Women’s Week: Religion, athletics, society affect body image

By Clayton Norlen

Before children can talk or make their own decisions, society wraps them in either a pink or blue blanket and hands them a doll or a toy truck.

At the conference “Mirror, Mirror: Body in the Mind’s Eye,” panelists will expose the social constructs of gender and discuss the ways men’s and women’s body images and identities are influenced by faith, athletics and the beauty culture that exists in the United States and abroad.

Kimi Barnett, development officer for the Tanner Humanities Center, said they wanted to create a forum to cover body image issues that aren’t usually talked about.

Part of the conference will include a film screening of “Do I look Fat?” by Travis Mathews that features the stories of gay men and their struggles with eating disorders and embracing a positive body image.

“Whenever we think about body image, we think about women, but men are affected by these issues just as much,” Barnett said.

To dig beyond the more known effects of a negative body image, such as anorexia and bulimia, the conference is attempting to show the power of the body to shape people’s feelings of self-worth, control and identity, Barnett said.

The conference begins today at 7 p.m. with a keynote address from Rose Weitz, a professor of women and gender studies at Arizona State University. Weitz will present on the cultural history of the female body throughout history beginning with Eve, the first Biblical woman.

“In each era women have been expected to discipline their bodies to meet the expectations of society,” Weitz said. “Now we hold women responsible for disciplining their bodies, whether by covering their bodies from head to toe like the women of Iran, or by dieting, shaving, getting cosmetic surgery or doing whatever else is needed to meet beauty norms while wearing almost nothing in western nations.”

In a roundtable discussion, current and former Olympic athletes and student athletes from the U will discuss what body image means to males and females in athletics and how steroid abuse and eating disorders have begun to appear in sports. The “Faith and the Body” panel will question the intersection of religious beliefs and the individual’s body image. Panelists will speak on dress codes, Latter-day Saint perspectives of the body and clothes as a form of social control among the Amish and the Mennonite faiths.

Presenters hope to answer the question of who determines the attributes of beauty, femininity and masculinity and who benefits from the ideals of beauty. Donna Hawxhurst, a presenter and training coordinator for the Women’s Resource Center said the conference will create more critical analysis of how people’s bodies are viewed and empower those who can begin to question the social constructs of beauty.

The panel discussion on “Beauty Cultures” will look at how women and society view female bodies and what it means to be a woman because of these interpretations. Incorporating a variety of perspectives and identities such as race, class, ethnicity and age into the discussion provides a contextual and cultural understanding of how people are informed about their ideal body image, U professor Lynette Danley said.

The conference will show “Do I look Fat?” — a film that looks at how the body images of gay men are jeopardized because of internalized homophobia and the stigma eating disorders hold for men because of the feminine nature of the diseases.

“I thought it was suspect that there is so much support for drug and alcohol abuse and HIV, but there is so little support or serious discussion about men’s bodies,” Mathews said. “I think it’s important to show the diversity of these issues and the wide variety of people affected. It’s easy to lose sight of how these things affect all of us to one degree or another.”

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