Saturday, November 1, 2014

What Are You Looking At? // The Image Issue

HAPPY SATURDAY!  Saturday is one of the few days that I can almost always slap a "Happy" in front of in complete sincerity, because it usually means that there's either something fun or nothing at all going on all day, and that is like a new TSwift single to my ears.  Well, like the "Style" kind of TSwfit, not the "Welcome to New York' kind - I'm just not feeling that one as much.  That's me being extremely picky, though.  If we're being honest here, and we usually are, I've done little but listen to 1989 on super repeat for the last few days since its release.  In the shower?  "Clean" is blasting.  "Style" plays while I'm choosing my outfit in the morning, and it's all about "Blank Space" while I stare at my computer screen trying to create some more bad puns.

All of this intense Taylor time has lead to an extreme lack of productivity.  Like, I may have gone to school without a lunch this week as an indirect result of my obsession.  (Don't worry, I have a dad who works at my high school and usually lends me money for lunch when I'm on the brink of starvation.)  It's not just the fact that I'm constantly listening to every song as closely as possible in order to get all of the lyrics down, though.  It's also the fact that the music is on my phone, and so my phone is with me constantly, along with all of the fun little distracting features it has.  Exhibit A:  Instagram.  I have spent more time than I care to admit with that app lately . . . you know how that goes, don't you?  You scroll through your feed and then you click the little explore button and find a bunch of people you kind of know and before you can double tap you're at school the next morning without lunch.  I promise there's a point to this, that point being that the extra Instagram time I've been logging has ended in me seeing some really, really sad stuff.

It's Saturday, and it would definitely be easier to sit here and argue the merit of "Style" vs. "Welcome to New York" until the clock strikes midnight, but we've got to talk about other things.  Things like the fact that there are dozens and dozens of Instagram accounts around which were created for the sole purpose of validating anorexia, and that I scrolled through one of them while Taylor was singing her face off on my phone the other night and it broke my heart. 

I don't know if you've ever seen anything like it - pictures of girls with flat, flat stomachs and a thigh gap; pledges to eat less than 500 calories for the next 30 days tied to hope for satisfaction; hashtags like #suicide, #cutting, #anatipsandtricks to bring together everyone who's struggling so hard.  Impossibly low goal weights, unattainable body types, and most of all a scattered collage of broken people.  Overwhelmingly female teenage people, girls who are beautiful and talented and loved and, from the looks of things, don't know it at all.  

I don't know a lot about anorexia.  I know that it starts with a simple choice but quickly grows to become a disease that takes more than a choice to get rid of.  I know that it's destructive - to the body, of course, but also to the mind and relationships of the person affected.  I know that it can be triggered by a huge variety of things, and I know that it's been a big, scary black hole in the lives of people that I'm close to.  I know that many times, it's tied to some kind of deeper hurt or emptiness, and that a lot of people who are in that place are searching desperately for a way out.  

My chance happening across that Instagram account left me with an acute sense of wanting to do something about it.  I'm under no delusion that me writing a blog post about why anorexia is horrible and every girl who has struggled with it should just go eat a sandwich because she's beautiful no matter what the scale says is going to do any good.  I really don't have any business writing something like that; I've never walked in those shoes, so I can't pretend to know how they fit.  I'm writing for those of us who have friends who need our support, for myself and for you.  I don't know a lot about anorexia, but I've got to think that it's got something to do with the culture we're immersed in and that we, the people who create the culture, can do something to change that. 

Something like complementing our friends on the way they talk and act instead of the way they look.  I mean, what message does it send to my friend when I frequently tell her that she looks good, but keep silent when it comes to her kindness to other people or how creative she is?  Building each other up is vitally important, but I think we're doing it wrong.  We'd never, ever say in so many words that we choose our friends based on how they look or that their worth comes from their long hair and perfect body, but the way we complement them sends a totally different message.  

Looks are only important as indicators of where the heart's at.  For example, if I start to gain or loose a lot of weight and break out a lot, the problem isn't that I'm too fat or too skinny and acne-prone; the problem is whatever's causing that.  Maybe I'm overwhelmed or depressed or angry, and that's causing me to turn to food for comfort.  As friends, that's really the only reason that a person's appearance or weight ever deserves to receive much attention.  We need to care about what our friends look like only if that's helping us to better care for their other needs and to give attention to a place where they're hurting.  We should be able to put whatever presumptions we have about what people should look like aside in order to get a better look at what's really going on with them and to build them up as they need it. 

Phrases like, "I look so fat in that picture," or "I wish I was as skinny as you are!", too.  Those have to go.  It seems safe enough to self-deprecate in front of our friends - it will make them feel better about themselves to know that we think they're prettier, right?  Wrong.  All those words do is contribute to a culture that worships appearance and laughs at anyone who doesn't.  We've all had our skinny friend make a negative comment about her weight and wondered what that says about us, right?  That's what talking ourselves down in front of other people does - that attitude spreads, like a really dangerous mental wildfire.  Demeaning thoughts can't be allowed to enter our minds, take root, and escape our mouths anymore.  

This all sounds good, but in reality, it's really hard to act this way.  Most of us, I think, are so immersed in a society that tries with everything that it has to put outward appearances first and foremost that it's hard to behave apart from it.  The truth is that I'll probably publish this post with full intentions to be a blogger of my word and ignore what people look like, then turn around and mess up within the hour.  It won't be easy to make changes that affect everything from the way we interact to the way we think, but it is so, so worth it.  To have friends that focus on one another's unique abilities and traits and care for each other on a deep level? To have an entire culture that shifts its gaze from the outside in?  To make Instagram accounts that encourage image-driven starvation obsolete?  I'm more than willing to give it a shot!  You, too? Great.


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