Healthy body image is a something of a buzz-phrase we’ve all familiarized ourselves with. We associate it with everything from social media to patriarchal gender expectations. While contemporary dialogue surrounding the media’s effect on body image has been undoubtedly eye-opening, we want to push the envelope even further.
As a brand aiming to create space for underrepresented stories and bodies, we take language very seriously. L’AMOURZINE - the editorial manifestation of the community we want to create, and all its ideas and discussions – is the perfect place to explore the power of words. Today, we want to talk about a word that’s got a lot to do with body image, even though we don’t often think of it as such.
Word of the Day – Embodiment
Aside from eloquently defining the experience of giving body or a physical element to some nonphysical entity, the word “embodiment” isn’t the most groundbreaking or provocative term. However, it’s one we think about often as a community aspiring to empower diverse bodies. Merriam Webster’s definition may not give you a lot to think about, but “embodiment” means a lot more than meets the eye.
In the context of feminist studies (which we recognize often adopts a primarily white, cis/het-normative framing), embodiment describes the experience of internalizing the world’s external perceptions of your physical form and presence. Given the patriarchal, misogynistic, and Euro-centric standards that define much of our lives, women are often left with mostly negative perceptions to embody. For example, feminist pioneer Simone de Beauvoir theorized the concept of “Woman as Other”, in which men—particularly white, cisgender, heterosexual men as further defined by Audre Lorde—act as the natural standard and women appear as their subcategory. The way this model upholds itself is by normalizing and codifying the aforementioned standards. Whether through the male gaze’s objectification of women’s bodies, or the medical field’s perception of women’s bodies as mere vessels for human life, women embody their physical form as having little value in and of themselves.
For those whose bodies or expressions defy heteronormative or Eurocentric schemas (i.e., transgender people, people of color, genderqueer people, etc.), embodiment can be a source of further ostracization. What the world perceives of you, your lived experiences, and your agency are all shaped by your physical form. That confinement increases tenfold when your body doesn’t fit the schemas we described earlier.
All of these restrictive perceptions of people’s bodies can cause countless negative effects on a person. Adding social media to the mix amplifies the pressure even further. Hence the contemporary dialogue surrounding the media’s effect on body image. Is this starting to sound familiar?
The Problem with Body Image
The use of women and other marginalized people’s bodies as a means to reinforce the subjugation and stigmatization of their bodies goes beyond feminist theory. What we do (or don’t) see, value, and represent shape our ideas of what is normal, what is right, and what is competent. Embodiment causes us to internalize the worth the world places on our bodies. This happens everywhere from doctors’ offices to work places (see Tracy McMillan Cottom’s work linked above), and most commonly on social media.
There’s been no shortage of discussion on the media’s effect on body image. From seeing the same tall, size-two models in every Instagram ad to never seeing a dark-skinned or plus-size woman in the lead role, there are plenty of reasons why maintaining a healthy body image feels impossible. How can you when you’re embodying the negative, limiting frameworks of beauty plastered all over the world around you? Even the bodies that are “celebrated” often become points of controversy: are they too provocative? Too skinny? Too exposed? We embody this dispute and the shame that comes along with it. Then, the shame and dispute become integral components of our own self-perception.
A healthy body image is not something to take for granted. Those of us who have learned to maintain it are often seen as either lucky, skilled, or blessed given the limitless negativity we face. But the things we embody don’t have to be negative, let alone predisposed to fit normative, limiting frameworks. Spaces like L’AMOURZINE, are where we begin to question those frameworks and most importantly, find ways to reject them.
Sitting on your phone during quarantine isn’t exactly the best way to maintain a healthy body image, but we understand that doing otherwise is difficult nowadays.
From cleansing your feed to giving yourself a break, there are plenty of digital tips and tricks out there to help avoid the media’s effect on body image. But we also know how important self-image is when learning to love the skin you’re in. Material goods can’t always save the world, but we would be lying if we said they didn’t play a role in enhancing our self-perception.
Think about the times that you’ve looked in the mirror and were really feeling yourself. The power and presence you felt as you stared at every imperfection and really loved what you saw. Wearing something that makes you feel good (especially when you know it was made with you in mind) makes it that much easier to love what you see when you look in that mirror. Reclaiming embodiment can start with separating yourself from unattainable body images and rejecting misogynistic, Euro-centric norms and values. It can also be an active process of self-love and self-worth. Wearing something that reminds you of your body’s beauty and value in any circumstance can be one formative piece of the puzzle.
Healthy body image icons from Tess Holiday to Rihanna have all shown the tried-and-true power of lingerie. The impact of intimate apparel goes unmatched when it comes to helping embody the sexiness that’s previously been reserved for the male gaze. Embodiment, at its core, is internalization of what’s on the outside. Why not reverse the media’s effect on body image by learning to love what we see on the outside, then embracing it within? Identify that feeling when you put on that bra and underwear set and embody it. Embrace the sexy. Embody the powerful. Know it doesn't go away when you take off the lingerie; it’s who you are. The bra and underwear just amplify it on the outside.
Regardless of the criticisms thrown at your body – too sexual, not normal, unimportant – knowing your worth allows you to defy it all and fully embody a healthy body image. Wearing the perfect set of lingerie—tailored to fit every curve, every change, every part of your experience—can be monumental. The power of lingerie in helping you see yourself in a bolder, brighter light is not to be underestimated. “To embody” means a lot of things. But the most important definition is the process of creating a healthy body image for yourself by embracing your body in whatever way feels empowering, no matter what the world tells you otherwise.