Feminism 101: The Battle over Body Image

Our favorite feminists get real about how they (and society) views their bodies
By Avital Norman Nathman  Published on 04/21/2017 at 8:41 AM EDT

The idea behind the body positivity movement — all bodies are good bodies — is a powerful one. But in a society that upholds a very narrow (and often unhealthy) image of what bodies should look like, it can be difficult to love the skin you’re in. We were inspired to tackle this topic by Mayim’s interview with plus-size model Hunter McGrady this week as well as some questions emailed in by some of you!

It’s no secret that the media plays a role in how we see ourselves and the shapes of our bodies (and can obviously make it harder for some to love their own). It’s even harder when it’s “bikini body season” and every magazine is screaming at you to get that “perfect” flat tummy or sculpted arms. When we face unrealistic and damaging images of what some thing bodies just look like, it can take a toll, even for those of us who truly love and appreciate our bodies, no matter their shape or size. We asked our favorite feminists how they tackle the idea of body image.

What does it take for you to feel good in your skin?

Jen Selk:Look for representation. If you’re fat, try to hunt down pictures of glamorous, sexy fats (there are many of us!) on the internet. Watch movies, television and consume other forms of pop culture that present fat folks in a positive light. If you’re a person of colour, same deal — do the extra work it (sadly) takes to find people who you can visually relate to in popular culture. Why? Because most of us are kinder to and more rational about others. Most of us can see the beauty and awesomeness in others more easily than we can in ourselves, but with enough practice and relatable role models, we can start to see ourselves in the same way. Works for me, anyway.”

Danielle Corcione:I’ve always been overweight and particularly conscious about my gut. I also identify more as masculine than femme, making it difficult to find clothes in my size that reflect a more androgynous look, but when I do achieve that look even just a little, I’m put at ease.

Though, whenever I’m shopping in a store, I’m continually frustrated my sizes aren’t present. Thin people are often afforded the luxury of walking into a store and have their size sitting on a display table; for me, I have to dig to the end of the pile in the back if I can ever my find my size at all. I shop online to cure this nuisance, but it obviously deprives me in the experience and convenience of trying things on at a physical storefront.”

Natasha Vianna:I’m a young mom of color, so every message in America directed towards me and my body is negative. But disliking the shape of my body or the stretch marks on my skin is disliking the culture I descend from and the strength my body carries. So I remind myself that my body IS perfect and that my only flaw is occasionally forgetting about its perfection. Even then, I find the power to reconnect with my physical perfection through self-love.”

Amy Bickers:Physical activity is important to how I feel about myself, but as I get older, I see it as an exercise in gratitude rather than a means to an aesthetic end. I appreciate the things my body can do on any given day and I try not to judge what it can’t, because I know none of us is guaranteed good health and mobility. I try to see exercise as an opportunity to practice thankfulness for my body, not its particular shape but its abilities. I have never been able to stay motivated by the things the media shows us (abs and glutes and numbers on a scale). What makes me feel good in my skin is appreciating the external things that come with moving my body — the sun on my face when my boyfriend and I ride our bikes, the fun music during a workout, the camaraderie in a group activity. I’m a grandma now and I think about my own grandma a lot, about how beautiful I thought she was, how soft her skin was when she let me snuggle up next to her when we went out on the lake on my grandparents’ pontoon. And never once did I think about how she looked in her bathing suit. I try to live in a place of knowing that my grandson will feel the same about me, that the people who love me will only see whatever love and light I radiate, and no one gives a damn how I look in my bathing suit.”

Shaindel Beers:It helps me so much to think of my body as a machine that can DO things and not as an object that is supposed to look a certain way. My body takes me to the top of mountains, on runs, it lifts weights, it’s made a child. It’s a pretty awesome machine, and I try to remember to be thankful and take care of it.”

Emily Comeau:There is no one answer to this question, no one thing you can do and no quick fix solution for how to make yourself feel good in your own skin. It is a never-ending process and something some people have to work at daily. Like most women, I have had my fair share of body image issues. Being a human is complicated. Being a cartoon monster in a girl skin suit is EXTREMELY complicated. But one thing that I do to make myself feel good is I MOISTURIZE. Seriously, it’s that simple. The act of caring for yourself in this way, touching and connecting to your physical being is incredibly grounding. You are present, you take up space. Own it. Accept it. Cherish it. I didn’t think it would change my life when I started moisturizing regularly but it has. I feel so much better about myself and this flesh sack. Everything feels easier when your skin feels good and you feel present in your body.

Moisturize with a cream you love. I use Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula Concentrated Cream because it smells like chocolate chip cookies and then I can walk around all day whispering ‘Cooooookie tits’ to myself in the voice of the dog from those Cookie Crisp commercials. Your skin is your armour, your shield that keeps all the squishy bits safe. Oil that shield, girl!

Avital Norman Nathman:It took being pregnant and having my son to help me love my body. Despite the fact that my body changed drastically during and after pregnancy, that experience showed me what it is capable of — and it left me in awe. I have the power to grow another person. I have the strength to nourish them, carry them around and birth them. Since then, instead of critiquing my body, I remind myself of everything it is capable of and how much I appreciate it. Sure, I have curves and hips and rolls that aren’t replicated often in mainstream media, but it’s all part and parcel of the overall package — one I am immensely grateful for. Also, what I have learned along the years being different shapes and sizes as my body has changed is that all it takes to have a ‘bikini body’ is a bikini!”

Mayim Bialik:Feeling good in my skin takes me defining my own love of my body and not being encouraged to equate showing more of it than i want to with empowerment. For me, I feel empowered when I am in control of who sees what part of me and when I am in control of the gaze of men and women alike. I keep seeing articles about how ’empowering’ it can be to pose nude or topless and I’m not buying it. For me, I am empowered by people getting to know me, appreciating my sense of humor and intellect, and wanting to know more about me. The vessel I am in is the last thing I want people to judge me by.”


Have a question for our ragtag group of raging feminists? Send it to Avital Norman Nathman at and it might just be answered in a future Feminism 101!

Photo Credit: Andrea Parrish

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