Hello! It has been awhile since my last post. Exciting things were happening all at once that I hadn't had time to properly sit down and talk about it, until now! The first term has finally ended and I couldn't believe it has already been 3 months since I first started out, not really sure what was waiting for me. The last month itself saw myself growing a deeper understanding of what the current project entails and the impact it potentially has in changing how people view physical activity and their own body. Spending a full week of just going through papers upon papers about body image and/or physical activity/exercise/sports made me reflect on my personal experiences relating to body image and physical activity.
And this is what this post is about. There will be another post detailing what I've done so far on placement but I just want to talk about what I've learned. Take this as one of those thought pieces in journals, with no data, methodology; just a personal, well-articulated (hopefully) writing on why I feel even more passionate in this field than before.
Like any good story, there is always a beginning. Growing up, I've always remembered being involved in some form of sports, my fondest memory with my father is when we went to an open field and he taught me how to kick a ball. Fast forward, I was recruited to be part of the basketball team in primary school, at the same time having tennis lessons and dancing for the school's yearly performance night. Few years later, I was flying off to other countries to compete in fencing competitions. Now, however, I'm not quite as active as I used to be, I've become sedentary, as they would say. I've lost motivation to go for training or try a new sport. Main reason is, there is just too much to think of: time, money and energy.
At the same time as this was happening, my body was being scrutinized on a regular basis. For a brief period of time, being an early bloomer, I was one of the tallest in my cohort. Then when everyone else caught up with me, I found myself moving to the front of the line and standing in the first few rows when photographs were being taken. In high school, I "suffered" from the worst case of face acne, so bad that I went to two dermatologists (that's how many we have back home) and had to take medicine that either made my lips crack like a piece of land in a drought or made me throw up everything I've consumed that day. Also, I was so ashamed of how I looked that I refused to glance at my own reflections. While still suffering from this, I gained a lot of weight (10kg) during college and the weight is still here.
Okay, this is not a sob story about my life. I do have a point to make. Stay with me.
While all of that was happening to me, one way or another, it seemed to have an affect on other people. So much so that they had to do something about it. What did they do? They opened their mouths. "OMG Liza, look at all the pimples on our face!" "Sorry, I can't concentrate on what you're saying because I want to pop our pimple." "Can I pop your zit?" and when I was training almost 5 days a week I got: "Liza, you're so small!" "Liza, your leg muscles, they're so hard and big!" "Footballers would die for your legs", and when I was 10kg heavier: "You look more meaty now huh?" "Wow, you ate a lot during college is it?" and the occasional, "Liza, you still have pimples??" I would get comments like these from everyone, friends, family, people I haven't had a proper conversation with in years. If you're reading this and suddenly realising you're guilty of saying this, not just to me but to anyone, then, that's where the problem is. It's not inherently just your problem, there is a bigger picture to be seen.
We are living in such an appearance focused society that it is so deeply ingrained in us to focus on looks. Because of this, instead of being proud of my achievements as a fencer in high school, I was too preoccupied with whether the acne will go away or how my legs looked in a dress. We've become so attentive to the minute imperfections on our bodies that we forget the amazing things we are capable of, like sports, writing, singing, dancing, expressing, feeling. You might tell me that people are starting to be more accepting of imperfections on their bodies. A good example is when Chrissy Teigen instagrammed her stretch marks, and people went: "wow, revolutionary, models ARE just humans like us", while that gave us normal women a brief sigh of relief, what I found myself after is that I start to look out for imperfections in pictures of models and other people. It was so toxic. I was looking out for scars, cellulite and fats in other people just so I can feel good about myself, instead of just loving my own body without having to compare it with other people.
That's why I'm so grateful to be working on children's body image because it allowed me to be exposed to research on this concept and why it has garnered so much interest. "Why is it so important to avoid negative body image in children?" "Why is negative body image so detrimental to overall well-being?" "How do we promote/maintain positive body image?" these questions are currently being answered by researchers across the globe and I get to be part of it. From all the reading that I've done (which, by the way, is just scratching the surface), being unsatisfied with how your body looks is associated with other psychological problems, i.e. eating disorders. It also leads to people exercising for the wrong reasons OR to not exercise at all. For the latter choice, the ideal of 'getting fit, toned and lean' might seem so far-fetched for them that they just don't want to bother at all. They then see exercise as a form of a chore, "I need to run x amounts of time so I can lose x amount of weight", instead of seeing exercise as an activity that can be enjoyed in many different forms. This is why sedentary levels are staggeringly high among adults and children, being sedentary then leads to many health complications like obesity which comes with many problems in itself. This then leads to governments and public health organisations seeing "Obesity" or "Sedentary Adults" as a problem to eradicate rather than encouraging "Enjoyable Exercise". This then adds on the prominence of seeing exercise as a chore. See how complicated this web is?
What I want to bring to the surface is that, it all starts from us. From us, normal individuals not in the research world, to stop wanting 'an ideal body', to stop wanting others to have the 'ideal body'. This morning I came across a quote by Margaret Heffernan, in her TEDTalk, she said "Openness alone can't drive change." Being open about different body ideals isn't enough, we need to start standing up to people whenever they start making appearance-related criticism to us or other people. Don't be afraid to explain to them why it is wrong, because most of the time, we aren't aware of the impact of our words on people. This is the most effective way of raising awareness: calling it out whenever it needs calling out. Don't just wait for a conference or a special 'awareness day' to do it. We need to be active agents in this process of change. Also, Maalrgaret's talk on conflict is also helpful when you want to confront people, watch it here.
I hope I made some sense, I want to say so much more but I had to cut off a lot of things, otherwise, I'll end up writing a book.
Interestingly enough, this made me want to pursue my research in body image and physical activity for a PhD. Anyone knows anyone who might want to fund my research? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Okay, funding call aside, let's start having real conversations. Tell someone you admire their work, rather than comment on how they look on the outside. Trust me, it is more beneficial to both of you than you'd think.
Thanks for reading this far, here is a nice photo of the Bristol Business School in UWE:
I'll be writing before the New Year! Till then, have a merry Christmas everybody!