How do you see yourself?

I don’t remember where I found this comic, but I felt it deserved a discussion.  Paige Hall is an art student and this was what she turned in for a final project in her literature class. Click here for her comments.

download (9)

I posted this image on my Facebook page. I have modified what I wrote there to be more specific to my blog.

I grew up reading – a lot.

I read some comic books, but this was a form of storytelling that my parents didn’t really encourage.  But I found a way.  I became obsessed with the Elfquest series. It was fun and fanciful. They were superheroes with pointy ears.  As heavily into scifi and fantasy I was I never looked at myself as geeky (which I totally was).

It wasn’t until I was older did I really start to look at the art work in the comic books, even in the beloved Pogo and L’il Abner, as a form of sexism. It never occurred to me in my younger years. Women seemed to come in three flavors – nubile and buxom, angular and hard, or (heaven forbid) matronly and shapeless (I won’t even touch ageism in this post, I’ll save that for another day).

The exaggerated portrayal of women made me uncomfortable. It was hard looking at something realizing I would never be able to achieve those proportion, my healthy eastern European peasant genes had already betrayed me. I stopped reading comics. I was tired of seeing exaggerated and provocative portrayals of women’s bodies, resembling more a Escher-like Barbie doll than a human (men have not been safe from this dismorphism either).  Some years ago, a news organization showed what a woman would really look like with Barbie’s proportions, it wasn’t attractive.

This distortion of the body made me uncomfortable and aggravated my already sensitive body image issues. It took decades for me to be able to look in the mirror and say I was pretty.

As an avid reader of urban fantasy, I have been put off by cover art that portrays skinny, yet buxom, young women, who seemed off center due to proportions. In the real world, these women would be constantly falling head over tea-kettle in an effort to walk around.

As I started writing seriously, I found I could not hold with the trend of writing perky, young, 20-something heroines with the wisdom of ages and the ability to kick the ass of all monsters and men. I found myself creating a 40-something heroine, who was smart, yet had lots of problems she had to work through. And, given the right tools and friends, could save the day.

Women (and men) come in all shapes, colors, and sizes. Beauty ideals change from culture to culture and age to age. Some people will always be representative of the ideal pushed by the media and the particular era they live in. The rest of us will find strength from within, acknowledging our own special attributes that truly make us extraordinary.

Let’s teach ourselves and those around us to celebrate our individuality, embrace our quirks, and find beauty in our own gaze. Stand up and don’t let anyone take away those moments where we can look at ourselves and say ‘I’m beautiful/sexy/awesome’. There will be plenty of people who won’t understand this confidence and a whole lot more who will.

Sometimes we have to wipe away the gunk that clouds our vision in order to see the beauty that is before us.

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