Empathy

by Starfoxy

No doubt some of us have heard by now about Lizzi Miller. For those who haven’t heard, Lizzi is a model whose photo in a recent edition of Glamour Magazine caused quite a stir. The nude photo wasn’t airbrushed and caught her in a normal pose. Within hours of the issue becoming available positive feedback came flooding into the editor.

As I was reading about this the other night my four year old came up next to me. He looked at the photo and happily said “Mom, she’s laughing!”

That was all he found remarkable about the photo. Not her state of undress, not her belly, her thighs, or arms, not her hair. He looked at her and saw a person, a happy person. I hope he is always able to retain that sort of empathy, especially for women.

Over the years I’ve gotten pretty good at keeping my critical eye closed when looking at other people. It is harder to keep it in check when I’m looking at myself. Since I’ve stopped reading magazines and cancelled our TV service it is much easier to feel comfortable with how I really look. I’ve also worked hard to remind myself that exercise is for health not for fashion. That skipping desert is for well-being not for dress-sizes. That I am not just the facilities manager for my body, I live here.

I guess that is what makes me feel uncomfortable with the buzz about this particular photo- we’re still fixated on the body not the person inside it. It is certainly laudable to run a photo of a woman whose body is more realistic, if only because it helps us create a more reasonable definition of ‘normal.’ Despite that the discussion has still centered around the body, the shape of it, the presence or absence of flaws. It has been compared to other photos favorably and unfavorably.

This continued focus on the physical doesn’t change the discussion, just flips it over. Some who look for a more realistic beauty are quick to condemn the gaunt models as ‘too-skinny.’ Unsatisfied with the current ideal they create a new ideal that can be just as narrow.

I think the discussion needs to shift away from the states of our physical bodies to those things that differentiate us from dolls or mannequins. We have minds, feelings, goals, dreams. The best photos aren’t of bodies, they’re of people. The best way to feel good about your body is to like the person that lives in it.

I hope to more fully retrain myself so that when I see a picture of myself I can look past the faults that will always be there for those who care to search for them. I want to be like my son and look at a picture like this or any other and see nothing but a person, preferably a happy one.

Starfoxy

Starfoxy is a fulltime caretaker for her two children.

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8 Responses

  1. Kirsten says:

    I agree with your comment that we should focus on the inner person rather than the “package” we come in. However, I think the positive thing about the buzz this picture creates, is that there may be some women out there who might take the focus off of their obsession with having the perfect, thin body and embrace what they look like. This might give them a release from fretting over their body image and allow them to move on to nurturing their souls.
    I liked the interview the model had with Matt Lauer on the Today Show. What we got to see was a woman comfortable with her body shape– someone happy and confident and enjoying what she’s doing. If there were more realistic models out there, the discussion on body image might begin to change and the focus on what’s important might emerge.

  2. esodhiambo says:

    The Washington Post did a story about my mom once and sent a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer out to follow us around one day. When the story came out, the picture included was of my mom laughing, with a double chin. This was 15 years ago, and I remember the laugh, but all my mom remembers is the double chin. I feel for her and must admit that I am one of those moms who stays behind the camera; should anything happen to me, my kids would be hard-pressed to find a photo of me with them. I should work on that.

  3. Deborah says:

    That *is* a fantastically joyful picture you linked to . . I had missed this story. Thanks.

    Remember when Jamie Lee Curtis did a magazine spread and refused to be photoshopped . . . stirred up all kinds of intrigued, called and “act of courage . . . ” Because to look normal is brave?

    Some of the best discussions with my (all female high school English) class last year stemmed around Toni Morrison’s book “The Bluest Eye.” How and when do we learn what is beautiful? What influences our perception of beauty? How early does it begin. In one memorable scene, a young African-American girl dissects the white baby doll she gets for Christmas. The adults are appalled — why, it’s the toy every girl would want. But Claudia desperate to figure out what it is that this blue-eyed baby doll has (that she does not) that makes her so desirable. In a later scene, we find a young girl who thinks dandelions beautiful — with their joyful, vibrant yellow. At least until she has an unpleasant encounter with white store owner . . . after which she knows, like everyone else, that they are ugly weeds.

    I’d rather see the radiant joy of the woman you linked to over the gaunt, drawn cheeks of runway models anyday. But it is an uphill battle to look at my own (often smiling face) and react the same way.

  4. Jana says:

    I’m so pleased to find joy-filled images of women rather than those with the vacant stare that seems to be preferred by fashion photographers. Smiles are always beautiful.

    One reason I love spending time at the beach is that you see bodies of all hues, shapes & sizes there–it reminds me that a bit of cellulite jiggle is a normal thing!

  5. Starfoxy says:

    Kirsten-I liked the interview too. I especially liked where Matt Lauer asked if it was going to be back to business as usual after this or if it was going to mark a change in the sorts of pictures published in Glamour. The editor said that she thought there would be a change. I’m anxious to see if that pans out.

    Deborah- I think I’ve see the Jamie Lee Curtis pictures you’re talking about. There was one of her in underwear without makeup and then one with her in full wardrobe and makeup and the difference really is striking.

    Esodhiambo- That story about your mom is so sad, and I see similar behaviors in myself and all the women around me. And this:

    should anything happen to me, my kids would be hard-pressed to find a photo of me with them. I should work on that.

    Hit very close to home for me. I should work on that too.

    Thanks everyone!

  6. julie says:

    “The best way to feel good about your body is to like the person that lives in it.”

    awesome. i think i will be stealing this.

  7. hkbigley says:

    My sister has finally conquered her fear of being photographed by saying, “This is the best I’ll ever look.” Which doesn’t really solve any problems, does it?

  8. Since I work in closely related industries I think its important to keep reminding folks who read fashion mags that the women featured in them are no longer real, they are fabrications based on aspects of actual women but that’s it. The degree and sophistication of the alterations that are made to photos of women’s bodies can not be over estimated. We should also not assume that the photo of the model with a slightly sagging belly was any more real than other photos. We live in a day when the “that which once was there” has vanished completely from photography.

    photography has become painting, especially in the case of the representations of women’s bodies.

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