Craig Ford, a Ph.D. candidate in theological ethics, has voices in his head. Each time he looks in a mirror, Ford hears someone telling him what he must look like to step outside the house. He knows that these voices have to come from somewhere.
Ford began his talk, “Our Bodies are Not Our Own: Decolonizing Perceptions of the BC Body,” on Oct. 24 by describing what thoughts run through his mind when he looks in the mirror each morning.
Ford’s talk was the first event of Love Your Body Week, which is the Boston College Women’s Center’s annual campaign that promotes healthy and positive body image for students of all genders on campus.
“Do you have gender stereotypes that you labor under here at BC today?”Ford asked his audience on Monday night.
Ford asked students to share their conceptions of what makes a typical male student at BC. The top three reported traits were white, preppy, and confident. When students were asked to do the same thing for girls, they shared that skinny, white, and perfect were the most common character traits of a typical female BC student. Ford noted the immense pressure many students feel to conform to these unrealistic stereotypes.
“How do these words strike you when you are standing in a mirror, and this is what BC projects in your mind of what it means to be here,” he said. “The most prominent word is perfect. Nobody is perfect, and yet that is something women are labored [with] at BC.”
Ford explained that stereotypes have been ingrained in people’s brains for centuries because the brain uses them as a device to connect behaviors to certain groups of people. If the world is mapped safely according to the brain’s categorizations of people, a person is going to feel safer. All stereotypes have a history, and one can try to go back to see where it came from and who used it in order to better understand the world.
Ford noted that scholars, especially in the field of queer studies, determined that there are three ideas that stereotypes rely on. First is the heteronormative, where heterosexuality is deemed more desirable over other sexualities. The second is sexism, which produces a stereotype that privileges male bodies over female bodies. Finally, there is white supremacy, where what is perceived as typical is associated with the customs of European people.
“The Klu Klux Klan is a violent example of people imposing white supremacy on others, but we do it, too,” Ford said. “For example, if we think that someone who wears a traditional Nigerian gown looks like a clown, this is white supremacy because we believe that whiteness deserves to be privileged as a mode of presentation.”
Once these three ideas have taken over our minds, it is said that our minds have become colonized by these stereotypes.
“Heterosexuality is something that is colonized at BC,” Ford said. “Our mind is constantly besieged that being straight is better. It’s really hard to shake it, and it is similar to the way European settlers colonized America from other lands.”
To conclude his speech, Ford presented four steps to help students reject common stereotypes. The first step is awareness, and he explained that people must ask themselves if their participation in the practice reflects a colonized mindset.
The next step is introspection, or thinking about how a practice or word makes someone feel and if it truly promotes who he or she is. Third is resolution, where one must determine whether the practice has negative effects and adopt a practice in mind that stands in opposition to it. Finally, it is necessary that someone find a group of people who understand and support him or her in this goal.
The Women’s Center hopes that students who attend a Love Your Body Week event will recognize what characterizes a healthy and unhealthy relationship with one’s body, identify strategies to build a healthier relationship with one’s body, and understand the problematic ways that society and media present the body and manipulate people’s understandings of beauty.
“We think about so many things that are so small, and they become such a big waste of our time,” Ford said. “Instead of looking into who we are, we look to others and try to be perfect. We do not need to labor under this sort of thing.”
Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor