The November issue of O (Oprah Magazine) has just been released. Katie Halchishick – co-founder of Healthy is the New Skinny and the Perfectly Unperfected Project – anchors an 8-page section on beauty and body image with a photo destined to be an iconic image. Shot by famed photographer Matthew Rolston, Katie stands naked (the first nude in O history), holding an equally bare Barbie doll. Dotted lines, of the sort that might be made by a cosmetic surgeon (or a photo editor preparing a retouch), cover Katie, indicating what would have to be cut away in order for her to have Barbie’s body.
It’s a striking photo. There’s something revolutionary about a naked plus-size model. Think how often this image from French Elle of Tara Lynn has been reblogged – and remember the reaction to this famous Lizzie Miller photo in Glamour? What sets the O photo apart is the powerful reminder of how far even such a gorgeous model as Katie falls short of an unattainable ideal.
The article that follows the image includes the fascinating results of a survey of O magazine readers in their teens – and in their 60s. There’s some encouraging news: older women report having better body image, though not by as great a margin as some might expect. But when asked for one adjective that described how they felt about how they looked, “grateful” was the most popular choice for women over 60. “Self-conscious” was the clear winner for the teen girls. And we’re troubled – though not surprised – that while older women listed “staying healthy” as their number one reason to exercise, “losing weight” was the top choice for their younger counterparts.
But next to Katie’s picture, the highlight of the issue is a “Dear Every Woman” letter from novelist Amy Bloom. Here are a couple of excerpts I loved:
You cannot be a healthy person, let alone hope for healthy children, if you sigh and moan every time you encounter your own image, eat a cookie, or see an airbrushed model on a billboard. Even if it amounts to wholesale pretending, go pretend. Walk around pretending to be a woman who likes her body… Because every step toward self-love you take, and every inch of confidence you give someone’s daughter, makes the world a better place….
You are imperfect, permanently and inevitably flawed. And you are beautiful.
Katie’s photo was shown to a 15 year old teenage girl. She stared at it for a long time without saying anything. Finally, she spoke: “At first this photo made me feel a little bad. I thought if a girl as pretty as that has to change so much to be perfect, it made me wonder how much more I’d have to change. Then I realized how ridiculous it would be to try and change (Katie’s) body. She’s perfect the way she is even if she’s imperfect in the eyes of a plastic surgeon or some dude who wants a Barbie doll. And if she can fall short of the ideal and still be so beautiful… maybe I can too.”
She paused and smiled at me. “Um, can I take the magazine when you’re done writing about it? I want to show it to my friends… and I want to keep the picture.”
That’s the power of an image – and the power of being Perfectly Unperfected.
I’m grateful for O’s brave and refreshing take on this issue that matters so much to all of us.