Proud2Bme | Ask the Expert: An Interview with Dr. KJ

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Ask the Expert: An Interview with Dr. KJ

Dr. Kjerstin "KJ" Gruys is the author of "Dear KJ," a weekly advice column featured on Proud2Bme.org. A sociologist, author and body image activist, KJ holds a Ph.D. in sociology with a focus on the politics of appearance. She is the author of Mirror Mirror Off the Wall: How I Learned to Love My Body By Not Looking at It for a Year (Avery Press, 2012).

We chatted with KJ about her work in the field, what she learned by giving up mirrors for a year, and why she contributes to Proud2Bme. Check out our interview below!

What do you like to do in your free time?

When I have free time I like to sleep in until noon, and then hang out with my husband and our two dogs and two cats, just lounging around. I love to read, and sometimes I even find time to write! I also just started a “cookbook club” with a friend and my sister, so every other month a bunch of us meet up to dine on new dishes we’ve all made from the same cookbook! And I play a lot of sudoku!

You hold a Ph.D. in sociology with a focus on the politics of appearance. Can you tell us a bit about your work in the field?

My research as a sociologist centers around understanding how physical appearance shapes our social lives. I’m interested in understanding: does beauty relates to power and inequality? Why is beauty associated with high status? Why do beauty standards change across time and place? How do women develop their sense of body image? How does the media impact how we understand ourselves? How does our attractiveness help or hurt us in a job interview?

How does your experience as a sociologist help you in answering reader questions?

In my work as a sociologist I’ve had a mix of experiences conducting research in social psychology, media analysis, interview studies and making observations of how people interact with each other. These experiences help guide my answers to reader questions so that they are consistent with the latest research, while also addressing the unique stories and concerns of each person who asks a question.

Why did you start contributing to Proud2Bme?

I suffered from an eating disorder throughout high school and college, and I wish I’d had a resource like Proud2Bme available to me at the time. Now that I’ve been recovered (yay!) for more than a decade, and have the insight of both my personal and professional experiences, it feels good to be here for teens going through what I experienced.

What has been the most rewarding part about working with Proud2Bme so far?

The most rewarding part of working with Proud2Bme thus far has been … all of it! I’m excited to see what questions show up each week, and it’s always a challenge to figure out how to best answer them.

What’s one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?

Most people are surprised to learn that I’m an introvert. I’m comfortable giving lectures in front of hundreds of people, I’ve been on TV a few times, and I’m never afraid to share my opinion, but these “outgoing” aspects of my life are really draining and the only way I can recharge is by spending a lot of time alone. Being an introvert or an extrovert is all about how you deplete and recharge your energy.

How do you practice self-care?

Like I said above, I recharge by spending time alone. Over many years of experimenting and contemplation I’ve learned that time with my animals, reading and early bedtimes are all great antidotes when I’m not feeling my best. Sometimes if I need a good cry I’ll watch a sad movie on purpose. Lastly, getting a bit of exercise most days is an almost guaranteed mood-booster, but I haven’t been good about making this a habit. Maybe 2016 will be the year for that!

You used to work as a merchandiser in the corporate offices of two multi-national fashion firms. What did you learn there?

I learned a lot by working in the fashion industry, but the most important lesson I learned is that every single image we see in advertising or catalogues is extremely, extremely photoshopped. The models don’t even look like the images they become after being photoshopped.

In your book, Mirror Mirror off the Wall, you discuss what it’s like not to look at your body for a year. How have you changed from that experience? 

Giving up mirrors for a year helped me refocus my life around living and fully experiencing things rather than constantly worrying about what I looked like. I learned that life is short and I’d rather spend it doing stuff than staring at myself in the mirror. I’m so much more relaxed about my appearance these days. I still have fun playing with fashion and makeup, but I save that stuff for special occasions. On the average day I try to spend as little time as possible fussing about my looks, and I feel much more balanced and confident because of it.

Why are you Proud2BYOU?

I’m Proud2Bme because I’m happy, healthy, I have great relationships with family and friends and I’m passionate about my work. Life is good, and I’m proud that I did all the hard work (personally and professionally) to get here. 

Have more questions for Dr. KJ? Post them in the comments below!
 

Check out Dr. KJ's advice:

Dear KJ: Is it Possible to Love My Body at My Current Size?

Dear KJ: How Can I Take Care of My Body Without Depriving Myself?

Dear KJ: How Can I Overcome Emotional Eating?

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Proud2Bme is an online community created by and for teens. We cover everything from fashion and beauty to news, culture, and entertainment—all with the goal of promoting positive body image and encouraging healthy attitudes about food and weight.

This site was developed in partnership with Riverduinen and made possible by generous contributions from JPMorgan Chase, Globant, the University of Delaware, and The Hilda & Preston Davis Foundation.

Proud2Bme was first launched in the Netherlands by Riverduinen, a mental health organization that has licensed the concept to the National Eating Disorders Association. Unless otherwise noted, all original content on this site is copyright The National Eating Disorders Association. The Proud2Bme brand, logos, and trademarks are property of Rivierduinen.