Written by Lexie & Lindsay Kite, Ph.D.
Excerpt from their new book, More Than a Body: Your Body Is an Instrument Not an Ornament
"In our doctoral research among eighteen-to thirty-five-year old women and in the online body image course we have offered for several years to girls and women ages fourteen and up, we started with that same simple question: How do you feel about your body? What we’ve found over and over is that when you ask women about their body image — in other words, how they feel about their bodies — you’ll get a bunch of answers to a totally different question. Most will describe how they think they look, highlighting what they or others perceive as their worst flaws: belly rolls, love handles, cellulite, loose skin, flat chests, embarrassing bits to hide or fix.
It’s as if rather than being asked how they feel about their bodies, they were asked, “What do you most fear someone will see when they look at you?” Overwhelmingly, their answers reflected embarrassment, fear, anxiety, and pain. Other answers reflected appreciation for natural or hard-won thinness, clear skin, toned arms, or appealing curves. It’s as if they were asked, “What do you love for people to see when they look at you?” Though those might sound like better answers at first, we worry about what the future holds for these women. Women who feel positively about their bodies because of how they look often fall even harder into negative body image and shame when they no longer live up to the ideal, whether because of aging, illness, pregnancy, or any other cause. When your main source of confidence and validation isn’t producing the same results it used to, that loss stings.
The descriptions women give us of how they feel about their bodies, whether fearing or fawning, also reflect distance and detachment, as if the women are outside observers of their own bodies. It’s that twin phenomenon, in which our critical, objectifying onlooker becomes the judge of how we should feel about
the bodies we live inside of. While your body image is not something that can be viewed or perceived from the outside, too many of us can’t imagine our feelings about our bodies from any other perspective. This reveals a deeper problem with women’s body images and self-worth than most people recognize, and one that popular “You are beautiful!” body-image campaigns are not capable of solving: Women are privileging an external view of their bodies over their own internal, first-person perspective. It’s as if we, as women, exist outside of ourselves — as if our bodies can be understood only through someone else’s eyes.
Women’s self-objectifying responses to the question of how they feel about their bodies aren’t mistakes or misunderstandings of how body image functions: it’s brainwashing. We see women, including ourselves, as bodies first and people second. Boys, men, and people of all gender identities are not immune to the phenomenon of self-objectification, but it is particularly rampant among girls and women or those presenting themselves in a traditionally feminine way. We are all at a severe disadvantage when our self-perceptions and body images are so deeply tied to how we look (or how we think we look). Too many of us not only feel awful about our looks, since we can never achieve or maintain the aspirational beauty ideals presented to us, but also feel awful about our dynamic, adaptive, miraculous bodies overall because all we care about is how they look. This is truly the root of negative body image. To add insult to injury, we will likely feel awful about ourselves as a whole because we’ve learned that our bodies define our worth. The problem of negative body image then extends to overall negative self-image, becoming a more comprehensive problem than beauty-focused solutions can tackle."
"Self-objectification tells you to sit on the sidelines of your life until you qualify, and if every woman in the world continued to sit on the sidelines of her life, how much are we missing? " -Lexie Kite, Ph.D
For more information about Lexie and Lindsay Kite, Ph.D. and their book, More Than a Body, visit: