I’m A Fan of the #Fatkini

Last summer, I went out and did something I never thought I’d do.

I went out and bought a bikini.

When I was little, summertime was one of my favorite times of the year. It meant playing outdoors, no school, and swimming in our awesome blow-up pool that Dad would set up for us. Swimming meant swimwear, obviously, and I never thought twice about what I wore. Then, I got to a certain age. And I started caring.

When I got to about fourth grade, I realized that not everyone was encouraged to wear a bikini. It was really only the girls that could “pull it off:” the girls with the bodies for it. So I covered up. I traded bikinis for tankinis and swim shorts, and said goodbye to the summer wardrobe staple I’d worn for years without a second thought.

It wasn’t until this last summer that I reconsidered my idea of a “bikini body,” after seeing my similarly-sized sister take the plunge and buy a bikini top.

To others, bikini tops might be considered immodest, a protest against the patriarchy (a la 1950’s), or the wear of models. To me, however, the bikini has always felt like freedom, and other swimwear a scarlet letter, letting everyone know I’m not in “good enough shape” to wear a bikini. I always felt like my physical attractiveness/fitness was in part measured by my ability to fit into two tiny pieces of fabric and look absolutely flawless doing it. Needless to say, I was falling short.

The “#Fatkini” movement affirms what I’d already decided last summer, after being fed up with hiding myself: There’s no such thing as a bikini body. If you aren’t acquainted, #Fatkini has accompanied thousands of pictures of curvy women wearing bikinis, women that wouldn’t typically wear one due to their size. The movement is about eliminating the idea of a “bikini body” and about empowering women of all sizes to embrace their bodies.

Critics of the movement complain that #Fatkini is going to encourage women that are overweight and unhealthy to stop trying to be healthy, but I think their argument is vacuous.

Not all curvy bodies are unhealthy. There are plenty of women who eat well, exercise regularly, and still aren’t “thin” by general societal standards. Also, self-love is the first step to self-improvement. Allowing curvy women to believe they are gorgeous the way they are allows them to divorce beauty from fitness and pursue a healthy lifestyle while believing they are worth the final result.

The #Fatkini movement is a positive step toward shattering the illusion that “beautiful” is defined by waist size or weight. And I’m a fan.

I thought I’d feel self-conscious wearing a bikini top, but I actually feel the opposite. I find myself feeling better about embracing my body for what it is (awesome shark-attack-esque scar and all) than feeling like it has to be hidden. At the end of the day, my opinion is the only one that matters. And I think I look pretty great.

How do you feel about bikinis? The #Fatkini movement?

Xoxo, Taylor

The Thigh Gap

If this title doesn’t make any sense to you, congratulations. Seriously. You haven’t been exposed to what I think is one of the most upsetting trends in body image today: the thigh gap. The thigh gap, you guessed it, is the space between a girl’s thighs when she stands normally. Young girls are now holding this up as a standard of beauty, something to be achieved.

Here’s the problem: besides being another marker of a dangerous shift toward hyper-thinness, the thigh gap is something some women are not meant to achieve. Ever.

This post by Jen Rinker goes into more detail, but basically, women’s bodies are designed different ways. Some women are designed in such a way that they carry more weight in their hips, which means no matter how much weight they lose, they probably won’t ever achieve the “thigh gap.” Other women just have narrow hips, and so being thin won’t even create enough space for there to be a thigh gap. Which means that young girls who are trying to gain a thigh gap might be working toward an unattainable standard of beauty.

The issue of the thigh gap speaks to the bigger issue of beauty standards that are absolute, not relative to body type. Being 120 lbs, for example, is something that some women might naturally achieve. It might just be how they’re built. For others, it might be unhealthy to be that small or even impossible to achieve given the body type of the woman. Beauty standards that suggest that women are “one size, fits all” need to be ignored.

I am a curvy woman. I will never be 100 pounds. I will never be a size zero. I’ll never, ever have a thigh gap. But that says nothing about what kind of shape I’m in or how I look when I stand in the mirror. I don’t mean to beat the “positive self-image” horse to death, but bodies come in all shapes and sizes. Assigning a number or a measurement (like the thigh gap) to beauty is illogical, and if I were to try to paint myself by the numbers, I’d always fall short.

Do you remember junior high PE? I do because I hated it, but that’s another story. Assigning these numbers to beauty is like telling everyone in the junior high PE program that they have to run a mile in 6 minutes. Could athletes do it? Maybe. Is that the mark of a good athlete? It certainly would indicate that someone were a good athlete if they could do it. But if they couldn’t? Perhaps some are better long-distance runners. Perhaps some (like me!) have short legs and will never be able to run that fast. Perhaps some students’ fastest mile time will only ever be 10 minutes. But does that mean these students are out of shape? Absolutely not. In the same way, the thigh gap is nowhere near an accurate measurement of health or of beauty.

Furthermore, these young girls who are playing into trends like the thigh gap are often at the age where looking attractive to guys becomes important. But what guy (who wasn’t a complete chauvinist) ever comments on a woman’s “thigh gap?” Yeah, I’ve never heard of one.

photo

via Pinterest

So at the end of the day, the thigh gap, like many other beauty “ideals,” is something to be concerned about and wary of. Having a gap between your thighs when you stand says nothing about your health, your beauty, or your weight. Achieving a beauty standard is less important than looking like the best “you” possible. As for me, I’ll be getting back to the gym this semester. But the only measurement of my success will be the gap between my fitness level now and where I hope to be.

It’s a Love Issue

Most people would agree that the conditions of our society and the media are not conducive to having a healthy body or body image. On one hand, we have a problem in America with extreme obesity. Public figures like Michelle Obama have attempted to fight this by promoting healthy eating and regular exercise. On the other hand, we have a problem with warped body image, especially in women. Recent movements such as the Dove Real Beauty campaign have stepped in to promote the idea that women of all sizes and shapes are beautiful.

That all sounds great at a glance, but when you look closer it’s obvious we have a confusing and contradictory message being communicated to Americans: we want you to love yourself but just kidding, you’re actually overweight and need to get in shape.

So what are we to believe?

Obviously, both things are good. We want people to be healthy. We want people to love themselves as they are, also. So how do we encourage one without totally destroying the other?

I think we need to stop focusing so much on our bodies and focus more on our complete selves. In other words, self-love, not body love, is the answer.

If we could convince each American that she or he as a person is inherently and immeasurably valuable, imagine what we could do. We could not only decrease obesity and render the media’s warped messages about body image ineffective, we could decrease drug use and alcoholism, and do a slew of other things.

By convincing people that their self-worth is of the utmost importance, we could supercede this “beautiful vs obese” divide by helping people to see that yes, they are beautiful the way they are, but also giving them the empowerment to say, “I love myself enough to get healthy for (my kids, myself, my family…).” We could empower those that are actually at medical risk because of their obesity to change for the better while simultaneously loving themselves as is because frankly, while our bodies are part of who we are, they aren’t all of it.

Not to say that the Dove campaign and others are bad, but when we focus so much on body love, we ignore the fact that we are still focusing on our bodies.

I really like Oprah Winfrey’s comment on her own battle with her weight and self-image:

Here’s another thing this past year has been trying to teach me: I don’t have a weight problem—I have a self-care problem that manifests through weight. As my friend Marianne Williamson shared with me, “Your overweight self doesn’t stand before you craving food. She’s craving love.” Falling off the wagon isn’t a weight issue; it’s a love issue.

I think she’s completely right. It’s a love issue. Teaching Americans about the food pyramid until you’re blue in the face isn’t going to fix that.

Implementing such a campaign of self-love would be challenging at best. It would involve a complete overhaul of the media and of how we see ourselves. But when everything else seems to be failing, I think it’s something to consider. Isn’t it about time we started loving ourselves a little more?

Style: It’s Not a Popularity Contest

A couple weeks ago in my business ethics class, we discussed the ethicality of Abercrombie and Fitch’s decision to not sell clothing in plus sizes, stating that they didn’t want plus-sized people wearing their clothes. One of my classmates commented, “I just can’t live with the idea of a larger girl coming home to her parents crying asking why she can’t wear the clothes her classmates wear.”

The comment got me thinking.

While I completely agree that the implications of A&F’s decisions are upsetting, we can’t necessarily make A&F change their sizing. We can, however, change how we allow our girls to perceive style.

The years of junior high and high school are hard times to be female. I’ve been there. I know. Things can seem so black and white at times. You wear this brand or buy this new gadget, and you’re a cool kid. You don’t, you aren’t. This line of thinking gives young girls two perceived options: conform or be judged. For a girl who isn’t of the body shape to wear tight-fitting AE jeans or graphic tees, the options are to wear clothes that don’t flatter them and they don’t feel confident in, or to wear something different and feel judged.

It shouldn’t have to be like that.

Style is at its core a way for us to express ourselves. By letting girls routinely fall into the double bind of conformity, we are allowing them to believe that their fashion choices should reflect how they are just like everyone else. We are letting them think that sameness is valued, and that there is a “right” way to be yourself. Be yourself, as long as yourself can fit into size zero jeans.

We need to instead teach young girls that style is about confidence, about wearing things that make them feel beautiful, not popular.

Growing up, I was taught that style was about making your body shape work for you. I was taught that there was always a way to fit, to flatter, to accentuate. There was always a way to be the best version of yourself.

Because of that, I didn’t view the “popular kid” brands as some sort of unshakeable standard of high fashion. I viewed them as an option, an option that just didn’t work for me and my body shape. I was (and still am) curvy. I’m just not made to wear tight tees and low-rise jeans. But I never let that stop me from pursuing fashion.

Sure, my clothes didn’t look like everyone else’s. I wore different cuts and fits, and sometimes outlandishly different styles, but I didn’t care. I didn’t see myself as different. I saw myself as Taylor, and Taylor wore what looked good on her. That just happened to be something other than what was popular at the time.

The reactions of my peers were far from the social ostracism that might be expected. I was confident because I felt good about myself, and my peers took notice. While I made some style decisions that today I question (don’t we all do that?) I was never made fun of or excluded. I was myself. And I turned out okay!

I think curvier girls like me (and all girls!) should be taught that it is okay to not follow the crowd, if it means feeling better about yourself. I would rather be a confident me wearing a burlap sack than an awkward me attempting to cram into what everyone else deems “cool.” When style becomes about confidence, conformity becomes irrelevant. Girls are able to dress themselves in a way that makes them look in the mirror and truly love what they see, regardless of their shape.

We can’t always control the media’s messages or protect our daughters, sisters, or friends from them. But we can teach them that the messages are just that – messages. They’re not commandments, rules, or standards. We can remind them, as hard as it can be sometimes, that if popularity means shopping at a certain store, they can opt out. After all, the confidence of a woman speaks volumes more about her than the logo on her tee.

A Rock and a Hard Place? The Career-Minded and the Issue of Family

In the last hundred years, America (and many other parts of the world) has made huge social gains, particularly in the area of equality. Gender is one area where the gap has been reduced. More women are working now than ever before, and certainly more are pursuing “careers” instead of just jobs. If men and women are both working, I guess that begs the question: Who takes care of the kids?

I started thinking about this the other day, after my roommate mentioned a survey that was done in her sociology class. Men and women were asked what their job hours would look like should they decide to have a family. 68% of women said they would keep a full-time job, while 28% would stop working or reduce their hours. 4% said they wouldn’t have kids.

In contrast, 100% of the men said they wouldn’t change their hours once they started a family. I began thinking: if many people meet their future spouse in college, and this poll were to be representative of the Penn population, about 28% of the marriages between Penn alum would consist of a man who plans on keeping a full-time job, and a woman who’s willing to accommodate for the kids. But what about that other 68% of women? Are we looking at a lot of cat ladies or childless couples? And should it have to be that way?

After looking at my own experiences so far as a career-oriented young woman, some input from college guys, and even a little Google-searching, I’ve come to the conclusion that while progress is being made, women are still finding themselves sandwiched between family and career.

I’ll start with the college guys. I asked various college guys I know (via Facebook) to tell me a bit about whether or not family factors into how they perceive their future career goals. The range of answers was surprising, and of course disproved the idea that 100% of all men actually want a full-time job when they have children.

The majority seemed to say that family was a consideration, and a few even mentioned having chosen their areas of study based on what would bring family stability. A few responded that family wasn’t at all a consideration, and one actually put it as his main consideration in forming his career goals.

The men I talked to were overall more family oriented than I had expected… Which leads me to a little hard data. After doing some Googling on the subject, I found an article from CNN that says that more men are actually becoming stay-at-home dads in recent years. The articles cites that this may be in part to the sour economy, but in many cases the women are still out working while the men are at home. I was surprised by this. I know that traditional gender roles have been shifting in years past but this was still not what I expected.

Based on both my informal research and actual research, it’s clear that contrary to the sociology class’ survey, men are shifting their views toward family to accommodate the increasing tendency of women to be career-focused. While men’s views are shifting, women’s self-perceptions as how they function within the family unit don’t seem to be.

A study done by a Wharton professor which looked into the attitudes of various undergraduate graduating classes found that 64 percent of women in the 2012 class agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “The demands of family life will interfere with achieving success in my career,” versus only 26 percent of the men.

The tendency of women to feel trapped between professional and personal success isn’t just observable in studies. It’s something I think can be observed pretty easily, and this brings me back to my own experiences.

Yes, I’m a freshman in college. I’m certainly a couple years away from being able to call myself a career woman. But as a woman majoring in Economics (business!) with ambitions of working for big companies and climbing the corporate ladder someday, the question of family is something that causes me to squirm.

It’s not because I don’t want a family, don’t get me wrong. I want the white picket fence and the dog, the whole works. The part that makes me uncomfortable isn’t the “what,” but the “how.” Like many women around me, I often feel like all of the work I am doing right now to build my resume and career is going to eventually collide with this suburban vision of happiness, and I’m going to have to choose: work or family. I want both. I hope by the time I get there, I’ve found a way to do both, and do both well.

Obviously I’ve got a few years before this issue becomes pressing for me, but it’s something I find extremely interesting. Women or men, please comment below. Do you think men are taking more of a role in familial affairs? Should they? How should a woman prioritize work and family?

Find my “sources” here:

http://money.cnn.com/2012/04/30/pf/stay-at-home-dad/index.htm

http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2013/02/dont-rule-out-having-children-because-you-want-to-have-a-career/273154/