Archive for the 'Body Image' category

Every body is a yoga body

Aug 24 2012 Published by under Body Image

yoga poses in hilton head islandDo pictures like this inspire or intimidate?

Thin, beautiful (white) women doing bendy things. That’s the way I describe how yoga is largely portrayed in the West. The photo above is a perfect example. There is no denying she is a beautiful woman in a lovely, very advanced, yoga pose. Photos like this are beautiful to look at, but I think they also create the impression that yoga is only for certain people.

I rarely see yoga-related photos that don’t fit the thin/white/female mold, so I nearly jumped for joy to see this month’s Yoga Journal, which features Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter and yogi India Arie. Arie is one of my favorite artists, and knowing she practices yoga makes me like her even more. Arie doesn’t fit the yoga stereotype, and neither do I.

When I talk to people about yoga and why I practice, they often say they would love to try yoga but are too intimidated. They worry they won’t be able to “do the poses,” that they won’t fit in, or that others in the class will be secretly judging them. I hear these reservations so often, in fact, that dispelling these myths is my main inspiration for earning my 200-hour yoga teacher training certification.

I want to spread the message that yoga is for everybody, and every body. You don’t have to be able to twist yourself into a pretzel or stand on your head.

If you can breathe, you can practice yoga.

I guarantee you that the lovely woman pictured above didn’t start out being able to do One-Legged-King-Pigeon pose. Just like the rest of us, she had to start somewhere.

What is yoga?

I want to clarify that yoga is a very broad term. The word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit word “yuj,” which means to unite or integrate. In the classical sense, yoga is about the union of a person’s own consciousness and the divine/higher power/universe. However, yoga is not a religion, it is a path.

While yoga’s roots can be traced back thousands of years, yoga as we know it in the U.S., the physical practice of yoga, is much newer, about 500 years old. Hatha yoga is a general term that encompasses many of the physical styles. Among these, some of the most popular are Ashtanga or Power Yoga, Kundalini, Bikram or Hot Yoga, and Vinyasa Flow, which is the style I practice.

Me demonstrating Virabhadrasana 2, known in English as Warrior 2.

On the first day of yoga teacher training, our instructor asked us to answer the question, “What is yoga?” This is what I wrote:

Yoga is compassion, self-acceptance, and love for all beings. Yoga is strength, both physical and emotional. And to some, yoga is god—a connection to a higher power, the divine…the universe. Yoga helps us realize that we are all connected, and that none of use is on this journey alone.

Yoga may mean something entirely different to you. My definition will very likely change over the coming months and years, as I deepen my practice.

For me, the benefits of yoga have been overwhelmingly mental. I feel better able to process feelings and emotions, and experience them without judgment. My parents were visiting not long ago, and my mother said to me, “You seem so light and joyful.” I said, “That’s yoga.”

Are you curious about yoga? Do photos of thin, beautiful women doing bendy things inspire or deter you?

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Photo by lululemon athletica on Flickr

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What Not to Wear: What’s not to like?

Sep 14 2011 Published by under Body Image, Women's Issues

Makeup Brushes

There’s something so alluring about makeover shows. The dramatic reveal—seeing someone completely transformed with new clothes, new makeup, and a new hairstyle—draws me in every time.

Lately, though, I’ve been watching these shows with a more critical eye, and wondering if they do more harm than good.

Makeover shows are primarily aimed at a female audience, and most makeover candidates are women. What messages are these shows really sending?

Take the popular TLC makeover show “What Not to Wear,” for example. On this show, makeover candidates are “turned in” by friends, family, or coworkers for their sloppy, dated, or inappropriate wardrobes. If the candidate agrees to participate, she (it’s almost always a she) gets a free trip to New York and $5,000 to spend on a new wardrobe, provided she follows the wardrobe “rules” set by hosts Stacy London and Clinton Kelly.

Watching “What Not to Wear” taught me a lot about how to dress for my body type, which has given me more confidence and helped me stop seeing my curves as a negative thing. I like that Stacy and Clinton advocate embracing the body you have, rather than hiding it or feeling as if you don’t measure up to some arbitrary beauty standard.

On the other hand, there are some things about the show that bother me.  The biggest one is that Stacy and Clinton’s comments about the candidate’s “before” wardrobe are often mean-spirited, making them seem like nothing more than bullies pressuring people to conform. Watch the video clip below and see if you agree.

Is the show really about helping the makeover candidate look her best, or about making her fit into our society’s definition of how a woman should look?

I also dislike how “What Not to Wear” and other makeover shows perpetuate the idea that a woman’s appearance is her most important asset. The makeover candidate in the video is an accomplished scientist, yet she’s being berated for not looking feminine, or sexy, enough. Is this really what we want to teach our daughters?

T.V. makeovers also always seem to involve a boatload of cosmetics and hair color, many of which contain potentially toxic chemicals. Most of you know I gave up coloring my hair this year, and I’m paying more attention to the ingredients in my cosmetics after watching the “Story of Cosmetics.” Many cosmetics are also tested on animals, a practice I’m vehemently against.

Cosmetics companies that don’t test on animals

Then there’s the blatant consumerism. Does anyone really need a $5,000 wardrobe? Couldn’t we be doing something more important with our money?

In addition, at least on “What Not to Wear,” it seems no consideration is given to where clothing was made or under what conditions. For example, contestants are often encouraged to shop at H&M, which has made headlines many times for its questionable and unethical business practices. In 2010, the New York Times ran this story about H&M’s wasteful practice of destroying and throwing away unsold clothing rather than donating it to people in need.

Learn more about ethical and sustainable fashion

On the What Not to Wear Facebook page, Clinton Kelly recently revealed only 1/3 of the guests on the show keep up with their new look. To me, that says the majority of guests on the show are perfectly happy with their “before” selves, and wish their friends, coworkers, family, and the rest of us would butt out and find something more important to worry about.

What do you think? Do you love or hate makeover shows? What types of messages do these shows send? Leave a comment with your thoughts.

If you enjoyed this post, you can subscribe to Peculiar Girl or share it on Twitter or Facebook.

Photo by o5ocom on Flickr

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My final farewell to chemically dyed hair

May 04 2011 Published by under Body Image, My Story

No, it’s not a mug shot. My hair stylist took this picture after my cut and style yesterday. The last traces of hair color are now gone, and what’s left is 100% me—my natural hair.

In February I wrote about why I stopped coloring my hair. You can read the details here. In short, it’s part of the process of learning to love myself the way I am, and not buy into definitions of beauty set by those whose main objective is to sell their products.

I also watched “The Story of Cosmetics” by the Story of Stuff Project, which opened my eyes to the number of potentially toxic chemicals I was applying to my body every day. I decided to eliminate as many chemicals as I could, by minimizing the number of “beauty” products I use. Most salon hair dyes contain hundreds of chemicals, some of them known carcinogens and neurotoxins.

Tracie has been my stylist for 11 years. It was she who convinced me to stop shampooing every day, and to embrace my natural curls rather than fight them. She’s also used to my hair-related whims. For example, I’ve been known to go from shoulder-length waves to Halle Berry short in one fell swoop. So, when I first told her I wanted to stop coloring my hair, she probably thought it was another phase, but I plan to stick with it.

It’s now been six months since my decision to go dye-free. To be honest, it doesn’t look that different. The color Tracie used was a semi-permanent, very close to my natural color, with a few reddish-gold highlights. Most of my friends haven’t even noticed.

For me, though, it’s a small victory. When I look in the mirror, instead of seeing “ugly” gray that must be covered, I see me. It’s been nice getting to know the real, natural me again.

I also see a bit of my brother. We are going gray in the same places, and noticing that in my reflection helps me feel a bit closer to him, since we live in different cities and don’t see each other often.

On top of the emotional benefits, there is an additional, financial benefit to not coloring my hair. A color and highlight used to cost me $75, on top of the $45 hair cut. I’m saving around $300 a year, just by learning to embrace my natural color.

Some people have asked why I don’t switch to henna or another, non-toxic hair color. The truth is I’m tired of the hassle and upkeep, and frankly, I have better things to do with my time than spend more time fussing with my hair. I like my new natural look.

You can see more pictures of my dye-free hair on Flickr. Next on my list of beauty products to eliminate: nail polish.

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The ideal female body, and why it looks like a boy’s

Apr 06 2011 Published by under Body Image, Guest Posts

Today’s post is a guest submission from Maria Rainier, freelance writer and self-described “blog junkie.” When Maria contacted me about writing for Peculiar Girl and attached samples of her work, I knew her style and subject matter would be a great fit here. I hope you enjoy this piece as much as I did. Thanks, Maria!

Before I explain to you why the ideal female body we see in magazine and Internet ads, films, and TV shows looks like a boy’s, let me tell one of my favorite stories.

Ruby, the anti-Barbie doll

In September of 2007, The Body Shop filled its windows and shelves with posters, magnets, and postcards of Ruby, as in “Rubenesque.” Ruby was an “anti-Barbie Doll,” whose voluptuous body appeared a year earlier in Europe and Australia to much approval. “It’s real, truthful, and honest. The reality is, we don’t all look like Barbie,” said Aly Daly, 28.

Then, one day, an American mall patron claimed that his daughter had been “traumatized” by Ruby’s pear-shaped figure. Barbie manufacturer Mattel sent a cease and desist order and Ruby went MIA.

So, the little girl had no problem with Barbie’s laughable cone boobs and I-don’t-menstruate-waist, but was “traumatized” by a doll that looked like her mom or any other mall patron—hips, boobs, a little jiggle here and there? Really?

Actually, this doesn’t seem very unlikely in light of a National Eating Disorder Information Center survey, in which one in 10 parents admitted that they’d abort a child if they knew it had a genetic tendency to be fat.

Unrealistic ideals for real women

Now, let’s think about what may happen to this mall patron’s little girl now that he’s bought her a Barbie instead of a Ruby.

Even when she graduates from Barbie playing days, the girl will face a daily barrage of images of the ideal feminine physique on TV, in movies, and in magazines. She will begin to fill (or not fill) certain bra sizes and clothing. She may, on some level, feel betrayed, as if she was dealt a different hand than all the girls writhing around in music videos and even little Barbie. She may feel eventually as if she is falling short of something that essentially doesn’t exist according to the following table provided by Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders (ANRED).

Average womanBarbie (if human)Store mannequin
Weight145 lbs.101 lbs.Not available
Dress size11-1446

Toys are generally manufactured for two reasons: to teach kids about real life or to stimulate their imagination. No matter what, Mattel and department store mannequin manufacturers come out the bad guy in this: either they think most girls and women have body measurements that would render them incapable of bearing children, or they want women to have said body measurements.

Why you’re expected to look like a boy

In fact, the next time you’re at the mall, take a closer look at that mannequin. Go ahead and open up a page of GQ, or even women’s magazines like Cosmopolitan or Self.  Feminist author Judith Williamson (who has been featured in The Guardian and has written three books on feminism and the media) surmises in her work Consuming Passions that “the desirable shape for a woman . . . is that of a boy.”

Don’t believe it?

“For many decades the desirable shape held out through fashion photos and adverts has been that of a lean, tall, flat-tummied boy—leggy, tight-bummed, curve-less. Endless boyish models with tousled hair, long thin legs and on hips pout at us from every magazine, their armpits and so-called bikini areas immaculately hairless, a total denial of adult women’s sexual qualities.”

To emphasize her point, Williamson gives the example of Tula, formerly Barry Cossey, a transgender model with a “totally hard, flat stomach and lean torso, . . . spare bone structure and long limbs.” Even though Tula is missing an entire organ that women and little girls have but men and boys don’t—the womb—she nevertheless serves as a “blueprint for women.”

Still, what about our cultural obsession with Barbie-esque, cantaloupe boobs?  Attraction is subjective, and huge boobs have their niche (pornography, film, men’s magazines) while the adolescent boy shape has its own (high fashion, film, advertisements).  The matter can almost be attributed to generational differences (the 90s were obsessed with boob jobs while we are today more obsessed with youth and waif-like figures) as well as class matters. Voluptuous bodies generally don’t make it into the “high” fashion world and remain in the likes of Victoria’s Secret and mainstream pornography.  Still, there’s bleed-over on both sides; it’s not a cut-and-dry issue. It’s just ugly.

Why you shouldn’t listen to the beauty industry

Others have said it before: beauty is subjective. You want to be beautiful? Be kind to yourself. Eat for your health, not to be skinny or to satisfy a hunger food can’t sate, like a hunger for companionship or self-love. Put good things on your skin and hair and stop thinking about them both so much. Laugh more, even if it gives you wrinkles. You can’t control what other people think about your appearance. In fact, what other people think about your appearance is none of your business. There are much more interesting and meaningful things to think about in life.

Have something to add? Please, leave a comment with your thoughts. If you enjoyed this post, you can subscribe to Peculiar Girl or share it on Twitter or Facebook.

Photo by Petetaylor

About the Author

Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education, researching new online degree programs & writing on the gender wage gap. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.



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Think twice about using that shampoo

Mar 02 2011 Published by under Body Image, Guest Posts

This is a guest post by Laura, who blogs at smash your t.v. and have adventures, as part of a series about hair and how it plays into our concepts of beauty/physical attractiveness, gender, and culture. I’m currently seeking more writers and bloggers to contribute to the series. Contact me if you are interested.


Laura’s hair, since going ‘poo-free

Growing up, I only used a small handful of things for my hair: shampoo, conditioner, hair dryer, and a curling iron (on special occasions).

I also purchased a bottle of hairspray and a straightener when I went off to college because that’s what some of my friends used and I thought it was required to own. I used the hairspray and straightener probably two times, and only because they were there. Both are gone now.

My current morning routine regarding my hair just consists of a shower (some days I wash my hair, some days I don’t), letting my hair dry naturally while I eat breakfast and read, and blow drying the remaining damp hair before I leave. Oh, and I comb my hair. That’s it. I thought that was normal. I was baffled to find out about all the products that many other women use and the time dedicated towards a perfect ‘do.

Hairspray. Shampoo. Conditioner. Leave-in conditioner. Mousse. Hair gels. Gloss. Shiners. Masks. Straighteners. Curling irons. Hair rollers. Hair extensions. Often, three or four products are used at a time. Wow.

How many of these do you have on your counters? How much money do you spend on these products and accessories? How many empty bottles do you toss out on a regular basis?

I understand the desire to have healthy, beautiful hair. Who doesn’t want hair that makes you feel beautiful? The problem is that most people have a skewed perception of what is beautiful and don’t realize that most hair products actually damage hair and body, as well as the environment.

Let me say that again. We are damaging our bodies and our environment with these products. And for what? To achieve a false standard of beauty?

Images of long, shiny, blond hair infiltrate our televisions. Magazines with beauty advice list ten products we need to get a certain look. Drugstores offer dozens of products with appealing labels. We then fill up our bathrooms with these hair care products because that’s what the media says we need to have beautiful hair.

We believe these products make us look good without realizing that our natural selves – whether it be skin color, eye color, hair color and type—are beautifully unique.

Well, I’m here to tell you that you don’t need all that stuff.

Your hair is perfect just the way it is.

What about 100 years ago? 200 years ago? Surely, not everyone was walking around with stinky, ugly hair before the first modern shampoo was introduced in the 1920s. They didn’t cut their hair, either. In the 19th century, many women sported long, free-flowing hair, which was a mark of their femininity. Femininity aside, their hair was beautiful and clean.

And guess what? They washed their hair once or twice a month.

Some of us who are old enough may also remember our mothers and grandmothers visiting the hairdresser once a week for cleaning and styling.

You’d be amazed at some of the items women put in their hair before modern shampoos and hair styling techniques were developed. The difference between modern hair products and those belonging to our great-grandmothers is that their products were primarily chemical-free. These ranged from baking soda and herbs to egg whites and oils.

Having slightly dirty hair was also the only way women could achieve elaborate hairstyles that seemed to be held in place with a single comb or pin. The natural oils in hair made it manageable for them to style it. Basically, dirty hair was the style.

Did you know that shampoo strips your hair of its natural oils? Every day, when you slather shampoo on your head, the chemicals in the product remove your body’s natural oils from your hair; as a result, your hair is telling itself to produce oil quickly to make up for the loss. If you stop shampooing your hair on a regular basis, your hair will eventually stop producing too much oil and clean itself.

That was the secret to clean hair hundreds of years ago. Women didn’t need to wash their hair often and when they did, it was washed with items found in the kitchen or done professionally. Many people don’t realize they can still do that (I would go for the cheaper, at-home option).

Can you skip the hairspray today? Can you avoid washing your hair tomorrow? Could you even take the step to drop shampoo altogether and adopt a basic, natural hair care regime?

Here are some ways to treat your hair and the environment better:

Just use less! Kick that hair gel out of your routine. Drop the hairspray. Let your hair air-dry.

Check the ingredients on the label and be mindful of your purchases. Buy organic and natural. Avoid sulfates and parabens, the two dominant and most damaging ingredients in shampoos.

Also look out for petroleum-based ingredients, synthetic colors and fragrances, propylene glycol, DEA and TEA, and nitrates. Formaldehyde is an ingredient in most shampoos that doesn’t even show up on the label.

The scary thing is that what goes on your body also goes in your body. Your skin is not a perfect shield to chemicals. Also, these chemicals end up in our water supply and pollute the earth.

While no shampoo or conditioner is perfect, it is important to be mindful of your purchases instead of grabbing the first pretty bottle you see. Next time you reach for that shampoo or bottle of hairspray, read the label. Think about it. I highly recommend watching Annie Leonard’s The Story of Cosmetics.

Go poo-free! Baking soda is a very popular no-poo alternative. Just mix one tablespoon of baking soda in one cup or small bottle of warm water until it forms some kind of a paste, and use the mixture in your hair, gently massaging your roots. Since this method can make your hair feel dry, use apple cider vinegar as a conditioner. One cup of water mixed with one-two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar will do.

If you do decide to go poo-free, keep in mind that it will take your hair two to four weeks to adjust. Expect some oily hair in the beginning. Be patient. Experiment with mixtures. Another bonus: when I went poo-free, my thin hair seemed thicker!

Love your hair. Turn off your television. Ignore beauty magazines. Embrace your hair.

It is a part of you and you are beautiful.

About the author

Laura is a graduate student earning a master’s degree in special education and loves working with people with disabilities. She also writes about about living simply and consciously, minimalism, and creating happiness at smash your t.v. and have adventures. When not working, she is curled up with a book, drinking tea, walking in cemeteries, meeting new people, and doing cartwheels. Just because.

Have something to add? Please, leave a comment with your thoughts. If you enjoyed this post, you can subscribe to Peculiar Girl, or share it on Twitter or Facebook.


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