|This is my drawing of me. Yeah, I know I've got talent!|
Here is the activity, and how/why it is so amazing. Note: unlike a lot of Positive Body Image activities, this one works best when done with a group!
1) Everyone in the group is given paper and a pen or pencil. If you're feeling fancy, colored pencils, markers, and/or crayons are fun too!
2) Each person in the group draws a picture of her body on the piece of paper. It doesn't matter how realistic or artistically appealing the picture is. This is a time to NOT be a perfectionist. (See my beautiful drawing, above, if you're worried that you aren't adequately artistic for the task!)
3) After drawing the picture, each person makes a list of all the things she likes/loves/appreciates about her body. This "things I like" list can be infinitely long, and MUST contain at least FIVE things. Each person can also list ONE (but not more than one) thing she doesn't like about her body.
4) After 10-15 minutes of artistry and list-making, each person shows the group her picture, and explains her lists. It's important that each thing on the "like" list is explained, instead of just stated. (i.e., "I like my eyes because they are the same color as my mom's eyes...")
5. After everyone has shared, the activity is over. Participants are encouraged to keep their picture + list, and to remember what the activity felt like.
Okay, okay, I know what you're thinking.... this is way too simple to be AMAZING AND LIFE-CHANGING. But, guess what: it is! Here's why:
As women, we're trained from childhood to believe that it's socially inappropriate to love our bodies, or at least, to admit that we love them. We're taught, instead, to bond with each other over our hatred of our bodies, and various different parts of our bodies. If a friend starts complaining about "feeling fat," we know the rules: tell her she isn't fat, and then find some part of your own body to complain about. Similarly, when we're complimented on our looks, we're taught to "be modest" and say lame phrases like "Oh, this old thing?!" or "Oh, thanks, but I really wish I had your butt/boobs/face/hair/feet/hands/etc."
Sometimes we even talk badly about women who seem "full of themselves," and we're definitely scared of being talked badly about for being "full of ourselves." We may admit that we like one - maybe two - things about our looks, but the list of things we claim to hate is usually super-long.
This means that, as women, we spend a lot of time hanging out with other women while we all pick apart our bodies, piece by piece. We may compliment each other, but we don't compliment ourselves, and we talk a lot about feeling jealous of other women because we wish we had "her thighs/boobs/butt/stomach/hair/etc." We almost NEVER spend time with other women while we all talk about things we like about our bodies. (FYI, The only cases in which women have told me they've talked positively about their bodies in a group setting, was if they were participating in a classroom activity, or an eating disorder recovery therapy. In other words, positive body talk doesn't seem to happen "naturally.")
Anyway, this Positive Body Image Group Activity creates an instant community of women talking positively about their bodies. Even more amazing - it's always a room full of women with different looks, different backgrounds, and different ideas about their own "beauty." Even though we all have a pretty good idea of what beautiful is "supposed" to look like (i.e., tall, thin, white, blonde, big boobies, etc.), every woman has a unique list of "liked" features that typically vary from the "ideal". What I mean by this, is that instead of only hearing girls say things like "I like being tall, thin, white, blonde, with big boobies" (or only liking the things about themselves that are on this list) women talk about loving features that make them unique and special. Here are some examples from Monday:
strong broad shoulders,
my mom's eyes,
being perfectly average height,
naturally pink lips,
I've read about (and tried) body positive activities in which I've made a list of things I like about my body. That's all good fun, but it's the open sharing of these lists that makes this particular activity so ... radical. It may feel a bit awkward to read your own list out loud, but it feels so incredibly good and right to hear other women reading theirs. I even found myself adding features to my own list that I hadn't thought of (i.e., butt dimples!), after hearing them described by my students. As for hearing women talk about one they they don't like so much.... more than anything this seems to help the participants feel more comfortable sharing all the stuff they like. The activity would feel a little fake and forced if we were only allowed to talk about the good stuff. Also, for the record, I think it's okay and healthy, to have mixed feelings about our bodies... it's just awesome to imagine that the mix could be mostly positive instead of mostly negative!
What would YOUR list look like?
PS - In my wildest change-the-world dreams, I'd love for this post to show up in online searches for "positive body image activity." I really believe in it that much. So... if there's ever a time to cross-post, link, or track-back, please do it for this post!