"How we feel about ourselves affects
our emotional and physical health. If a woman finds her own body unacceptable,
her dis-ease could easily lead to disease. The goal of this project is to help
women come up with a definition of beauty that is more inclusive than exclusive."
The speaker is psychotherapist Cathy
Conheim, and the project is called "Real Women." It began when she and two physicians,
Donna Brooks and Barbara Levy, met to discuss what they might do to improve the
status of women's mental and physical well-being. They agreed that women's judgmental
attitudes about their own bodies lead to high health risks, and that the root
of the problem is society's rigid and narrow definition of beauty. Their solution?
Expand the definition of beauty.
Initially, the three established
the Athena Foundation and commissioned sculptor T.J. Dixon to create a set of
bronze sculptures of women of diverse cultures, shapes, sizes, and ages. Each
of thirteen women made a decision-initially difficult but ultimately transforming-to
be sculpted, and selected the pose that most reflected her experience of living.
Once the sculptures were cast, River Malcolm wrote a poem about the beauty of
One set of these ten-inch sculptures
is now part of "The Changing Face of Women's Health," a five-year exhibit that
is traveling to science museums throughout the country. Other sets, along with
the poems, are on exhibit at healing centers and health spas in such cities as
Seattle, Atlanta, and Tucson.
The project also offers workshops
that help women explore their beliefs about beauty and examine whether these beliefs
are good for their sense of well-being. Says Brooks, "This project encourages
women of all shapes and sizes to love themselves as they are, and work from there
to achieve the fitness they're after."
The project is fighting an uphill
battle. In the United States today, nine out of ten girls have a Barbie doll that
models a figure unattainable in real life. Of the approximately ten million people
with a serious eating disorder, 9.5 million are women. Each year more than one
thousand women die from anorexia, while bulimia's victims go largely unreported.
Research shows that exposure to idealized images in fashion magazines produces
depression, shame, guilt, body dissatisfaction, and stress. Women and young girls
are literally "dying to be thin," encouraged by a $33 billion-per-year cosmetics
"It's time," says Conheim, "for the
churches, the schools, the whole culture to start encouraging women to feel whole,
vital, and beautiful exactly as they are, and to stop harming themselves in their
quest for a beauty that someone else has defined."
Reprinted from the January 2000 Issue
of The Other Side Magazine: � 2000 All rights reserved