same framework and logic that makes appearance-based insults so lethal. The truth is, when we stop giving beauty the power to make us, we take away its power to break us. To help a girl’s self-worth and help her build resilience for future beauty-related disappointments, teach her she is more than beautiful…Tell her who she really is – generous, observant, smart, loving, curious, energetic, creative, articulate, compassionate, talented. Compliment her in ways that remind her she is more…instead of telling her, “You look amazing!” Tell her, “You ARE amazing!”

These kinds of compliments require more intentionality and creativity because it’s forcing us to look beyond the shallow waters of objectification and what the media and beauty industry tell us to look for. They’ve given us cookie-cutter compliments and ideals and we aren’t meant to fit that narrow mold. I love that we’re so diverse. That bodies are diverse and different.

I challenge you just to start noticing when you’re out and about and seeing real people – look at the vast variety of real bodies. We’re all different and we’re supposed to be and I love that we are. That’s what’s normal. That’s what’s beautiful. 

I’m all for health, for exercising, for wearing make-up and highlighting your hair but do it if you want to and because you want to not because you think you have to or that you’ll look better and thus meaning BE BETTER when you do. 

Edit your photos because it’s fun and you want to not because you think the edited version is more acceptable and desirable.

Share your photos on social media because you want to and not because you’re looking for a quick validation/dopamine hit. Live your life the way you want to because you want to and not because of some narrow-minded, objectifying beauty ideals and rules.

Be more generous in your views of other people. When you notice not if but when you notice yourself judging, scrutinizing, comparing, or criticizing others pause and challenge yourself to dig in deeper. 

Why did that thought enter my brain?

Why did my brain think that was necessary or important?

Where did I learn that thought or idea?

Does it spark joy for me?

How does believing that thought make me feel?

Does that thought divide or invite inclusivity?

Do I like that thought?

Do I like how that thought feels?

Does it help me see them as more than a body?

You’ll be amazed at what happens when you start just simply letting yourself be curious and ask questions. Curiosity leads to compassion and compassion always, always, always leads to love. Which is what we want most and what helps us show up as our truest selves.

Go buy the book. Download it on audible. I have both – I loved hearing them read it to me – the authors read their own book and I think it adds so much to the experience but then buy the hardcopy so you can highlight, mark, take notes, and bookmark chapters that are especially meaningful to you.

Confidence is so tied to our appearance because of the messages we’ve been taught from the get-go so it’s no wonder that so many of the women and men that I work with struggle with their appearance and struggle to feel a sense of self-worth. It’s why so many of their goals are centered on some aspect of beauty and appearance. And it’s why I gladly spend so much time helping others see and learn or remember, I should say that they are so much more than just a body to be looked at.

One last thought from the incredible Kite sisters, “What do you actually lose by opting out of our objectifying culture, even in small ways? Maybe taking a break from trying to reach those body ideals isn’t the worst thing. Maybe weighing more than than you do now or having a different chest than you did before you had children or showing your age or skipping the eyelash extensions or hair removal wouldn’t actually decrease your quality of life. Especially if your income or employment won’t be jeopardized by potential weight gain, a face that shows lines and expressions, or hair that isn’t expensively and time consumingly colored, treated, and styled…For those who could without a doubt survive and maybe even thrive without all the buy-in to every beauty ideal, what do you have to lose? And what do you have to gain in its place? We want to propose that the things you fear about not living up to every beauty expectation are not as scary as you’ve been taught…There is freedom on the other side.”

Okay all, again, I can’t recommend this one more highly enough. It’s more than eye-opening. It’s an opportunity for you to experience a level of freedom in your life that will have you savoring this mortal experience in ways that you just can’t even fathom yet because we’re expending so much of our mental energy trying to be thin, trying to be more attractive, trying to be who we think others want us to be.

We can learn to see past these self-objectifying views. We can more intentional about what we let in and what we also contribute into society. We can help invite, encourage, and uplift others as we dive in deeper to see them as more than bodies and to share what virtues we see in them and appreciate about them.

Detox your media, question your thoughts, fill your mind with carefully curated content – is it uplifting? Is it virtuous? Is it praiseworthy? If so, seek after those things. Buy the book! More than a body by the Kite sisters.  You won’t regret it! Talk to you all next week!

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