Accessing identity through hobbies; women and body image
An Act of Revolution
What’s the difference between desk jobs and theatre artistry, or content writing and public relations? Most activities in this world require the human body to either sit still or move around.
You may feel a surge of creativity while sitting in a coffee shop with your pen and paper, or you may be more of a 2 hour dance cardio type of a person. There’s a creative genius within each human, choosing to express itself via one of the ways of stillness or movement. That’s how music is made, poems are written, sports become revolutionary, and masterpieces are penned.
Profound human pleasures have been out of reach for women from every strata of society due to rules and restrictions on the body, what it can do, and where it can go. The woman of today struggles to access the depth of rich experience as the current era of modernity is still run by insidious conditioning, some of which lead to body image issues.
The simple pleasures in life, like sitting to read a book with coffee, or putting dance shoes on is an act of creative revolution for women.
You Are the Social Lens — Objectification Theory
Have you ever,
- Adjusted your hair/ clothes etc. self-consciously while outside?
- Worried about showing too much or too little skin?
- Felt hyper-vigilant to the potential sexually motivated bodily harm?
- Worried about hips or breasts jiggling while running?
- Felt a desire to hide yourself in shame due to not feeling perfect?
- Suppressed hunger cues?
- Experienced profound discomfort over being ogled in public?
Fredrickson in 1997 thought about these questions to understand the psychology of women. She stated that all the body image issues stem from something much deeper than simply not liking the size or shape of one’s body. Far beyond this idea that women are dissatisfied with their physical self, they’re taught that their body “belongs less to them and more to others. It’s a public domain; to be looked at, commented on, attacked, and evaluated by others.”
Objectification theory describes how women are conditioned to internalize an observer’s perspective as primary view of their bodies. When a woman looks at herself, it’s not through her own eyes but the eyes of a culture. She behaves, thinks, and feels according to how other people are assessing her body.
Constant exposure to an ideal feminine image on media contributes to unrealistic standards of perfection. Culture asserts that a true woman is not just supposed to be too skinny or too fat, but she also has to be responsible for her own safety. In the back of her mind, then, a woman is always preoccupied with habitual concerns about either her appearance or her safety. On platforms like social media, marriages, and professional settings, women are rewarded for adhering to beauty standards which propagates the tendencies of comparison and shame, thereby creating the groundwork for body image issues.
Mental Health Outcomes
- Shame and Anxiety
The shame women experience is recurrent, generating a desire to hide or alter one’s appearance through dieting, fashion, disordered eating, and even surgery.
The appearance anxiety manifests as concern over looking too sexy or prudish, or too fat or skinny, often stemming from self — criticism. Add safety anxiety to the mix and you get vigilance against potential attacks.
- Creative Flow
The state of creative flow is a complete mental absorption in any task; writing, running, eating, sex, swimming etc.
The book, “Throwing like a Girl” describes how self-conscious body monitoring creates a barrier in accessing the state of flow. Appearance or safety concerns from bedroom to ground causes destruction of mental engagement.
Rumination is a form of thinking which is uncontrollable, sad, and dark. Women ruminate more than men on the lines of never looking good enough or remaining hyper vigilant against threats. All of this culminates to body image issues. The consequence is depression as women have very less agency on their positive and negative experiences.
Let Hobbies Raise You Again
Hobby is a thing humans do, the way birds sing and bees make hives
The origin of the word hobby comes from the 16th century word ‘hobyn’, a small toy-horse. This definition dissolved into a general meaning of amusement by the mid of the industrial era. Doing things for fun gained dignity through this time period because leisure time was an outcome of earning regular income thereby having a predictable schedule. The average person knew when s/he was gonna eat lunch, be busy, or be free. Hobby began to be associated with enjoyment and pleasure.
The modern 9–5 work culture is an evolved form of the industrial era style of working. You know when you wake up, rush to work via crowded commuting, and come back home. You keep track of all of your paid leaves and leisure hours. Hence, personality is defined not just by work or relationships, but also interests. Making friends or dating people on the basis of common interests is both a demand and a tongue-in-cheek self -introduction.
I’m useless before my cup of coffee
I drink and I know things
You’re Joey to my Chandler
If you prefer tea over coffee I like you
These statements can manifest themselves on a cute tee or on Tinder bios. We identify ourselves and others through interests and devote time to cultivate them despite rushing through a hectic schedule.
Hobbies are a part of identity. They surpass the daily wear and tear of survival to bring us into a zone of playfulness. How do they affect body image and all the issues associated with it?
Skills over Appearance
Hobby is about what you do rather than who you are. Inherently you can be beautiful, ugly, rich, poor, agnostic, religious etc. These fade into being an insignificant part of your identity when you’re involved in activities through reliance on skills over appearance through hard work and critical thinking.
Abraham Maslow regarded self-esteem needs like status, respect, performance, ability, efficacy etc. to be influencing human motivation. For women, it’s crucial to cultivate an identity based on skills and performance over innate characteristics.
Body image is rigid, hobby image is flexible.
Shame and anxiety women experience leads to hiding. Hobbies are varied forms of self-expression; moving the body, writing, musical intelligence and much more, one learns expression through verbal and non-verbal means. Cultural withholding is countered by inner creative expression of the self.
Repetition leads to dullness and boredom. However, research suggests that routines lead to improved focus and flow. The only way to access the deep recesses of creativity is by practicing over and over. Experiencing boredom is a healthy practice to become resilient in facing difficult emotions along with improving the quality of work.
A woman must learn to access pleasure by cultivating it and prioritizing it. Self-esteem based on one’s intrinsic value is a powerful antidote against the conditioning which comes from being rewarded or punished on the basis of appearance.