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

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How, exactly? By posting unaltered body portraits online -- on personal and amateur-photography Web sites -- and allowing other women to view and comment on what they see. It's a social experiment whose time has come: According to a recent survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project (a nonprofit research foundation), on any given day in the U.S., more than five million people post personal images or data on self-created blogs or other content-sharing Web sites. In the past five years, we have shifted from a society that uses the Internet to receive factual information to one that uses the Web to share anecdotal advice -- and women are leading the charge. "Women are the 'connectors' in our communities," says Stone. "The Internet is another forum for doing that."

Perhaps for this reason, BlogHer.com has seen an explosion of interest on the topic of body image. "Since July 2007, we've added 151 new blogs to our site relating to women's bodies," says Stone. "Ten years ago, you'd read an occasional comment on a message board in reaction to a model's photo in a magazine: 'Am I the only one who thinks real women don't look like this?' But garnering critical mass was difficult. The expansion of the Internet makes it easy to share these feelings." Think of the Web as a virtual watercooler: In a country where 64 million people are obese, as many as 10 million suffer from eating disorders, and untold others feel inadequate every time they drive past another airbrushed model on a highway billboard, it was high time there was an outlet for the emotions surrounding women and body-image issues.

The perceived anonymity of the Web -- even when sharing something as intimate as a photo of your body -- has allowed thousands of women the safety to say what they really think. As the trend grows, body-image Web sites have become more specialized. In 2006, Bonnie Crowder, 30, launched theshapeofamother.com, uploading an image of her post-baby body -- stretch marks, folds, and all -- in an effort to support other women who'd recently given birth. "The post-pregnancy body is one of society's greatest secrets," Crowder wrote on her Web site. "Sure, we all talk about sagging boobs, but no one ever sees them. It is my dream to create a Web site where women of all ages, shapes, and sizes can share images of their bodies so it will no longer be secret."

The response has been tremendous, as other new mothers post their own photos and viewers write supportive comments for all to read. Late one evening in January of this year, a new mom uploaded a nude photo, stretch marks and all, on the site with this comment: "I can't stand looking at myself...I have a spare tire and tiger stripes. I'm afraid they won't ever go away...at least I got them giving birth to the world's most beautiful boy." The responses came pouring in immediately.

"You have the most gorgeous curvy hips!...I am quite jealous."
--Bex, 01:42

"Thank you for your honesty. It is really helpful to people such as me. [I am] five weeks pregnant [with my] first baby."
--Emily, 06:20

"It all gets better, it really does. You are not alone in this."
--gawdess, 08:30

It's like having your own support network at the snap of your fingers -- or, more exactly, the click of your mouse.

Photographer Laurie Toby Edison, author of Women En Large, a book of realistic female portraits that served as the springboard for her Web site dedicated to pictures of real people's bodies, understands the appeal. "Women are seeing their reality perpetually denied by the mainstream," she says. "The Web and the blogosphere have become the means through which they can reaffirm that their bodies are beautiful."

Next:  Going Too Far?

 

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