39: Body Image from Underrepresented Points of View
Episode 10 of the NMP Body Image Series dives into what it’s like to absorb the body image messages from the media as women from various body sizes and ethnic and racial backgrounds. We also uncover ways to be more supportive and gentle to the diverse people we have in our families, friends and communities to help us be more sensitive, understanding and supportive of each other.
Positive Nutrition online course coming soon!
Join the Nutrition Matters Podcast Community on Facebook
Leave a review for the podcast here
Donate to the podcast
Hey everyone, welcome to Nutrition Matters Podcast. My name is Paige, your host. Before we get into today’s episode I want to just make a few quick announcements. The first is that I have contributed to a really great resource for dietitians that I wanted to let all of you know about. I know I have a few dietitian listeners here. It’s called the Dietitian’s Guide to Starting a Private Practice. If any of you are dietitians who are thinking about starting a private practice in the future or kind of in the near future I would highly recommend checking it out. It’s a really great book that I contributed to with a colleague of mine named Erica Hansen. If you’re interested you can go to the show notes and check out the link there or you can also head over to my website and hover over “services” and click on “for dietitians” and you can find it there as well as under the shop category on my website which is paigesmathersrd.com. another announcement I wanted to make is that I actually have a new resource available that’s for free for all Nutrition Matters Podcast listeners. It is a free intuitive eating guide that I have crafted. That’s available also on my website paigesmathersrd.com. You just click on the little grey thing at the top of my website and you will be able to instantly download that. Last announcement, sorry there’s so many here. Last announcement is I actually have a new section on my website as well. So, paigesmathersrd.com, if you hover over the podcast link, if you click on feedback there’s a little GoogleForms very quick survey, should take you less than a minute to fill out. I'm hoping to get a little bit of feedback about the podcast hoping to learn about how you heard about the podcast. I want to better understand who my audience is. I want to understand how you listen to Nutrition Matters Podcast. I want to understand sort of how many episodes you’ve listened to, which ones have been your favorite. Which types of episodes you want to hear more of. Just to help me plan the future for the show. Thanks so much for submitting that. Just to kind of quickly recap. I know there have been a lot of announcements. We have a new eBook out for any dietitians who are interested called Dietitian’s Guide to Starting a Private Practice, also there’s an intuitive eating guide on my website that’s available on any page within my website, then there’s also the ability to fill out a survey about the podcast to help me be better. With that, let’s get into the content for today’s episode.
PAIGE: With that, let’s get to our conversation for today. I wanted everybody to just kinda know where this is stemming from. This is the tenth episode in the body image series and I really wanted to have a conversation about body image from perspectives that aren’t’ always shown in the media or talked about when we’re talking about body image. I think it’s important to include all bodies and all shapes and sizes and colors and forms and genders and all of that. I actually put out a couple of calls to both personal friends and also dietitian colleagues to see if anybody would be willing to come on my podcast to discuss this body image through a diverse lens. I got two people from my personal life who were willing to come on and talk about it and then I got one dietitian colleague to come on. So, we are actually missing one person who agreed to come on. She must have forgotten or maybe run out of time or something happened. But, we have two really great guests today. One is actually my sister in law named Ami and she, Ami do you want to go ahead and introduce yourself a little bit? Tell the listeners about who you are and what you do?
AMI: Sure. I’m, like you said, your sister in law and my name is Ami Tyler Hurissan. I am whopping 47 years old and I live in Santa Cruz, California. I am a foodservice consultant and artist and grew up in Chicago in the 80s when body image was very much in the forefront of everything media. So, I have a lot to say. I'm an African American middle-class woman.
PAIGE: Awesome. Yay Ami. Thank you for being here. And then we also have Kara Harbstreet. Did I say your last name right, Kara?
KARA: Yep. Good job.
PAIGE: And Kara do you want to go ahead and introduce you and what you do?
KARA: Sure. Like you said, my name is Kara and I'm a wellness dietitian. I am located in Kansas City. I was born here, grew up raised in the Midwest and have traveled but have pretty much lived here my whole life. I’m currently 26 so I'm very early on in my dietetics career but kind of the same background just middle class. I'm Asian American so that’s kind of the diversified lens that I look through.
PAIGE: Yeah. Well, awesome. Thanks both of you for being here. I think this is sort of a timely conversation. At least, in my opinion just with all the things that are happening race related in our country. I think there’s so much room and work we still need to do to create equality for all of us. All of us Americans and I'm doing my best sort of within my realm and my scope of trying to include people who I don’t really think get represented as well as they should. Especially in these conversations about body image. So, I’d love it if each of you could comment from your individual backgrounds but then also just as everyday American citizens, like, how do you experience these things. Let’s go ahead and start off with sort of, Ami you sort of mentioned why body image has been something that you’ve thought about and talked about a lot. Just being a child of the 80s. So, give us an idea, both of you, of why you’re interested in this topic of body image and what body positivity means to each of you. Let’s go ahead and start with Ami.
AMI: Due recent events, and I had to go, went back to Chicago for a few years and was going through some things I sort of realized how I've always been so conscious of my weight and physical appearance and kind of reflecting back on a time when, you know, I'm in highschool and I'm like I’m fat, I'm fat, I'm fat. I'm looking at these pictures of myself and I'm definitively not fat. And where all that stems from and growing up being in high school in the 80s when it was sort of all about, you know, big ads geared towards women and sex appeal really hitting hard in the media. Trying to fit into this mold. I mean, I remember lying on the bed just raking the zipper of a pair of jeans up with like a coat hanger. We all had these tricks to get into these outfits. Growing up in a, being African American but growing up in a very multi-racial multi-cultural environment. I went to a unique elementary school. I went to an art high school. I went to art college. So, always being completely surrounded by a very diverse group of people but the bulk of my friends probably being Caucasian trying to fit into a mold where there wasn’t necessarily an equal representation of me. Until, you know, right or wrong as to Bill Cosby’s current state, but what he did for television by introducing the Cosby family at the time that he did really, as I think about it, it did give me, finally, a family on television that I could relate to. That was a closer representation of the environment that I grew up in with a character that was, you know, for all intents and purposes, as close as I'm ever going to get to a carbon copy of who I am in Lisa Boday’s character. So, finally there was a teenage girl who was a little artsy fartsy and a little quirky and Avant Garde and spoke her mind and was strong and sure of herself. It was with a diverse group of friends and influences coming from a more, I don’t want to say cultured because that’s not quite right, but showing a segment of the African American population that wasn’t represented prior. That there is an upper middle class and it’s a very rich culture like every other culture in this country. So, having, finally, something to relate to was sort of comforting to me. I just feel like the more diverse the images are the more comfortable people will be. You aren’t trying to fit into a mold that you’re never going to fit into. I think that that is a huge problem. Especially for girls growing up in this country is trying to fit into a size. Everybody’s not a size two and if you aren’t it’s ok but there have to be images reinforcing that to combat the images that say everyone does need to be a size two. So, it has a huge psychological impact on people and unless you’re confident and secure in who you are, I mean, people can obsess over. Horrible incidences and things happen and people develop all sorts of disorders. I think that it’s a shame because your physical appearance is only one part of who you are and you have to remember the whole character.
PAIGE: Definitely, and people don’t even have to work hard to judge someone by the way that they look, right? But is a lot harder work to get to know someone and then make a judgement call as far as like, do I want to be friends with that person whatever. That’s why so often people do just look at the outside because it’s just, it’s easy. There’s no work involved. But, I think we need to take a look at how many people you might be missing out on being friends with if you act like that. That’s not good. So, I really liked your comments. Kara, tell us about why you’re interested in this in particular.
KARA: As a dietitian this is just one of the things that is always forefront in my conversations with clients. Reflecting back on my past, growing up and evolving into the person that I am today. It’s easy to see a lot of similarities. There are definitely more similarities than there are differences when it comes to those images that we see in the media. I think how that kind of directly influences our self-perception. Growing up, Ami mentioned, growing up in a friend circle that was primarily Caucasian. I will say that my background is very similar to that. I was raised in a rural area and so as you can imagine the demographics are about what you would expect. Not a lot of diversity there. For pretty much my entire life I’ve been, more or less, the only Asian American female within my friend circle, within my peer circle, and that definitely played a role in molding my ideas of body image, what it is that I should look like. That kind of ideal that I should strive for. I will say, too, in my older years I was an athlete. I had this interesting juxtaposition of viewing myself not only in that way of just that outward appearance but also the way that your body performs. So, a lot of times those comparisons to my peers weren’t strictly based on appearances but also that comparison of performing as an athlete. You see these images of very powerful, very strong female athletes and that kind of influences your thoughts of what it means to look a certain way or perform a certain way in your chosen sport. So, I think that also had a great deal of influence. In carrying that into my career as a dietitian, a lot of what I focus on now is bringing mindfulness and awareness to the positive things that our bodies are capable of rather than placing that emphasis on outside appearances alone. Because, as you mentioned, that’s kind of the easy way out. It’s very easy to put some labels on that outward appearance without really delving deeper into the issues and the things that are more hidden on the inside.
PAIGE: The things that really make you who you are. Yeah. So, I'm curious because I reached out to lots of people to see who might be willing to talk about this. And I know that this is sometimes a tricky subject, but I think we don’t have conversations enough like this. I would argue that this is just something that’s so needed but people are scared of saying the wrong thing, or saying something stupid, or something like that. So, sometimes we kind of avoid talking about these things and as a white, female myself, I know that I come at these conversations with my own biases about the culture I grew up in, the place in the country that I grew up in. I'm really just grateful for both of you being willing to open up and share your own perspectives and help everybody open their eyes to what different experiences are like with various backgrounds. So, Kara I'm going to ask you this question first then I want to hear what your thoughts are, Ami. Talk to us a little bit about what you think is missing in the general conversation at large about body image. In the media or in social media. I know there’s a big movement, for anybody who’s listening who isn’t aware, there’s a big movement called body positivity where people are trying to promote love. Body love, and body acceptance, and body positivity and sometimes I just get sad when I don’t see different backgrounds, different ethnicities, different races, even different sexual identities, being portrayed in those conversations. So, I want to hear what you both think about that. Do you feel represented?
KARA: I will say representations of Asian Americans in media have traditionally been pretty scarce. I think in recent years there has been a movement to diversify large scale media outlets as far as representation in modeling, in magazines, on television and what not. I think that those representations, in my eyes, are still rather limited. In that kind of stereotypical view of an Asian female, they tend to be very petite, very small framed. Their personalities are a little withdrawn. It’s not something that I identified with being nearly six feet tall. It’s kind of a challenge to meld those two concepts together and find representation that I think is accurate with how I view myself. I think that the diversity that you mentioned is definitely missing from some of those large-scale media outlets but I do agree that some of the social media platforms are doing a much better job of showing those real life images that are much truer to reality. They do have more diversity and they really show more of the behind the scenes way of how these people are going through their everyday lives. There’s a few accounts that I follow that have been great for that behind the scenes look. where you don’t see the overly posed images. The really retouched or photoshopped images and I think that speaks a lot to just creating that vulnerability to have an open and really honest conversation about the images that we’re seeing and not seeing.
PAIGE: Oh. That’s a beautiful thought Kara. Thank you. Ami, what do you think is missing in the general conversation about body image?
AMI: You know, I agree a lot with what Kara said because it also is sort of true of the African American community and I think any ethnic community. As a country we struggle with the fact that the primary visuals are European descendants yet we are a country made of immigrants from all over the world and the largest population in the nation aren’t necessarily European descendants anymore. Bringing images that truly reflect the scope of this country to the general populace on a daily basis so people see themselves is really important in keeping with the whole point of the country to begin with. We have a hard time with race here. Which is ironic given the initial purpose of America existing. But I think that it’s important that these things are. That everyone is represented and I see more reflections of myself than I have in the past. And I'm sure that were my grandparents alive it’s leaps and bounds beyond anything that they ever would have imagined. But, I still think that it’s still weighted towards… there’s sort of the Tyler Perry’s version of African America, and he’s got real diversity in there, but the fact that there has to be comedy interjected into it to make it sort of acceptable is kind of odd to me because there are so many strong traits. Especially strong black women in all shapes and sizes and I think that it’s important that that’s reflected and I just… every step closer. Every new person added, every layer to the conversation is important for expanding the country’s mind in itself and opening up the conversation. It’s critical that we continue to diversify within our visual scope. Whether it’s television, or ads, magazines, social media. It doesn’t matter. Whoever these icons are the people that we’re supposed to be looking up to that are supposed to be the general representation of the world of who we are needs to really reflect who we are. Does that make sense?
PAIGE: Oh, I love that. Yeah totally! Ami, I was just thinking. While you were saying that I was just thinking about, you know, a little girl. A little African American girl who just think about how hard that would be to not be able to see someone that looks like you on TV or to buy a Barbie that looked like you. And just constantly being reminded or sort of reinforced in some sort of a subliminal way that you don’t fit in. I think that’s hitting on one of our most basic human needs is… Or, I think we’re communal and we’re tribal by nature and to constantly have those messages of you’re not a part of the group. I can’t even imagine how hard that would be. So, I'm grateful that it’s better. But I think there’s still places to…
AMI: I just feel like it’s… and I mean I'm pretty light skinned. I mean, I'm whatever coffee and cream color, I'm sort of the socially accepted, media accepted version of color, but there are very few representations of very dark African American people. There’s Africans that are dark and not even so many women, mainly men, that are on television but it’s…definitely there’s a… the scope of what all of us come in. These small differences that in the end, genetically don’t make all that much difference but visually they can have an impact. I think that we need to represent the full breadth of the diversity of any nationality because that’s the story of our migration. That’s the story our history. That’s the story of our intermingling. That’s the story of humanity. Just sort of in a quick visual snapshot and I can’t imagine that there’s… you know, there’s very very dark-skinned children that don’t ever see anything that, anyone that looks like them in the media. And it’s sad in this day and age. You know, when my parents were growing up, between my mother and my aunt, my aunt was always my grandmothers favorite and it was because my aunt was lighter. My mom wasn’t that dark. And that stems from her Southern upbringing and it stems from, you know, it’s just sort of an aftershock of slavery where the lighter you were the better because if you could pass for white that was better because your life was better. Despite the fact that that exact notion is passé it’s still definitely has an influence on the way people think of you when they look at you based clearly just on how dark you are and in certain parts of the country in particular. And so, I think that trying to dispel those things is really important.
PAIGE: Yeah. Thank you for that. I saw something recently, I kind of forget where I saw it, but there was this photo that someone sent to all these different graphic designers all around the world and they had them photoshop that particular man or that particular woman in a way that was most attractive to the people of that country. Kind of make them look ideal. And it was really fascinating to see different areas of the world and what’s considered beautiful. I'm curious, from both of your perspectives, was there an eye roll to some of the pressures, social pressures, to have a certain sized jean or whatever? Sometimes certain communities are more accepting of larger bodies. Sometimes certain communities are more strict and less accepting of larger bodies. So, I'm curious where did your family, cultural, and I know both of you kind of had primarily Caucasian friends, but I'm just curious. What was the cultural norm as far as you understood it and as far as you took it in as your narrative about what to look like? Does that make sense what I'm asking?
KARA: Yeah. I think you alluded to a good point that if we look at cultures worldwide there are very different standards of what’s considered beautiful or attractive in terms of that strictly physical sense. I appreciated the variety. There was certainly a wide range of diversity in the shapes and sizes that we saw this photoshopped image kind of morph into. I’ll be honest, I didn’t really look at it much beyond face value. I certainly perceived it as a simple representation of that artist’s rendering or kind of a reflection of that society or that culture. I will say it did kind of prompt some thoughts in my mind about who kind of makes these decisions about what is considered beautiful or attractive in various cultures. And the conclusion that I kind of came to was that a lot of these standards are maybe determined by people other than who is represented in that image. For example, the image that you were referring to, if it’s the same that I'm thinking of is a woman, medium build, looks to be Caucasian in appearance and for the representation in the US she gets morphed into this other figure and I have to wonder who is it that determined how these changes are made. What’s determined more attractive over something else? I have to wonder if it’s mostly men who are making those decisions, who are determining that this is the standard that we should strive for or if there are women as part of that conversation. That’s kind of hypothetical, maybe a rhetorical question, but I have to wonder, you know, in these media outlets. Are these still predominantly run by men and are their opinions and their images of how women should appear in the media, are they still the ones that are dictating that more heavily than women or other diverse populations within that smaller demographic.
PAIGE: Oh yea. That’s really interesting. I'm sure you’re right. I'm sure it is, you know? Go ahead Ami. Let’s hear your thoughts.
AMI: Well, you know, I'm sure that most media outlets are run by men. It again gets better over time but it still is the norm. These images of how we shape ourselves of what we feel that the opposite sex thinks that we should look like based on what we’ve been told they want us to look like. Growing up, ironically, I was probably the skinniest one in my family, but I was also, I'm sort of from a cousins and things that are older. Ones that are younger and there’s a handful of us sort of in my age group and most are boys. So, it was mainly the influence of more what my grandparents, my parents were however I wanted to be I could be. They didn’t necessarily care as long as I was happy and healthy and more importantly that my brain functioned and that I was studious and doing good at school and had diverse activities and expressing my creativity and all that kind of good stuff. So, I guess I got lucky there with no pressure in that respect. I also got lucky that I'm not an unattractive person by societal standards. So, all of that was easy. But my grandmother was constantly nitpicking at my weight. I was either too heavy and this that and the other and worrying about her weight at 70 something. Continually worrying about her weight. Sending photographs and writing on the back look how fat I’ve gotten. And this is an old woman. What do you care anymore? You’ve had two husbands and you’ve lived your life and you’re retired. Does it matter anymore? But, it being such a stigma and her probably harping on me so that one day I could catch a man or whatever it was. So, all those things that are so important but now that I'm older and reflect back on my life I never had... you know, whatever my grandmother was worrying about I never had any lack of boyfriends or friends or any of that. So, the pressures were really sort of self-imposed. My friends never put pressure on me either necessarily. It was me wanting to fit in but because I'm. I've always sort of had this kind of quirky Avant Garde side to myself I was not willing to compromise that so I picked and chose what I needed to fit in. Does that make sense?
AMI: I mean I was fortunate to be surrounded by people who had lots of socioeconomic backgrounds and all this kind of nonsense and going to all these specialty schools and all this kind of nonsense. But the bottom line was I was still trying to sort of fit into this norm of my main group. Not that I necessarily had to try and they accepted me for who I was but just as a teenager the self-imposed pressure that comes with that whether you’re accepted or not I can’t imagine the kids that weren’t accepted how horrifying that experience was because high school can be the best or the worst time of your life very easily and kids can be cruel. So, I don’t feel like I had to struggle to sort of fit into my peer’s image so much as, and I don’t feel like I let anybody down, but I just always wanted to uphold the title in the family of the whatever. I wanted to be it all. I wanted to be smart and pretty and popular and all these different things because that was all very important and at that age popularity really is wrapped into your body image and who you are. As you get older, at this point in my life, I'm more confident and I feel better about myself physically than I ever have. But I also have always been a very confident person but I just feel like I’m at the point where I've just let those things go that I've been so worried about the whole time. And if you don’t like me you don’t like me that’s tough. It’s just kind of, for whatever reason.
PAIGE: Who couldn’t like you, Ami?
AMI: Well, trust me I've had some work situations where people haven’t liked me but, you know, it’s strong woman syndrome. You get that, Paige. It’s just, you can’t always be the answer to everybody’s image of what you should be and you have to find where you’re comfortable and just strive to be the best within what you want for yourself. I think that that’s what people need to learn is that the stronger you are and the more confident that reflects out and that’s more beautiful than the most gorgeous woman who’s completely not confident in herself
. PAIGE: That is so true. You know what? I made this connection once and I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit. If you are constantly trying to change who you are and how you act or what persona you take on or trying to please everybody you’re around. Just morphing yourself to fit in in every single different situation you’re in. What’s ironic is at the end of all that you don’t have an identity and you don’t know who you are. No one can really love you because you don’t really know who you are. It’s hard to put your finger on it. So, yeah, I liked what you said about how you just are who you are and you be confident and think about how you might be able to improve if things come up. How you might be able to take constructive criticism here or there but also be confident in yourself and that’s really the most beautiful thing that anyone can ever acquire is that confidence. That’s a big reason I want to do this whole body image series because in my work with individuals body image and struggling with that is one of the biggest things that gets in the way of people being able to actually make healthy choices with their food. It’s just such a doom and gloom thing where they just feel like there’s no hope so I might as well eat a gallon of ice cream. I think this is a super important conversation. Tell me, both, let’s start with you Ami. I want to hear what would be your advice for young children or young people? What do you wish people knew about their bodies from black or white, tall or thin, larger bodied, smaller bodied? What do you wish people would know?
AMI: You know, hindsight is 20/20. I think what they should know is that a. yeah, you only get the one and you can change it and you can change your habits and you can take care of yourself. But you can only change it so much. So, you have to recognize where you’re comfortable as far as physically. I mean, at my skinniest I was... I looked horrible at my skinniest. At the time I thought oh well whatever. I got down to whatever the goal weight was and I stepped off the plane from college and my mother cried. And she always said all I saw was tips lips and a pair of combat boots come off that plane. She just was in tears. she’s like your boots were heavier than you. Those sorts of things in hindsight it’s like if you just are confident in who you are and become a whole person it is. And I've always been fortunate where I've been interested enough and encouraged enough throughout my life to sort of be and explore and figure out who I am. It’s being comfortable with yourself and getting to know yourself because your choices are easier and you can assess a situation a lot faster. You gravitate towards people that are inherently better for you as far as psychologically and you don’t put up with things that aren’t good for you. If you do that in your personal life then it translates to every aspect of your life and you make smarter choices just in general. So, get to know yourself and love yourself. That’s the most important thing. Everything else will fall into place as long as you love yourself. It doesn’t mean be selfish it just means acknowledge the fact that, you know, honor yourself with everything you do and you’re it. This is what you got. Put it out there in the world but just be confident in what you throw out there. Good things will happen and things will come back to you. Don’t obsess over stuff it doesn’t get you anywhere. It just really doesn’t.
PAIGE: That’s awesome advice. That’s beautiful Ami. Thank you. Kara what would you say?
KARA: I agree with a lot of those points. I mean it definitely comes to that point where you do have to take that hard look inside and do a little bit of self-reflection and make the determination of where you stand and going forward what you’re willing to stand for. As young people, your bodies are in such a fluid state. All of these changes are happening over a relatively short amount of time. It’s hard to put any type of value to a body that’s constantly changing form and I do wish that more children and young people really understood that it’s all temporary. Even at your most fit or thinnest state, without a lot of really hard effort to maintain that it’s likely going to change. The sooner that we’re able to accept those changes we can really embrace it. I think that really lends a lot to that self-confidence and that inner reflection where you can project your best self and show your value through those other characteristics. As Ami alluded to that kind of gravitates you into circles that are really supportive in these other ways. I would hate to say that I have a close friend who really only values me for my appearance. I think that from a young age that’s one of the more challenging things to do. It’s definitely easier said than done. But, if I could go back and tell my younger self something it would probably be that. When you grow up in a friend circle that is primarily of one race or everyone looks generally the same I think in a way that kind of starts a self-perpetuating cycle where you see what your friends are doing and you follow. So maybe another thing that we could encourage children or young people to do. It’s hard to be the one who looks different but if you set a new trend or if you break that mold I think it makes it easier for others to then follow that pattern instead of continuing to accept the norm as it is. As we’re told by media or our culture or other societal influences. I think it gives people the courage and the freedom to be comfortable with the fact that they are different than x,y,z. Whatever it is that they perceive to be different or unique and celebrate that instead of pointing out those differences in a way that’s more negative.
PAIGE: So, Ami mentioned that hindsight is 20/20 and that’s for sure true. I think just to give perspective on this, how easy is it for us as women to be able to look back our pre-teen selves and to just, if we could go back and just tell ourselves like it’s going to be ok, your body’s going to change but that’s just the way it’s supposed to go. It’s just so easy for older women to be able to talk to a twelve-year-old and be like you’re going to go through this time in your life where you’re going to gain weight and you’re going to have hips and you’re going to have a very different body type than you do when you’re ten years old. But, I think sometimes in my work with individuals sometimes I'm working with women going through menopause and we have to kind of have a similar conversation where it’s like you go through this change of your life where your body naturally does want to put on a little bit more fat mass because it’s trying to prepare you for later years of life and increased fat mass in later years of life is associated with a decreased risk of mortality. It’s like your body’s natural thing it wants to do. My point with this comment is it’s easy to look back and recognize, yeah that’s what it was supposed to do and it was fine and it all worked out. But when you’re in the moment and it’s happening to you it’s really hard to keep that perspective of like well my body is changing. That’s what your comment made me think of, Kara. When you were talking about how your body is always changing. It’s just so true. I mean, after a baby you look completely different than before a baby and your body functions differently and it’s not necessarily worse or better it’s just different. So, these phases of life, if you’re constantly grasping at that next body image or body look ideal you’re never going to be happy because your body is always changing.
KARA: Right, and I think those supportive conversations are one of the things that makes that transition hopefully a little bit easier. I'm very fortunate I have a close relationship with my mother but she, unfortunately, does not have a close relationship with her mother. Our family tradition has been predicated on the fact that we don’t really have those conversations. We kind of address it on the surface. Have maybe a short conversation and then we move on without ever really getting to those deeper issues, those very personal changes and things like that. I think coaching, in a way, teaching people how to have those meaningful conversations would go so far into helping us realize that there are so many variations of normal. What might seem totally out of the ordinary in this life transition could actually be very very normal but if we aren’t talking about that with other females or other family members I think that kind of drives the wedge a little bit deeper. To go along with that, not only talking to other women or other female family members I think it’s important to bring men into that conversation because within that family dynamic men are very uncomfortable talking about some of these emotional issues in the very first place. Even beyond that it’s hard to have those conversations. I always think of my dad. He’s a Caucasian male and being the father to two Asian American females I have no doubt that there were times in his life where he was maybe at a loss for words of what to say to us, what to talk to us about, what was appropriate as far as him feeling comfortable. I remember at one point my mother sat him down and said you’re not really aware of these ethnic, racial issues but now that you’re the father of two Asian American daughters this is something that you have to be aware of. It kind of lit that light bulb in his mind as far as being more aware of looking for those things so that he would know what to see and what to recognize to have that conversation with us. I think it’s really important to bring that conversation full circle and not to exclude any family member who might be able to offer some support through those transitions in life.
PAIGE: Yeah, that’s a beautiful thought, Kara. I want to ask both of you one more question to kind of wrap up. So, let’s start with Ami. I’m just really curious if the listeners can take anything away from this conversation other than just enjoying your comments and stories and insights. Just curious if you’d have any advice for how people can be more inclusive and supportive with their friends, and family, and neighbors, and co workers of various backgrounds. How can people be more supportive of that just in general? And also, let’s specify and talk a little bit more about bodies.
AMI: Well, I think that especially since there’s been so much. Our country has been in such a flux of uproar as far as race and stereotyping and trying not to stereotype and trying to be PC and the zoo that has been the race for the white house and just between the homegrown crazies, and the imported crazies, and the whole. The world is at a really interesting point in its history as far as the, what were previously regionalized battles that have gone on for hundreds of years are now spilling into the rest of the world and that bringing people’s fears to the forefront and with that comes people’s racism. It is super easy to blame one group or blame, sort of generalize. I would hope that as a society we hopefully become more intelligent, and that can be debated. I think that it’s important that we, generalizations on every level don’t work for a functioning society for very long. Everybody is an individual everyone brings their different points of view, regardless of how you’re brought up or whatever. Your ethnic makeup, your religious background, all of these things. We’re all individuals that are the sum of our experiences and I think that we have to be tolerant. Tolerance is the only way that change happens. Regardless of what kind of change. Tolerance and understanding and seeing the other point of view. You don’t have to always agree but at least recognize that everyone has a point of view. But, the reality is that physically we have to accept that we are all different and that these small things, that’s the beauty of evolution and of nature and all of these traits are for a reason. All these sorts of different things that happen throughout a society based on geographic location, environmental influences. All of these things that’s the story of us and we have to honor and be proud of that.
PAIGE: That is so true. And I also heard you say that trying to avoid the generalizations is obviously a good idea. One thing I've been trying to do as a parent, and I'm curious about your thoughts on this, is just really try to share the message with my girls that being different from us is good and just to celebrate like, some people are really good at art and some people other people are really, and you know obviously they’re four and two so we don’t get too deep in this. But just kind of starting off somewhere and just celebrating and talking about how it’s really good when somebody looks different than us or somebody has a different talent than us and that’s what makes life beautiful. I think that’s something, a theme, that I try to work on with my girls to help them have, I think, diverse friends in terms of all different types of backgrounds. Racial religious, sexual orientation, all that. I want them to have different, diverse friends. I think that’s just a beautiful thing. As adults we can also learn to celebrate differences rather than be suspicious or nervous or whatever about them. Kara, what would be your advice about how people can be more inclusive and supportive with the diverse people they come into contact with?
KARA: I’ll start by saying I absolutely agree with Ami’s statement promoting more tolerance and along with your comment promoting that curiosity that really stems those productive conversations and help us all feel more at ease with these differences to find our similarities. The only thing that I may add was to maybe promote some more inquisitive conversation but using directly language. I know we live in a world right now where everyone is kind of tip toeing around those tough issues. We all want to be very PC. We don’t want to offend anyone. But I’ll say as someone who frequently gets asked where are you from, I say I'm from Kansas City. And they’ll say, “well, where are you really from?”
PAIGE: Like from from.
KARA: You don’t mean where am I from you mean what race am I and as someone who has been asked that question a lot I’ve kind of developed a thicker skin and that could certainly be part of it. But, from a more human level I'm not going to be offended if you ask a direct question and you come from a place of openness and curiosity and you genuinely want to learn about me. If that’s an uncomfortable way to ask it, I can’t speak for everyone but I can speak for myself in saying that I’ll never be offended if somebody just says what is your background, you know, where is your family from. And it does promote that meaningful conversation because it goes a lot deeper than oh you’re Asian, you’re African American. Identify as just this racial background. I think that’s one of the things is just promoting that more direct language to where we can really delve into those issues in a really concise way without stepping on anyone’s toes or falling into that realm of being very un PC.
PAIGE: It sounds like what’s the most important part is just sort of how people approach it and coming from a place of curiosity and genuineness rather than just kind of suspicion or something awkward. It matters what the intention is it sounds like.
KARA: Right. And I’ll be the first to say I mean it can definitely be awkward. There were plenty of awkward moments. Introductions from my mom’s family meeting my dad’s family. My fiancé’s family meeting me. And I think a lot of that has to do with generational differences as well but again that direct question is much less offensive than kind of tip toeing around it and then asking, “well, where are you really from?” You know?
AMI: I always got what are.
PAIGE: What are you?!
AMI: So, what are you? What do you mean what am I? I mean that’s so broad. What do you mean by that? I’m a girl...? What do you want me to say? I’m a human….? I mean, like, how deep do you want to go?
PAIGE: Oh man. People. Yeah, that’s interesting. Well, I want both of you to kind of, if you want to summarize, what really matters to you about this issue. About body image, about media, and just what you want people to know. I want each of you to have a little minute to close up and say anything else you want to say. So, Ami, go ahead.
AMI: I just think it’s important to keep the conversation going for men and women. I think that in one respect as women in general we tend to be underrepresented because our society being male based for so long and us finally breaking free and calling our own. But I also think that we talk a lot more and that men keep those things bottled up. I think that it’s healthier for everyone to be open and honest about how they feel about these things and the pressures. I think that it will then in turn influence the diversity that we continue to see. As far as media goes: good bad or ugly it does need to reflect who we are as a society and as a world because it is important for it to not be so delusional that we lose base with reality as far as all of it. What we’re supposed to look like. Everybody is not going to be 6’5” and 100 pounds it just can’t possibly happen that way. So, I think that we need to just allow. It would relieve so many other things that people, or at least take away one of the things in this stressful life we lead. With constant interruptions and constant. You know, being drawn in a million different places and doing a million different things. I think that it’s just important that we keep the dialogue open and that we continue to grow because that’s our evolution as humans. It’s important to do that to a point where everyone should feel comfortable. Everyone deserves to feel comfortable. The last thing that I ever want to hear and the thing that you hear way too often is that someone took their life because they were teased or because of some insecurity. That’s a ridiculous scenario to happen and it shouldn’t happen. The more honest we are, the more open we are, the less likelihood of things like that happening and I think that’s important and critical. That’s it.
PAIGE: Oh. That’s great Ami. That’s exactly what I'm trying to do here so I'm glad to know that that’s resonating with how you see it. I totally agree. Kara, what do you want to say to close up?
KARA: Just some final thoughts. I definitely agree that having that conversation is a great place to start. Without that awareness it’s really hard to move forward and make any kind of change whether it’s at the individual level, family level, or peer circle or beyond on the greater society level. I think it’s so important to just have that tolerance and acceptance. Not only for yourself but to also give a little bit of grace to others. We’re all at different points on this journey of acceptance and I think if we encounter others who are maybe still struggling in the beginning it’s easy to sometimes pass judgement or kind of write it off as “oh it’ll get better.” Or projecting our own self perceptions onto others. To go along with that I think we’re seeing some really positive changes that have started taking place. We sort of alluded to the body positivity movement. I think a lot of dietitians are really embracing the concept of Health at Every Size and I think as kind of a final take away we can kind of turn that focus back to health and recognizing that our body weight or our body size is just that singular representation of ourselves as a human. It’s really just that singular manifestation of all these other inputs and all these other factors and so for us to unfairly judge someone based on their outside appearance alone is really unfair on a lot of levels. I think starting to recognize that these other factors contribute to so much more than just what the scale is telling us or what the size of our pants is telling us. I think that will go a long way to helping up all feel more comfortable with these issues of body image and body positivity.
PAIGE: Preach it. I love it. Thanks Kara. That’s beautiful. Ugh. You guys are awesome. I'm so glad you were willing to share with us today and talk about your... A little bit about your experiences with this. I think this conversation will be really helpful to a lot of people so thank you for opening up and being vulnerable and sharing with us. Both of you. Ami and Kara.
KARA: Yes, thank you so much. I really appreciate that.
AMI: Thank you.
KARA: You’ve given us this platform to share and give that incite and I appreciated all of your comments as well so thank you both.
AMI: Yeah, it excellent. Thank you so much, Paige.
Thanks again for listening.