In Chapter 6 of Sarah Grogan’s text, Body Image: Understanding Body Dissatisfaction in Men, Women and Children, the author attempts to, as the end of the chapter summarizes, “review data from a variety of sources looking at the mediating effects of age, ethnicity, social class, and sexuality on body image” (190). When reading the chapter, I could not help but make notes in the margins about my own personal experiences. As a predominately white, pansexual woman raised under the influence of Western standards of body image, I saw my own insecurities about my body mirrored by the women in the many studies Grogan references. As Dr. Milligan said during our first class –because bodies are everywhere, because we all have one– oftentimes talking about bodies and body image is seen as a mundane topic. If nothing else, Grogan’s writing proves to us that body image is not mundane; our bodies and body image are complex topics that we all negotiate with over the course of our lives, making it a worthwhile topic to explore.
As previously stated, I saw my own personal dissatisfaction throughout Grogan’s piece. Similar to most of the women described, I have always felt some type of way about in some way or another whether it be as a child, as an adolescent, or as an adult. I too have felt pressure to have the ‘ideal’ body, an ideal that has only become more homogenized over time due to the pervasiveness Western culture (159-150, 164-165), and experienced similar “concern about eating, body weight, and physical appearance” that lead to most women having overall lower self-esteem as described by Patricia Pliner and colleagues in their 1990 study (153). As someone that is often perceived as relatively thin, I have heard commentary from many people about my body and had thoughts about myself that have left me feeling uncomfortable: I have longed for a flat tummy; most women often tell me that I am ‘blessed’ to have my figure; Black and Latina women have told me that I am too thin; and men of multiple ethnic and social backgrounds have told me that I have a ‘good’ body (typically followed with some commentary on my lack of curves). All of these are topics that are addressed over the course of Grogan’s chapter (152-153, 165, 170, 176). This made me slightly obsessed with my weight and body image up until I was in my early twenties. It was a point of pride for me that I ran daily, that practiced yoga, that I only ate one full meal a day. I was ‘earning’ and then bettering the figure that my genetics had ‘blessed’ me with. Luckily, this is something that I have been and continue to work on. In this context, I must agree with Grogan when she claims that feminist ideologies can positively influence women’s self-esteem (169). Engaging in women’s studies and reading feminist literature helped me to embrace myself and to critique the body images that inundate our lives via mainstream and social media projections. In fact, my only critique of Grogan would be that she should not relegate feminism to the section of her chapter on lesbians, as lesbianism and feminism has often been conflated with one another. While people that identify as lesbians can have a political element (such as lesbian feminist stand-point theories), lesbianism and feminism are not one in the same.
Despite this, I found myself very interested in Grogan’s argument about the interplay of sexuality and body image. I believe that although I do not identify as a lesbian, I did become much more accepting of my body after coming to terms with my sexuality (178). That being said, I also agree that as a pansexual femme, I still feel the urge to conform to similar subscribe to mainstream body images (178). I was also not surprised to understand that gay men feel similarly to, and sometimes worse than, straight women with regards to self-esteem, as both feel pressure to fit into a very limited model of acceptable body image (183). Gender and sexuality have an obvious influence on our perspectives regarding our bodies and how we view them.
After reading Grogan’s chapter on body image, it is abundantly clear that insecurities about one’s own body are personal, universal, and influential and alter at the many intersections of ethnicity, class, sexuality, and age. Men and women experience anxieties about their bodies at varying degrees over the course of their lifetime whether it be concerning aesthetics or general health, with heterosexual women and gay men experiencing more overall dissatisfaction (Grogan 189-190). One thing I took away from this reading is that the desired body shape/image is constantly shifting, biased, and is almost never obtainable without some form of augmentation. No one will ever find that “perfect body” because it ultimately does not exist.
Meghan Morris is a graduate student at Old Dominion University’s Institute for the Humanities. She has a Bachelor’s of Arts with a concentration in English Literature and Women’s Studies from Old Dominion University. She is a novice scholar interested in topics related to gender, sex and sexuality, media and pop culture, and American Studies. She enjoys coffee and (good) memes.