...who are NOT our sexual or romantic partners. We hear enough about them. Let's talk about the people who don't have sexual interest in us who help us out with this stuff.
Who are yours? Friends or family, teachers or mentors in your life, or maybe people you don't know personally at all: who are your most excellent role models for body image who DON'T reap any personal benefits for being so?
One of my favorites, who I still remember, was my seventh grade teacher, Ms. Miller. She was a yogi as well as my Social Studies teacher, and she's teach me yoga every morning if I came to school early. She had that really bushy red hair that sometimes happens with caucasian women and she wore it in this HUGE 'fro -- clearly deciding to let it do its own thing without fighting -- which, however unstylish it was in the very early eighties, I thought was incredibly cool. She also got me started on a parctice I still use to this day: I had horrible family burdens at the time, and helping me be more flexible, get rid of the stress in my body, made a huge difference both in how I saw myself and in how I actually felt in my body.
Lucia Rijker is another of mine, but I don't know her personally. As a boxer myself -- though not pro -- and also as another woman entering her late thirties, she's a great one for me. Not only is she an astonishing athlete who has broken so many records it's dizzying, She has NEVER lost a match, not in a 20-year-career. Rijker wouldn't fit the mainstream body standard: at 5'6, she's 140 pounds, and nothing close to a size 2. Those pounds are all serious muscle, and she seems to have no problem knowing her body is just as female as anyone elses. (She also helped with "Million Dollar Baby" and played the other female fighter in the big match. It should be noted that I felt like the biggest geek in the world shouting her name out in excitement when I saw it in the theater, since no one else had any idea who she was, even though they were watching a movie about women's boxing. Oy.)
Another great body image model for me was a family friend of our growing up, Tom, an older man with two kids who was paralyzed from the neck down. This guy was AMAZING. Even though he had only his breath to control his chair with, his disability seemed to stop him from very little: he still took his kids to the park every day, he still helped with the shopping ands houseowrk, he still kept up with his own goals and dreams. One of the wonderful things about spending time around him was that he really defined the body as what it DOES, not how it looks. Growing up a girl in the world, it was so nice to hear those messages, rather than ones about being pretty or not.
My friend Hanne Blank is absolutely a body image inspiration for me. Hanne is a woman of size who has done a LOT of work for other people of size to help them with their body image, with finding ways to deal with the bias and challenges they face. I'm not a woman of size myself, but it's not about that with Hanne. What's inspiring to me is that Hanne is one of the most grogeous women I know... and no one needs to tell her this. She knows it already; she doesn't need anyone to tell her she's beautiful, even though she lives in a world where just her size means so many people can't see that obvious beauty.
This could be such a big list. Others on it? My 55-year-old mama-of-ten friend and feminist mentor Cheryl, Vera Little (who ended up an amputee after a staph infection from a breast augementation surgery), Frieda Kahlo, my first Girl Scout leader, Nina Simone, about-face.org, Linda Hunt, Emmylou Harris, my friend Elise and every woman I have ever met who has fought for recovery from an eating disorder....
Frida Kahlo is a GREAT role model, as is Salma Hayek - did you know Hayek really fought to sport both the unibrow and mustache that Kahlo was proud of, but the studio didn't think a film about a mustachioed heroine would sell? Kahlo was an amazing woman who battled a lot of bodily issues (she was severely hurt in a bus accident when she was young, along with suffering from polio), made amazing art, and was well-known for her many admirers, male and female.
My brother is quite the athletic role model for me. He's talented at pretty much anything he puts his mind to, and he enjoys being active: snowboarding, biking, playing hockey, just working out at the gym. Even though he's my little bro, I get a kick out of tagging along to the gym with him when I'm at home, and seeing him having fun working out and chatting with the regulars is a lot of fun, plus a great motivator. Even when people lean on him to gain weight like crazy (he's a defensemen in hockey, and some of those kids are being put on protein-heavy diets at a young age to 'beef' them up!) he just shrugs it off, and works at his own pace, knowing he's being smart about his body and that as a good player, it doesn't matter what size you are. He rocks!
Finally, someone I think about a lot when I'm lagging in my motivation is a foreign exchange friend I met in my first year of university. She was on exchange from Japan, and we would attend aqua cardio classes together, or just do 45 minutes on the elliptical trainer together. When she was in high school, she ran a mandatory marathon and finished second because (in her words) "if I had to run it anyway, I might as well do it well." She was never-endingly enthusiastic in her passion for exercise, and could often cheer me up halfway through a tough class by wiggling her fingers at me, and saying "Energy! We'll make it together!" She went back to Japan at the end of my first year, but whenever I go to aquafit classes again, I think of her and smile.
I've been pretty lucky to have such inspiring friends and family, and their help and memory keeps me going when sitting on my duff and playing video games!
Copyright 1998, 2014 Heather Corinna/Scarleteen
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