Monday, February 24, 2014

Adventures in Body Image Issues

*This is your Fair and Advanced Warning warning: There are personal details about me in this post. I'll try to spare you too in-depth of details, but you're quite likely to find out some stuff you did not already know about me and my body.*

It seems to be the cool thing these days to talk about female body image. There are articles about and ad campaigns by major corporations that try to convince us that all these companies really do care about us and really do want us to be happy with our bodies. There are opinion pieces about this topic from all across the internet, now including mine, that discuss the full spectrum of issues. Because I find it an interesting topic, I try to keep up to date with these goings ons and stay informed. Sometimes I even learn a new thing! *gasp*

However, lately I've noticed a strange trend in that some of these postings fall quickly into the 'grass is always greener' trap. For articles on body acceptance they can be particularly quick to damn the other side's complaints and give reasons why they should keep their mouths shut because said complaints aren't really valid, or aren't as bad. SERIOUSLY gals? Let's all just agree now before continuing with this post that this behavior can stop now. If you wanna stay on your high horse, this is not the post for you, and I'm not sorry so you may want to stop reading now. And one quick side note: men have body image issues too. I know us girls get all the attention because of media coverage, and there are specific issues that apply toward the presentation and coverage of women in the media that do not apply toward men. Yet, when it comes down to the bare bones of body image and the conversation surrounding it, they still deserve to be invited. Not inviting the men folk and ignoring their input about male body image only continues a stigma that men are too manly to care about such things. Meaning they are rightfully emotionally closed off and therefore incapable of having issues with their bodies. I promise you, they care. At least some of them, just like only some women have major issues with their bodies, but more on that in a minute.

Now as most people who are going to find this post (hello friends!) most likely to already know, I work for a plastic surgeon in his private practice. Recently some happenings have, well… happened, which have caused the issue of my image of my body to pop into my head more frequently, as well as the general perception of body image between strangers. I have worked in this office in some capacity since 2007. As of the time I'm writing this, it's been about six and a half years since I walked through the door to interview for a chance to pick up the doctor's daughter from school and also do some general things around the office, including putting together the before and after photos from surgeries that we send to patients. This gradually progressed into helping with small parts of the patient's consult visits, like assisting them with trying on breast implants, or helping them look at the schedule to set up a procedure. During this time, I quickly learned to brush off comments and questions like, "Have you had anything done?" or "Would you?" with vague versions of the truth and bring the conversation back around to them and what needed to be accomplished to get them taken care of. -In case you too are curious! The answers are: No. and Nothing major.- I guess you can call it a job hazard that these questions are bound to pop up, and it really doesn't bother me. They are simply trying to find common ground and identify with someone who is helping them through this process. The only issue I have is; how am I supposed to tell a perspective patient that I don't have any issues with my body I think are worth spending a few grand to fix without sounding like a stuck up or judgmental snob? I have yet to find a classy way to actually answer that second one and always fall back on partial answers and redirection instead.

A few times over the past couple months though -for the first time that I know of- I've had the pleasure of either learning second hand or had it happen right in front of me, that a patient has taken the above type comments to the level of expressing disbelief that I haven't gotten my breasts augmented. If you don't happen to know me well, or have never taken a good gander at my chest, my boobs are on the small side. I wear a 34A bra most days. Being 5'7" and around 135 lbs, they are certainly considered small for my frame based on the commonly accepted curvaceous standard given to us by Playboy and Victoria's Secret. But, and this'll be a shocker for you, I like my breasts. Did I wish they'd grow a little more when I was younger? Sure. But I got over it. A comedienne I once saw described her  nearly flat chest as, "exquisite rare miniatures," and since it made me laugh, I adopted her descriptor for myself. They are high and round and firm. They match each other, so no major asymmetry going on under this shirt, and I think they fit my body type just fine, thanks.

Again though, how to respond to these women without sounding as if I feel I've been insulted, which honestly I don't feel, or without insulting the patient in turn? Without getting into a long discussion, there's no way to tell these women, that just because they have an issue with their bodies doesn't mean everyone they perceive to have the same 'flaw' will have an issue with it as well. Back to the yard analogy, sometimes the people in the yard with you think the grass pretty damn green, even if you don't. And that's OK! It's quite possible that both of you are right! Because, in no way do I mean this as a condemnation of women -or men- who have plastic surgery. I can sympathize and understand why some people seek out surgical options. That is their choice. It is their body. And as far as I'm concerned, spending a few grand on making your body the way you want it is no better or worse than spending a few grand on high tech gadgets or fancy cars. As long as it makes you happy.

And of course, it's always the same story with the grass across the street. Some people seem incapable of understanding the legitimate down-sides that cause someone to change what they think ought to be the ideal. I've heard many a breast reduction patient ramble on, aghast that women would want their breasts larger when they are already so, "nice and small" and how the women can't possibly know what they're getting into. And believe me, vise versa as well. I am stating for the record, right here: I have helped patients that have had legitimate physical and psychological concerns that validate both implant placement and breast reductions. What happens more often? Reductions. Does that make it more legitimate somehow? No. Simply because it happens more frequently doesn't indicate a higher level of validation. A point that can also be applied toward female vs male body image problems.

If you take nothing else away from reading this, I beg you to keep in mind that everyone has a different standard for beauty and how that gets applied toward themselves. If we are to progress as a society on the issues of body image and acceptance this is the first and most important thing we need to realize. Making comments about others and judging them based on your personal standard is inevitably going to lead to conflicts and misunderstandings. Even if you mean well, even if you want to help, suggesting that someone plant some bermuda grass in a lawn full of zoysia isn't necessarily going make their yard greener for them. Why not try to help them find some grass seeds they do like and attempt to accept that zoysia has the ability to be someone's ideal, even if it's not yours?