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Body Confidence 2.0: How Technology Is Changing Women's Body Image

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Sarah's midsection inscribed with Whitman quote
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Sarah R. Bloom posted this image of her midsection, inscribed with a Walt Whitman quote, on flickr.com
Modern technology makes it easy to idolize unattainable flawlessness -- and have low body confidence. But an online grassroots movement is helping women see that imperfections aren't just normal, they're beautiful.

Imperfections Are Normal

Modern technology has brought us many marvels: Bluetooth, BlackBerries, iPhones, and nanos -- gadgets any forward-thinking gal covets. But one of our favorite creations has to be Photoshop, the program that lets you edit, alter, enhance, and improve on everything from Christmas cards to vacation albums. No more cringing at the red-eye glare of your daughter's soccer-team picture, or stuffing the finish-line photo from your first 10K in a drawer because your hair looks like you stepped on a live wire. The best thing about Photoshop is the way it makes your everyday life look a little more, well, glamorous. But how far is too far when it comes to image correcting? Is there a downside to our high-tech toy?

It's one thing when a woman alters her own image through a series of point-and-clicks on her home computer. But what is the effect of magazines and TV ads morphing the way we appear? "When we begin creating a digital reality that is impossible for real women to achieve, we stop seeing our imperfections as normal," says Judith Donath, PhD, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School and a professor at the MIT Media Lab.

Then again, reality has never been America's thing -- even reality TV shows are doctored to create drama, as real women fight to become "idols" or "top models." And, in general, we're okay with that creative license: Entertainment is supposed to be fun. What happens, though, when women can no longer separate fact from fiction? "The digital world creates confusion about what images are real versus what is Hollywood magic," says Kathy O'Brien, the marketing director for Dove, a company that in 2006 launched the Campaign for Real Beauty to promote realistic images of women's bodies. "Women are not always aware that what they see in the media isn't real. It impacts their self-esteem, and they feel less beautiful."

It made us wonder: If digital alterations can produce negative body image, could technology that enhances the truths about our daily life -- a space where our most intimate thoughts about the way we look are exposed, rather than hidden -- have the effect of making us love our bodies even more? These questions are being put to the test. Over the past 12 months, a viral movement has begun -- a grassroots effort to take back the way women's bodies are represented in America. "What we are seeing is a backlash to the homogenizing of women's bodies via airbrushing and digital manipulation," says Lisa Stone, cofounder of BlogHer.com, a Web site devoted to what women are saying and writing online. "More and more women are realizing the power of the Internet to reach out to other women in affirmation of what our bodies really look like. We see that we can turn the tables on how technology is used in the larger conversation about body image."

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