Body Image And Creative ExpressionBody Image And Creative Expression

It isn't just about 'looking good? or eating disorders; body image relates to our identity, and how we think about and accept ourselves, which directly or indirectly affects how we access the awareness and emotional energy we need for creating.

Body image issues can be particularly visible in entertainment, which provides most of our icons and role models..

Some highly talented actors such as Emma Thompson seem to revel in roles with unusual looks, such as her character in "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" and as a governess with frightening features in "Nanny McPhee.?

In her film Carrington (1995), she appears with rather short hair, dressed 'mannishly? and Thompson said she did not feel any loss of femininity dressed that way, but rather 'lots of freedom, complete freedom. When I went to university, I shaved my head, wore little wrap glasses and butch overalls, because I didn't want to be trapped in femininity.?

That 'trap? can affect many talented actors. Katherine Heigl [tv series ?Grey's Anatomy?] said she is ?grateful people think I'm beautiful or sexy, and I suppose it's better than the alternative, but I do try to fight it a bit so it's not all people see me as. And I'd love to one day be in a position where I could choose a role to showcase my creativity versus just my bra size." []

But apparently many film and television producers don't think much beyond the thin sexy blonde stereotype when casting lead roles.

Toni Collette ["Muriel's Wedding" and "The Sixth Sense"] said in a recent LA Times interview she doesn't ?understand why you have to look like a model to be a successful actor. This is going to sound offensive, but for female actors there is a uniform of being you are meant to aspire to. There's this new batch of younger women who all look the same: the same rail thin body, the same blond hair - it's like they all go to the same hairdresser. It's kind of scary, and not the kind of image you should be putting out. What audiences and I respond to is what you can't see, what can't be fully explained. What's between the lines, unseen."

Not that a lot of us don't appreciate thin blond women, particularly those with talent, depth and passion, and thankfully there are women in film and television of other body types. Though not nearly enough.

That may be the fault of casting directors and writers, as well as producers. Emily Procter, who played Detective Calleigh Duquesne on the tv series CSI: Miami, and Ainsley Hayes on The West Wing, said in a 2003 interview, ?It's so nice after 10 years as a blonde actress in Hollywood to have people let you do smart things.?

The light-skinned cheerleader look so prevalent in fashion and cosmetic ads, films and tv, must continually be impacting girl's and women's [and also men's] sense of what body images are desirable.

According to the Eating Disorder Referral Organization [], most 10 year olds are afraid of being fat, and half of 9 and 10 year old girls feel better about themselves if they are on a diet. Over 90 percent of women recently surveyed on a college campus had attempted to control their weight through dieting and 35% of "normal dieters" progress to pathological dieting.

But even without having an eating disorder, many talented women - and more and more men - spend a great deal of time and money on appearance enhancement: about $124 billion on medical treatments related to obesity, and $1.8 billion on diet books, and there were nearly 12 million cosmetic procedures performed in 2004.

For all teens, body image issues can be difficult, but especially for gifted and highly sensitive people. Annette Revel Sheely, M.A., a counselor at the Rocky Mountain School for the Gifted and Creative, notes in an article that highly gifted people 'tend towards a more androgynous style. As children, gifted girls and boys are more similar to each other than they each are to their non-gifted, same-gender counterparts.?

But this can become a real problem in adolescence, she notes: ?When gender roles increase in social importance, androgynous highly gifted teens are often subjected to harassment in school.. because they don't fit neatly into the gender norms of our culture.?

Another basis for harassment and negative attitudes is being overweight, according to the often unrealistic standards promoted in films and magazines. According to some sources, the average woman is 5'4" tall and weighs 140, but the average American model is 5'11" and weighs 117. Most fashion models are thinner than 98% of American women.

In a Ms. magazine article [The Dialectic of Fat, by Catherine Orenstein], psychotherapist Susie Orbach [author of the book Fat Is a Feminist Issue] comments, ?How many hours are spent by accomplished, capable, intellectually interesting women in being frightened of food, then decorating or denigrating their bodies? Is the gym really about health??

So the question is, how much of your personal resources of time, money and energy are you putting into body image enhancement, beyond just staying healthy and reasonably attractive? Maybe more of those resources could be used for developing your creative talents.

by Douglas Eby
References and Bibliography

Douglas Eby writes about psychological and social aspects of creative expression and achievement. His site has a wide range of articles, interviews, quotes and other material to inform and inspire: Talent Development Resources

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