Truth and lives: beneath our skin
Uniformity is not nature's way; diversity is nature's way.
In the United States, weight loss is a $61 billion dollar industry, with a 95% failure rate (Brown, 2015). Globally, consumers annually spend $586 billion dollars on weight loss products, programs and procedures. Those who manage to lose weight put it back on, plus some within 3 to 5 years (Crowe, 2014), contributing to the ever growing number of men, women and children with eating disorders and body image concerns. Consumers who fail to lose weight or keep it off are often viewed as failures and encouraged to reengage in the same fruitless practices and behaviors again. There’s a lot of money at stake in treating these errant bodies with researchers and doctors often receiving financial support from sponsors in related industries and many individuals are invested in their own thin privilege because they’ve worked so hard to earn it (Brown, 2015). Media and popular culture also contribute in major ways to the belief that there is only one right way to have a body, straying from the critical importance of biodiversity to our sustained existence. If we take lessons from the natural world, we can see that biodiversity is necessary for sustaining life (McShea & Brandon, 2010). Why then are we so challenged by the concept that body diversity in humans is also necessary for sustaining life on our planet (Zoltan, 2016)?
Bodies perceived as “different” or “wrong,” get treated differently. In many cases, individuals who fall within this “different” paradigm, experience discrimination in their workplace, in health care, in education, and where ever else they dare to live their lives in such a body. Bodies that are deemed as “right,” most often white, thin and able bodies, are privileged in a society that puts high value on the mythical construct of beauty (Wolf, 1991). The “othering” of bodies outside those deemed as acceptable in our society impacts ALL people, regardless of size, shape, gender, sexuality, race, and dis/ability. For years, I’ve examined my own experiences of body oppression and expression living in a large body from an autoethnography approach sharing my insights through blogging, published articles, stories and presentations.
Beyond the predictable media outlets of film, television, magazines, literature, and music which prioritize “right” or “acceptable” body types, many individuals with different body expressions have taken to social media and blogs to celebrate their own individuality and the diversity of others. Topics range from fashion trends and new beauty concepts to ways to live in a “different” body and tips to combat the many ways bodies are subjectively criticized in our society (Petronzio, 2015). Often, photographs, both personal and professional play a huge role in people sharing their own expressions of body diversity (Jones, n.d.). Hashtags that help connect and drive momentum in this arena include #effyourbeautystandards #selfiesforselflove #bigandblunt #radicalbodylove #adipositivity #loveyourselfie and #bodylove4all.
Though there is an emerging diversity amongst those both participating and vocally visible in this movement, the voices of marginalized bodies are often over shadowed by those with more privilege or go unheard by broader audiences. The impetus for this project is to allow for a means of sharing the stories of how individuals live and thrive (or not) in their diverse bodies with the goal of giving opportunity for the voices that may not currently be “heard” to be shared with a wide audience in a format that is aimed at providing a point of connection that engages others on the surface, where difference exist; lifts ideas of how body diversity is perceived in to a new light and exposes where change is needed; while supporting participants to speak for themselves providing
points of impact for change within themselves,
their relationships, and their community.
Through this project, I want to connect with individuals living in marginalized bodies and build relationships that allow for the sharing of stories of how they live and thrive (or not) in their bodies. With participant’s permission, I plan to record their stories for use in digital storytelling and visual art adaptation (2D – drawings, paintings and 3D – sculpture, found art collage, dioramas, etc), which will be shared with a broad audience. These stories may include the stories we tell ourselves about our bodies, the stories others tell us about our bodies and the stories we know about our bodies. The goal of this capture and release process is to provide for individual voices to share their stories in a way that exposes where change is needed for a paradigm shift that will allow for the acceptance of diversity in all bodies and strengthen our connections as human beings.