Loved Bodies, Big Ideas Contest!

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Finally, a way to do something about our culture wreaking havoc on how our girls feel about their bodies.

The Women’s Therapy Centre Institute recently announced the LOVED BODIES, BIG IDEAS Contest. They are asking the question: What is one bold action that could make the world truly value the diversity of women’s and girls’ bodies? Entrants must submit a 500-word essay with their bold idea, due by December 1, 2010. The three most “thrilling and original submissions” will be chosen as winners. You can find out more about the contest at www.endangeredspecieswomen.org. We loved the idea so much that we interviewed activist and editor at Feministing, Courtney Martin, and the summit coordinator for “Endangered Species: Preserving the Female Body,” an international summit coming this March 18-19 that will challenge the toxic culture that teaches women and girls to hate their bodies.

What is the goal of the LOVED BODIES, BIG IDEAS Contest?

The goal is to draw on the wisdom of girls and women from all over the country about the best way to shift our toxic culture. So often, it is experts from “on high” who prescribe what it is that girls and women need to do to feel better about their bodies; too often these prescriptions end up making us all feel like it’s our personal responsibility to shift our mindsets, rather than our collective responsibility to change the culture that’s making us feel so much self-hatred in the first place.

What do you think will be the best thing to come from running this contest?

The surprises! I can’t wait to start reading the entries that come in—full of on-the-ground, fresh energy from people who are deeply passionate about making the world a more hospitable place to girls and women with a range of body types. Because I often travel and speak on these issues, I know how much energy and innovation is out there, and this is a way to channel that into one revolutionary direction.

Contest winners will be invited to present their ideas in 10-minute presentations at the Endangered Species Summit in March 2011 in New York City.

How will these winning ideas be turned into action?

We’re inviting a power-packed audience of thought leaders, educators, philanthropists, therapists, activists, etc. who can seize on these ideas and help propel them forward. Ultimately, we’re hoping the summits (there will be one also taking place in the UK, Buenos Aires, and, most likely, Melbourne) will lead to a worldwide campaign.

Do you think there have been any really effective media campaigns so far to help girls and women feel good about their bodies? If so, what were they and why did they work?

One of my favorite cultural critics, Cornel West, says, “Of course it’s a failure, but how good a failure is it?” Along those lines, I think there have been a lot of impressive failures—the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, the No Fat Talk campaign, the Love Your Body Day poster contests, etc. All of these fall short, for various reasons, as will our own efforts. But, to my mind, it’s not about perfection, it’s about the eternal pursuit of a better failure.

How early do you think we should be talking to girls about weight and body image?

I think girls, themselves, should decide when and how they first start talking about these issues with those they trust. If we, as well-intentioned adults, introduce the dialogue too early, we may be preemptively making girls feel anxiety about their bodies. Girls will tell us when they’re starting to think about these issues and we should be ready to dive into the dialogue then.

I was the senior editor for a girls’ magazine for which young female models graced the cover. The few times we put “real” girls on the cover (who looked much more like most girls today look), sales went way down, which was heartbreaking. Do you have any thoughts or ideas on how we can change this?

We have to recognize our power as consumers. Too often we point the finger elsewhere—these evil magazine editors and television producers, those money-grubbing corporate executives; but, when we buy their products, as is, we are essentially giving them permission to make us feel bad about ourselves. We’ve got to start closing the gap between our values and our spending habits.

There seems to be a new message we’re hearing, from organizations such as the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, that one can be fat and healthy. How does this play into the idea of loving our bodies?

We need to shift conversations about weight to conversations about wellbeing. A number on the scale, or even a BMI score, are weak indicators of one’s whole health compared to questions like: when and how do you enjoy moving and how often do you get to do it? What kind of whole, fresh food do you have access to and in what ways are you able to integrate it into your lifestyle? How do you feel about your body? Etc., etc.

About the Author

cmartinCourtney Martin
Courtney Martin is an author, teacher, and speaker, based in Brooklyn. Her first book, Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: How the Quest for Perfection Is Harming Young Women, was called a “hardcover punch in the gut” by Arianna Huffington and nominated for a Books for a Better Life Award. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Utne Reader, among other outlets, and she is a frequent commentator on television and radio.

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