This summer I was offered the chance to be a part of GEMS, a local summer camp for girls excelling in math and science. The camp was an opportunity for girls, grades four through seven, to explore their interest and skills in STEAM fields (science, technology, engineering, arts and math). And because of two local teachers’ awareness around how messages about having to ‘fix’ or change our bodies, so deeply impacts our ability to critically engage and excel in these STEAM areas, they asked us at Ophelia’s Place to kick off the camp with messages of body acceptance.
Every time I get the opportunity to spend time in the classroom with young people, I am reminded of the absolute malleability of the human belief system. As someone who speaks openly and often about the cultural constructs that perpetuate body shame, I find that while I absolutely believe those systems of oppression to be real and true, it’s often not until I see them at play with our young people that I remember the depths to which they run.
Messages from the media about beauty and bodies are everywhere around us. Sometimes subtle, like in our favorite TV shows where no one is blatantly body shaming anyone else, but you also don’t see any fat people, at least in any serious roles.
And sometimes they can be explicitly shaming, like the infomercials with the thin woman holding out a pair of jeans that are 4 times her size, explaining how much better her life is now that she’s lost the weight (Also, do we honestly believe that those were actually her pants at one point?). The viewer immediately feels shame that they’ve been unable to lose weight, and thus feels that their life will never be lived to its full potential in their current body.
So, when I get to go into the classroom to talk to young people about accepting ALL bodies, I’m unbelievably grateful for the opportunity to plant even just one small seed of awareness; one little nugget of hope for the person(s) in the crowd secretly loathing their unique body.
I don’t need to walk away leaving every person in love with their bodies, although a girl can dream. But I do need to help my community think more critically about how the language and images we consume about bodies, food, and beauty impact our feelings of self worth, and thus our ability to fully explore and embrace the things we love to do.
Instead of letting our young people’s minds wander to all the ways they wish they looked different, we need to be encouraging them to explore all the amazing things their bodies do for them, and allow them to do.
So, in the spirit of the camp, I decided to use my love of technology that I express through my podcast, Well + Weird, as an opportunity to interview the girls and get them thinking more critically about just that. I hope this interview helps you to do the same.
Warrior for Change