Re-vision—the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old test from a new critical direction—is for women more than a chapter in cultural history: it is an act of survival. Until we can understand the assumptions in which we are drenched we cannot know ourselves. And this drive to self-knowledge, for women, is more than a search for identity, it is part of our refusal of... self-destructiveness... A radical critique of literature, feminist in its impulse, would take the work first of all as a clue to how we live, how we have been living, how we have been lead to image ourselves, how our language has trapped as well as liberated us,... and how we can begin to see and name—and therefore live—afresh.
"When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-vision", 1971
The papers included in this edition of Ecclectica are examples of re-visioning, as Rich described it. They present us with glimpses into the ways in which young women, with fresh eyes, view issues related to women's body image and well-being. All of the contributors hope that those even younger, with even fresher eyes, will read their papers and begin their own re-visioning.
The idea for this edition of Ecclectica arose in a course offered for the first time in the fall of 2005. The Sociology of Women's Body Image and Well-being is a seminar course designed to explore a variety of issues related to women's perceptions regarding body image and women's general sense of well-being. Some of the issues discussed in class were the influence of culture, and specifically popular culture, on women's body image, physical and sexual assault of women, women's reproductive health issues, psychological health, and eating disorders.
The papers presented in this edition are based on research papers written by students for the course. Anyone who had taken the course was welcome to submit her paper. These papers address historical issues, current issues, and social problems. Stacie Zollen, Esther Baum, and Aynsley Hyndman pay particular attention to the past in their papers. Stacie Zollen explores the similarities between the ancient Chinese practice of foot-binding and the practice of wearing high-heel shoes in current Western society in "Foot-binding Heels." Esther Baum's paper, "The Perfect Body: A comparable study of modern Western and ancient Egyptian women," discusses the possible transference of ideal body images over time. Aynsley Hyndman addresses the relationship between body modification and the oppression of women in "Female Body Modification Throughout Time."
The women who focus more of their attention on current issues tend specifically to address the issue of body image; how popular conceptions influence young girls and women as well as the consequences of these conceptions. Teya Cherland reveals that female body image and gender role expectations become issues very early in life in her paper, "Female Representation in Children's Literature." In "Young Girls: Body Image and Well-being: Where do they learn harmful habits," Jennifer Oakes explains that it is "time to take a look at what we are teaching our children and from whom they are learning flawed ideal body images." In "Young Girls and Body Image," Susan Burns discusses socio-cultural influences on the negative self-image and eating patterns of young girls. Melissa Mason directs our attention to women's discontent with their bodies as a result of an inability to resemble the ideal in "Unachievable Standards- An Analysis of the Female Gender Role and Body Dissatisfaction." In "A Feminist Investigation: Objectification and Well-being," Heather Tornblum argues that "[b]y acknowledging the influence the media can have on women, we create opportunities to reevaluate our cultural messages and change those that do not reflect our true intentions."
Two students contribute papers dealing with social problems that most often involve women—domestic violence and the sex industry. Celeste Taylor's paper, "Intimate Partner Violence," looks at the issue of self-esteem in abusive relationships. She hopes that by identifying risk factors associated with domestic violence we will be better equipped to recognize these relationships when we see them and offer some help. Finally, Courtney Wielenga discusses a specific case of the sex industry in her paper, "Sex Trade: The Case of Thailand." She explains, "[t]he more we learn about the sex trade globally, the more we will understand the sex trade that is taking place in our own communities."
As I stated above, these papers are examples of Rich's idea of re-vision. The topics that are discussed in these papers are not new; others have written and talked about them for quite some time. However, it is very infrequently the case that we are given the opportunity to learn what young women think and feel about these issues. The women are all in their early twenties, from different places, with different interests and different goals. These women come from a variety of disciplines including sociology, psychology, English, political science, and gender and women's studies. Despite their differences they share an awareness of the difficulties women face in our society and a hope that things will get better.
The painting selected for the cover was done by Leona Graham. Her web site is http://home.earthlink.net/~leonamae/leona.html.
Ms. Elizabeth Graham, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology
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