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

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Going Too Far?

Of course, then there's this question: We're all for body pride, but really, who the heck has the guts (or exhibitionist urge) to post a picture of herself in her birthday suit online for the whole world to see? "The answer I get the most -- and it resonates with me personally -- is, 'I am tired of feeling embarrassed about the way I look,'" says Suzanne Reisman, 32, founder of a blog about feminism and other topics. "Women feel under assault from images that don't look anything like them, and the online community offers an opportunity to say, 'There is nothing wrong with having an average body.'"

Average is what Reisman had in mind when she launched The Swimsuit Brigade on BlogHer.com, a place for ordinary women to post photos of themselves in their swimsuits. "I put my picture up first," she says. "I'm not skinny, and I was a little afraid. But online, you don't have to see people's facial reactions to what you look like. You feel less 'exposed' than if you were in a gym locker room. That helps make women more confident about sharing their photos -- and, in turn, it helps the rest of us feel better about our own bodies, because we can see that women come in all shapes and sizes."

The idea of online body pride has spread across the country. At a national convention of bloggers last summer, Edison spoke on a panel devoted to the topic of online body image. And the ivy towers of academia are catching on -- both Harvard and MIT offer a myriad of courses exploring the creation of identity and the use of personal imagery online, as well as on questions of Internet ethics. YouTube is also getting in on the act, posting a Web movie created by Dove to dramatize the constant barrage of unrealistic beauty images that girls face. "The film Onslaught is a call to action for moms and mentors to talk to their daughters and educate them about what is real versus what is Hollywood," says Dove's O'Brien. "To date, the film has been viewed more than 2.5 million times."

"Everywhere you look, women are using technology, mainly the Web, to take back the reality of their lives and their bodies," says Stone, whose company hosted a conference last July that included a popular panel called Our Bodies, Our Blogs. "We are taking back positive body image, one Web site at a time. The journey toward self-acceptance is much easier with friends, and for the foreseeable future, more and more women are finding those friends on the Internet."

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, May 2008.

 

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