The YWCA is holding a poetry night tomorrow to commemorate Love Your Body Day as well as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The National Organization for Women started Love Your Body Day in 1988 to draw attention to ads and other media that negatively affect how women see their bodies.
Cheree Thomas works for the YWCA and reads poetry at the event every year. She says although women have come a long way in terms of education and employment, negative body images are still a problem.
“There’s this great film by Jean Kilbourne called Killing Us Softly—and I believe that has four parts now too. But when she first did the film, the first one that she did had images of media in the 50s relating to a woman’s body. And since that time to now, they haven’t stopped," Thomas says. "They’ve gotten actually progressively worse."
Thomas says because of photo editing software, young girls now strive to look like a person who doesn’t exist.
“Because that’s a photo of somebody…actually probably five or ten somebodies. So different pieces of individuals to create one person," she says. "So you’re striving to be something that isn’t even a real person. It’s all digitally retouched. And before the age of being able to digitally retouch photos, there was airbrushing. And before airbrushing, you’re talking about a body type that was only two percent of the population. So we’ve always been given these images that were really unrealistic for the majority of the population to reach.”
Thomas says the standard of beauty is pretty much the same for all women in the U.S., even women of color like herself.
“I will never be blond unless I choose to dye my hair blond, right? But I get those images too because Beyonce is not a natural blond. Right? But she is labeled one of the most beautiful women in the world right now, but she has totally changed her natural appearance. So if you remember Beyonce when she was part of Destiny’s Child, she looks nothing like she does now. Part of it is age and maturity, but a lot of it is succumbing to the pressures to be this idea beauty type. Having straight hair is a pressure that a lot of girls—particularly African American girls—feel the pressure to do. Using chemicals that actually are harmful, right? But it’s this ideal that if you have the straighter hair, you’re more attractive.”
Thomas says the goal of Love Your Body Day is for every woman to accept what’s normal for her own body.
“So for one woman it might be being a size 14, right? For another woman it could be a size 6. For another woman it could be being long-haired, for another woman it could be tight curly hair or locks, right? So whatever is the norm for you, it’s OK. You might be a person that the norm for you means you have to walk around with crutches or you have a wheelchair, right? That’s you, that’s OK. It’s acceptable. So we’re trying to create a format where being you is OK.”
Due to the content of some of the poems at Wednesday's poetry night, the event is for ages 13 and up.