Body Image In Society and the Arts

Written by: April Vargo


Bathing suit season is slowly creeping its way into our lives.  For many people this leaves a feeling of being absolutely terrified and just plain uncomfortable,  You start looking at your body in a new way, I'm going to have to show this bad boy off if I want to be in the water at all.  Do I want to be in the water?  Maybe I'll just stay on land and dip my feet in.  I'll get ready next year. 

It's a frightening concept, we are going to be in a suit that leaves us practically naked for everyone to see all the slight dimples, imperfections, and little rolls we work so hard to disguise the rest of the year.  It's unnerving.  Why?  

Partially because we know how judgmental others can be.  Turn on the tv, pick up a magazine, or scroll through social media.  The images people are inundated with on a daily basis are of a very athletic, trim build, slight curves, large boobs, and that envied thigh gap.  As this ideal specimen runs through the water her skin is perfect, no blemishes, mouth usually half open, and the bathing suit is just an accessory to a perfect body. 

People are so conditioned to believe that this is perfect that they take it upon themselves to criticize those who don't look like her.  People take to social media calling others fat, anorexic, gross, etc.  Some will actually take pictures while they are out and about post them with terribly hurtful hashtags.  

It's no wonder that others feel uncomfortable with their bodies whether they are covered or not.  Someone is always watching, judging, and commenting.  Quite frankly, those that normally leave comments are the last people on earth who should ever be talking - but that's neither here nor there.   

This was part of a conversation that I had with one of my group classes a couple of weeks ago.  This class happens to have all females, so this is solely from the female perspective.  We started talking about how size matters when you're trying to get roles in theatre, movies, or performance gigs. 

It's understood that if you are playing a particular person, you want to be true to who they are, so sometimes size is crucial.  However, if it's not an exact person, but left more up to interpretation, then it's more the vision of the director and what they feel will best suit their show. 

My students felt part of the problem is that people feel uncomfortable watching someone who is deemed "too big" or even "too skinny."  In order to get cast or to get gigs there's a lot of pressure to look a certain way.  Teens are feeling this to a large degree.  

They truly didn't understand what makes people so uncomfortable seeing real women performing.  Why is it such an issue for viewers, why can't all bodies be celebrated and individuals be selected based on their talents? 

Adele, who no one would argue has an incredible talent, has constant criticism on her weight by fans, the fashion industry, and other musicians.  She is quite famously quoted for saying, "I don't make music for eyes, I make music for ears."  Why is that even something she has to say?  Who cares what she looks like?  Most people would kill for a talent like hers and, yet, instead of celebrating it she's criticized for what she doesn't have. 

When talking more to my students I asked how they cope with the pressure, and what they think should be done to change the rhetoric?  They both have incredibly supportive families and a strong community behind them who they talk to if they start to feel insecure or have questions.  They don't let it overtake them. 

They celebrate diversity and what women should and do look like.  One of the companies they sited was Target.  Target has created ads for women of all sizes in bathing suits that make them look and feel sexy.  These women are not airbrushed, and look confident and amazing.  They said they wished more companies would start advertising this way. 

They also felt that the discussion has to stop.  They said, "stop talking about it and just do it."  Start putting images of people of different shapes and sizes in the public with positive hashtags and comments.   Get people to start changing the way they see beauty.  Start casting or booking women of all shapes and sizes so people can start to see that talent and figure don't necessarily go hand in hand.  

If people start feeling more comfortable with reality versus fiction, they will start to sway that direction and start to dismiss other images and social ideologies as law.  Perceptions can be changed, but action has to be taken.  

I happened to think that their opinions and solutions were incredibly mature and grounded.  These girls are lucky to have such a strong support system and obviously had positive influences to be able to view others in such a positive light. 

I, unfortunately, have worked with some who have not been so fortunate.  It's a struggle they face, trying to feel confident in their own skin and their abilities.  These teen years are hard enough, but when you choose to go in performance you're getting hit from every angle.  There's never a break.  To have someone in your corner telling you to celebrate who you are is absolutely beautiful, uplifting, and what people need to hear. 

The issues that teens have do carry into their adult lives.  Why not make positive body images starting young, so when you age you continue to love who you are.  If more companies jump on celebrating reality versus fiction they could also help to change the way women feel about themselves and how they ultimately present themselves to the world.  It's time to stop talking and just do it!





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