Keda J. Bear. July 30th, 2015.
This is an old paper I wrote for a wellness course I was in it’s fairly imperfect, but I may in the future rewrite this. Style is APA-esque.
“I Know girls who are trying to fit into the social norm, like squeezing into last year’s prom dress. I know girls who are low rise, mac eye shadow, and binge drinking. I know girls that wonder if they’re disaster and sexy enough to fit in. I know girls who are fleeing bombs from the mosques of their skin, playing russian roulette with death.”
This passage comes from the first few lines of singer-songwriter and spoken-word artist, Mary Lambert’s “Bodylove1 ”, in which she attempts to express both her own experiences with body image dissatisfaction2 (sometimes termed as body dysmorphia or body dysmorphic disorder (Phillips, 2010; Mayo Clinic, 2013)) and the experiences of others; furthermore, how these experiences are tied directly to unrealistic and oppressive social expectactions of body image and beauty. Throughout this paper I will be exploring the body image dissatisfaction through forms of narrative and other creative expressions. I will also explain in what ways narrative can be used as therapy for creating body postivity both within individuals and as an emergent cultural value.
Defining “Narrative Medicine”
Before I can go in depth into the discussion, we must first define and unpack what “narrative medicine” is. Narrative medicine may be best defined as a clinical practice which focuses and puts high value on the narratives of the patient as a way of (1) forming an empathetic practice and positive clinician-patient relationships, (2) addressing not only physiological, but psychosocial issues associated with illness, (3) valuing a person in humanistic ways that may lead to better adherence to treatment plans (Charon, 2001 & Greenlaugh, 1991). Narrative medicine has ‘traditionally’ been seen as a practice limited only to medical practioners, however the practice can be used in multiple forms and fields such as: therapy, social work, education, etc… In the ways that I present it, I suggest that for it’s use both by clinicians working with body image dissatisfaction (usually social workers and therapists), by individuals and people they trust, and by the general public.
Defining “Body Image”
Body image, as defined by Cash & Pruzinsky (2004) “…the multifaceted psychological experience of embodiment, [which] profoundly influences the quality of human life” is an integral facet to our day-to-day experiences. Some other ways of looking at ‘body image’ that may be a little less complex than the way shown before is the way in which one sees oneself; as what they think they are, what they were, what they could be, and what they should be. Other definitions also look at body image as more of a socialized ideology purported through culture and media. Body image is also an integral piece of experiences faced by individuals with eating disorders and gender dysphoria.
It is important to see body image not simply as an ailment of cisgender heterosexual white women, but as an issue that affects all peoples, but has particular issues in relation to races, genders, sexualities, (dis)abilities, ages, and body types that are not positively represented within our culture and media.
Some Current Approaches To Body Image Dissatisfaction
Some psychitrists and other qualified medical professional may feel inclined to prescribe antidepressants, usually Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, in attempt to decrease obsessive and compulsive behaviors (Mayo Clinic, 2013). My own critique to this is that this simply treats the problem as if it is a chronic illness, which is possible under some diagnoses of Body Dysmorphic Disorder; however treating a psychological problem with direct identifiable psychosocial roots without the use of some form of psychosocial intervention seems excessive at the least.
Probably the most common lay approach to body image dissatisfaction is actively trying to change the body, in many cases this actually be beneficial to the individual’s physical and psychological well-being; however, many programs and regimines are effectively dangerous to many individuals and most do not address psychological aspects and assume more than the physical will automatically change the psychological. Examples may be: extreme “fad” diets, unhealthly excersise patterns, weight loss pills, etc… I feel that integrating excersise, healthy dieting, and healthy hygiene regimines into treatments is absolutely necessary but most be done with care and must never be seen as a full treatment.
Why a Narrative Approach To Body Image Is Beneficial
In my presentation of the same title of this paper on December 9th, 2014 in the Spirituality & Wellness class, I practiced an activity in which each individual in the classroom was to write something on a piece of paper with the idea of “my body is worth more than…”, and asked other students to share some of their thoughts and feelings about what they wrote, the video shown (“Bodylove” acoustic performance), and the ideas from the presentation. Many students were apprehensive at first about sharing their throughts, which is understandable given the subject matter. Once the students started discussing more they expressed that they many of them do have body image dissatisfaction and wished that they could talk about it more in a constructive way. Utilizing narrative medicine approach is important in the treatment of body image dissatisfaction is that it gives value to the individuals of the person and what they have to say, in which body image dissatisfaction is usually rooted in the de-valuing of an individual on the basis of physicality. I know that when I share with someone else about discomforts I have with my body there is a sense of relief, particularly when someone validates what I’m feeling; on the other hand if someone devalidates what I’m feeling then I feel that that can exasterbate issues of body image dissatisfaction. The best ways to utilize this method in my opinion would be in 1-on-1 and small group settings in which the assuredness of validation is available, meaning that rules are set within the discussion to not devalidate what others saying and to take a more empathetic approach to what they’re feeling.
I’ve discussed definitions of narrative medicine and body image, touched upon current methods of approaching body image dissatisfaction, and finally how and why narrative medicine should be implemented in addressing body image dissatisfaction. I hope that we can move forward towards cultural values of valuing narrative in all aspects of physical and psychological well-being.
- On her album, the song appears as two seperate songs (hence the two seperate sources listed), despite being realistically one whole song. when making references to the piece in the paper, I’ll be referencing the piece as a whole.
- I chose “body image dissatisfaction” to avoid utilizing psychopathological underpinnings within the discussion, as I personally find psychiatry to be an oppressive system.
Aguilera, C. (2002) Beautiful. Stripped. New York City, NY: RCA Records
Cash, T., & Pruzinsky, T. (2004). Body image: A handbook of theory, research, and clinical practice. New York: Guilford Press.
Charon, R. (2001). Narrative Medicine: A Model for Empathy, Reflection, Profession, and Trust. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 286(16), 1897-1902.
Greenhalgh, T., & Hurwitz, B. (1999). Why study narrative?. BMJ : British Medical Journal, 318(7175), 48–50.
Lambert, M. (2013) Bodylove Part 1. Welcome to the the Age of My Body. Los Angeles, CA: Capitol Records.
Lambert, M. (2013) Bodylove Part 2. Welcome to the the Age of My Body. Los Angeles, CA: Capitol Records.
Mayo Clinic. (2013). Body dysmorphic disorder. Retrieved December 16, 2014, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/body-dysmorphic-disorder/basics/definition/con-20029953
Phillips, K. A. (2010). Body dysmorphic disorder. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 12(2), 221–232.