*My writing below is a reflection of this issue as it pertains to me and is not a judgement of or a shaming of others who make different choices. Most people post pictures readily and happily on social media, putting me in a very small minority. Please also note that language below may not be suitable for your workplace and if for mature audiences*
Over the past several years, I have been asked for a headshot by various facilities where I have taught classes. And each time, I have kindly refused. I struggled to explain why. My feelings do not fit into a neat, 5 second sound byte. My refusals were met with a range of reactions from easy acceptance to repeated questioning, likely related to the context and use of the pictures. Headshots and body shots are seen as essential if you are working in the fitness industry; you are basically selling your look as well as skill set. As the years passed and I encountered a few more requests for photos, I knew I needed to write about this.
So why don’t I post pictures of myself, or my kids, on social media? To start untangling this, let’s begin with my children. The primary reason, at least for them, is privacy. I am a private person, for the most part, despite having a blog and being fairly active on social media. I value personal space and some degree of anonymity and keeping photos off of social media gives me a sense of space, anonymity, and privacy for myself and my family.
My children cannot consent to having their photos posted online. I can’t fully comprehend where their photos could end up, how it might impact my children later (ex. If they’d be embarrassed by a shared photo), or how technology can change – already facial recognition software is available. It is difficult to determine what technological changes might mean for them now or even in the future. So, I’d rather just err on the side of caution and pass on picture-sharing. But what about grandmas and grandpas and (insert some relation here) that want to see pictures? If they want to see pictures, all they have to do is ask – texts, emails, or even better, Facetime (because there’s a level of engagement), is easy to accommodate.
So reason number 1 for me and my children = privacy.
The next looming issue for me is the importance of physical appearance for females, and of course, to a lesser extent, males. ( I am only writing from the female perspective here. ) I don’t know that I can intellectually do this topic dutiful justice and time. It a monster of a sociological issue that’s not going away soon and is deeply rooted in our patriarchal culture. Having women fixate on their beauty is seen by some as a form of social control and keeps us busy in the tedium and minutia for some ephemeral standard that is not exempt from entropy. That is, it is a given that we will age, change in appearance, become less attractive in our ageist’s society’s standards. What would it mean for a beauty industry if you were happy in this moment, with your body as it is? Billions of dollars in procedures, products, activities would be lost. Economies would shift.
One of my favorite articles that does work on this issue can be found here: "Fuck "beauty", I'm almighty, motherfucker" By A.L. May. “So long as a woman’s attention is focused outwards, she will forever be divorced from her innate magic and power”. The author has so much fierce perspective and freshness to share on the topic, and not in language suitable for work (thank goodness).
From Alana Louise May:
“I will not conform to your standard of beauty.
I will not be a slave to the sickness of standardised, subsidised & societial-iased desires.
You will not hijack my joy, body and power.
I define what is beautiful.
I decide to love myself and radiate beauty from within.
I shine with soul deep beauty.
I am a Woman.
and I will tear your billboards down with my bare, unmanicured, fucking hands.
I'm Almighty Motherfucker.”
(I heard the mic drop)
The author also shares my favorite Naomi Wolf quote:
“A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one”
Yes, fixation on a slippery, always-changing standard will keep us busy, and not with any significant work. An example of how our ideals are changing can be found in a book marketed to families and girls. Strong is the New Pretty, which is a book that includes photos of girls doing what they love (more here). This book is on the right path, making space for allowing females to show up doing “other” activities. However, there is a problem with the title – pretty. Again, that fixation on looks, but we’ve moved from skinny and frilly to strong as being the definer. Maybe a better title would be Strong Girls or Wild and Strong……moving away from the focus on appearance.
My appearance is not for male consumption or approval. Or even female approval; I've had the up and down visual assessment from women, and all I can think of is 'sister, please don't place those chains on me, unless you're asking for my help in breaking them'. My appearance is not up for admiration, dismissal, or debate. By not posting pictures online, I am removing that aspect of my personhood from the blanketed oppression we place on each other. I look how I look as a result of loving my form in ways that feel good to me – feeding myself healthy food; dressing in comfortable, washable clothes; exercising and lifting weights (I LOVE feeling strong and I LOVE movement medicine); meditating (I also LOVE quiet and contemplation); lots of freckles (I LOVE the outdoors but can't seem to remember sunscreen all the time). I look the way I look because of my thick-bodied, western European ancestors who worked the land, enduring the rugged and cold. I am prioritizing self-care and self-love. That means that I refuse to participate in the shaming of bodies, I reclaim my power, and retain my appearance for myself alone. What would self-care and self-love look like to you? Are you doing those things for THEM or for YOU?
Women, and men, are entitled to look the way they look and love the way they look without being shamed for it, told they need to fix or change. There are many sizes, styles, and looks that encompass ideas of strong, healthy, and loved or loveable. We need to recognize that there is not a one size fits all; one person’s goals are another’s starting point.
Instead of judging others based on their appearances, I want to relate to each other as whole beings. I want people to want to know me, befriend me, work with me because of my WHOLE being, my spirit and passions. I want to get to know you for you instead of falling into the quick judgement trap based on looks. I want to know more important things like: when was the last time you really looked at the moon? Are you happy? What do you love to do? How are you working to heal yourself and others? When was the last time you heard the wind? What pulls you out of bed in the morning? I want to know others by their spirit and passions, their loves and losses, their beautifully complex minds. Those are our true gifts to the world.
There are many others doing work on the issue of body shaming and beauty standards. One of my favorites is the website The Body is Not an Apology. From their article “Pretty hurts. The impact of beauty standards”:
“While our bodies aren’t politically charged beings, the ways in which we understand and take care of them are political. We shouldn’t be ashamed to fervently defend and love them in spite of larger, oppressive messages”
Here I am again at the interesection of the political, spiritual, and healing work (see my other blog). Funny how that happens.
In Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, she opens with a quote by Theodore Roosevelt that implies that only those that remain in the "arena", sweating and bleeding, are courageous. So, I struggle here with my refusal to post pictures – am I being a coward or am I being courageous? I’d like to think I am “daring greatly”. While others bicker about what it means to be pretty or endorse the newest beauty regime for flawless (insert any body part), I have pulled out. Instead of staying in the arena, I am working to dismantle it and change the game.
Written by Dr. Allison Mitch, PT (DPT)
RYT 500, reiki master
Contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org
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