So last night, watching the US version, I realised what it is that left me uneasy: the notion of a man, let alone a gay man, teaching a woman how to love her body. I know that much of what we women think and feel about our bodies are a response to the way our men love to look at women, and we women can’t help but compare ourselves to the women he’s looking at, usually unfavourably.
But a gay man opening a woman’s eyes to looking at herself differently? That shrill over-the-top Carson guy? How can that possibly work?
Surprisingly well, as it turned out. Carson Kressley wasn’t shrill at all, and it didn’t seem like he was ramping up the gay guy act for the camera. I wondered if it took a gay man to help a women with this issue, because she’d know for sure he wasn’t lying to her to get into her pants!
Carson was in fact really gentle with the really fragile woman on the show, let’s call her Mary. The poor thing couldn’t talk for even a few seconds about her body without becoming overwhelmed; clearly she was drowning in shame and pain.
Interestingly she was maybe an Australian size 12, maybe a 14. Remember, the clothing size that the average Australian woman wears is a 14. Back to Mary: she was well proportioned, tall, and had a lovely face, beautiful skin and that wide American smile. And she couldn’t see it. All she could see was that she had stretch marks on her stomach and hips, that her butt was big and saggy, her stomach wobbled, her thighs bulgy and her breasts too small. The pain all this caused her was incredible to see.
Carson took a really frank look at her, getting his nose right into the stretch marks. And he said – oh yeah, those are stretch marks, there’s a few. So what?
Just what most guys say, according to surveys – they just don’t see the marks and if they do, they barely notice them: “oh, there’s a stretch mark” like “oh, there’s a chair” – no judgement!! (Of course there are guys who would be revolting about it, do you want to be with a guy like that?) I’m betting it was the first time Mary let anyone other than herself close to the stretch marks, probably she even hid them from her husband. Carson’s reaction to her stretch marks probably made her go. “Hmmm…. I’m worrying about this because….?” Maybe.
Anyway, then he moved onto those marvels of engineering, push-up underwired bras, which I think are a real health problem, but that’s another post. The obligatory pull-me-in smooth-me-out underwear (“shapewear”) was next (and that’s also another post!), and Mary was starting to look at herself differently.
Then came the ‘compare yourself to all these ladies’ scene. Women of a variety of shapes and sizes in a lineup from smallest to biggest hips, and all wearing identical undies. Mary, also in undies, puts herself into the lineup where she thinks fits. She thought she was around the size of the two women near the ‘small’ end of the line. The clincher was that hers were the smallest hips in the room (apart from Carson’s of course ). A great demonstration of how warped we womens’ body size perception is. I wonder if that’s how men view other mens’ penises?
Anyway, then onto a shopping trip where Carson teaches Mary how to dress to flatter her shape and proportions, and she’s clearly having a blast. Next, the makeover and semi-naked photoshoot. Finally, Mary and Carson head out into the street to ask passers-by what they think of Mary’s semi-naked photograph projected up on the wall of a nearby highrise. All we see are people saying: she’s gorgeous, a real woman, hot, attractive, she’s a beautiful real woman and not a walking stick, and so on. And Mary is beaming, no sign of the tears from half an hour (four days) before.
Of course, we’d all love this kind of transformation. I’m not sure I’d have liked to do it on international TV, but still, the idea’s good. Trinni and Suzannah have used it to great effect, and so have a few other shows. Not nearly as many as show the size zero “ideal”, nor those showing how disgusting it is to be fat and imperfect and that their participants will go to any lengths to correct the illness of imperfection, including allowing someone to slice open their bodies and add or remove parts of it; subjecting themselves to being screamed at by demented but muscly men and women, and hours and hours and hours of over-exercising and voluntary starvation. Anorexic thinking indeed, to suggest that stuff is normal; no reference to the very real health-and-emotion-destroying side-effects of all this extremism.
So Carson and Gok Wan (the original UK show host) and Trinny and Suzannah and the hosts of the other shows are doing their bit to change the consciousness of western women to accepting a more human, womanly, version of ‘normal’. Good on them, I hope they make even more noise!
As an energy therapist though, I think it’s pretty rough treatment really to encourage someone to expose their deepest pain so thoroughly, quickly and publicly. It’s a well-known psychological technique called “flooding”, and it works for a lot of people; just takes all your courage to actually do it. The gentle techniques of EFT are, in my experience, much more effective and get the same result, if not a better one, with almost no emotional pain. Flooding on the other hand, can cause trauma all of its own.
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