Need a Better Body Image? There's an App for That

Can you really click and surf your way through your body baggage?

I'm about to say something that's going to sound pretty crazy coming from a body image blogger: I'm not sure we need any more websites, blogs, and apps about body image! I had this thought when a press release popped into my inbox earlier this week for the Body Beautiful iPhone App, which promises to be "the only iPhone App that helps women and girls love their body."

Okay, obviously, I want women and girls to love their bodies. And Body Beautiful has a moving back story: 28-year-old Allie Marie Smith developed the app after struggling with disordered eating habits. “I constantly believed I was fat even though I wasn’t," she says. "Like many girls, I believed the lie that I had to be perfect to be loved and being perfect meant being thin like the girls in the magazines.”

So, this is not meant to be a critique of Smith's intentions, or the very good intentions behind Operation Beautiful, the My Body Gallery (which I previously discussed here) and other websites devoted to celebrating our bodies in all their realness.

But, I am starting to wonder if these projects actually help or if they just keep us focused on bodies and beauty when we could be getting on with say, the rest of our lives. This is especially true for products like Body Beautiful, which, as I found when I test-drove it, is clearly geared towards teenage girls. First, I uploaded my own photo, so every time I open the app, I now see myself captioned with the reminder, "There will never be a more beautiful you." Then I click "Truth," where I'm treated to a variety of thoughts on beauty from celebrities ranging from Emerson and Oprah to Christina Aguilera and Demi Moore. I can tag photos of myself or my friends with these quotes and then share my inspirational creations via Facebook, Twitter and email.

It's all fun and harmless enough (even if some of the quotes are questionable; see Ashley Green: "I don't want a child's body -- I want a woman's body that is extremely fit. It's so much sexier."). "But wouldn't it be better to get girls off the focus on body entirely? To realize that they are MORE than their bodies? To invest them with other sources of self esteem?" asks Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture. "Yes, ideas about beauty and body and what's beautiful must change and broaden. But the all-consuming importance of body and beauty also has to be minimized in favor of who we are and what we do."

This is why, of all the body image projects geared towards girls right now, I'm most excited about About-Face, a fantastic nonprofit that offers media literacy workshops to help girls understand and resist harmful media messages and encourages them to take action by circulating petitions, staging protests and such. These activities are about body image, yes. But perhaps more importantly, they empower girls to write, speak and think creatively. The girls engage with the public and develop a whole host of skills that can provide a more solid foundation for self-worth. Along the way, I bet they also find that it's a lot easier to feel good about your body when you don't need your body to be everything good about you.

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