"You are imperfect, permanently and inevitably flawed. And you are beautiful."
"Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?" As kids, we have all read the fairy tale of the beautiful Snow White and her wicked stepmother, who, by the way, is the one assailed with doubts about her body image, and needs a magical mirror to assure her of her beauty. While children may find the story fascinating, as grown ups, how many women can identify with the feelings of the wicked stepmother in the story? Aren't we all assailed with the destructive ideals of beauty and sex appeal? Do we not hate our body at some time in our lives?
A majority of women are concerned about their appearance, and some are even obsessed with it. What is startling, however, is that a majority of women actually hate their body. This happens to even the slimmest and the most beautiful women. Either the thighs are too big, the breasts are too small, the skin is too dark, or there are just too many stretch marks from the last pregnancy. The Female Body Survey of Great Britain 2001, conducted by Top Sante Health & Beauty magazine, found that 90% of the women questioned in the survey were depressed with their appearance, and 85% hated the shape of their body. Surprising, isn't it? Not for all the women out there who have hateful thoughts about their body every day. In this article, we look at some of the possible causes that trigger these body image issues in women.
Our unattainable cultural beauty ideals affect not just adults, but also young girls and teenagers as well. However far-fetched it may sound, this is actually true. A study conducted by the University of Central Florida on girls aged three to six found that nearly half the participants in the study were worried about being fat. Frightening surveys have found that girls as young as five have gone on diets to become thin! How do we learn to hate our body so early? How is the message of imperfection passed on?
Have you ever seen a little girl surrounded by adults who say extremely 'sweet things' to her such as "Your dress is so pretty" or "You look just like mommy today". These compliments may be well-meaning, but imagine the impact that these words have on a young mind. While it may be second nature for us to address a little girl by her looks, for a child being pretty and beautiful is now equated as being socially acceptable. As a society, we are trained to look at girls as being pretty, beautiful, and dainty. No one understands or wants to know how smart or how physically fit she is. This is how we see boys, not girls. Girls are told not to spend too much time out in the sun or to run around. They are told to behave a certain way, sit in a certain way, and dress to please.
Human infants learn to recognize themselves when they are nearly two years old. Very soon, with everyone telling them what is pretty and what is not, they learn to dislike what they see. Instead of hearing niceties about how good she looks, if the child is teased for her appearance, especially if she is too fat or thin, then the feelings of body hate grow faster. Moreover, children who have parents with negative body image issues are likely to have it as well.
The pain of growing up, accompanied by physical changes during puberty, is probably the one thing that contributes to women hating their body so much. Just because the breasts grow bigger, and women start having menstrual cycles, they are given a whole lot of advice, all of which are aimed at 'protecting their body' and 'not getting pregnant'.
Instead of learning to love their body as it changes, they are taught to hide their body under layers and layers of clothes, as though it is something to be ashamed of. Compare this with a pubescent boy who roams around shirtless, happy with his widening shoulders and growing muscles. From being a free bird, a woman suddenly finds herself caged in her own skin. No wonder she learns to hate her body so much.
"Look, there goes the fatso." There are countless times may have you heard a fat girl being teased about her appearance in schools. Peer pressure among teenage girls to be slim and compare themselves, dictates body image in a big way. The important part is to 'fit in', and if a teenager cannot do so due to norms about the perfect body size and weight, it contributes to body image issues. Not only does the bullying and teasing result in a negative thoughts about her body, it also causes eating disorders like anorexia nervosa or bulimia in teenagers.
Moreover, this is also a phase where women seek the attention of men, who may have unrealistic expectations of a perfect female body themselves. Women, wanting to live up to these expectations, often start hating their body for not being 'perfect' for men.
There are times when you wish that you could walk just a mile without being bombarded by media messages on the perfect female body. They are just about everywhere. From billboards and advertisements to magazine covers, television, movies, and even cartoon characters, the scantily clad female body seems to haunt women all the time. All of them, models, celebrities, and other prominent figures, are all sickly thin (almost anorexic), with glowing beautiful skin without any signs of imperfections, stress, or aging. They are perfect, and urge women all around the world to be that way. The hideous misrepresentation of air-brushed women on posters, advertisements, and other media channels contributes to low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy.
As children and teenagers we may hate our body, but do we as adults not know better? Why is it that so many adult women fall prey to the all-pervading body tyranny? A negative body image in adults leads to distorted perceptions about the actual shape of the body parts. The woman is ashamed, self-conscious, and awkward in her own body.
Women blame themselves for everything. Even after managing (often very successfully) housework, children, jobs, and a whole lot of other activities, they still manage to blame themselves for anything bad that happens to them. There are so many women who actually believe that men leave them just because they have grown older and flabbier. Of course, it does not matter that the cheating men in question are probably balding and have a huge beer belly. This is because women equate appearances with a perfect life, that is what they have been told all their lives, and that is what they believe in.
Hating your body, criticizing it, and finding flaws have become so easy that women now do it all the time. Be it with coworkers, friends, or on online social media, women love to criticize their body. After hearing it repeatedly, women somehow train their minds to hate their body.
Nobody needs to hate their body. Your body is made to be loved and cherished. To do this, you need to silence all those negative thoughts and insults about your body that come to your mind. Make a firm decision to treat your body with respect. Give it food, rest, and lots of exercise. Most importantly, stop hurling insults at it. Give yourself a break from magazines and other media which propound the ideal body image. Instead, take up some fun activity or exercise that will not only keep your mind away from negative feelings, but also keep you happy. Read about other people's experiences of hating their body, and change your goal from trying to look perfect to staying happy.
It is not easy to change a perception that has been entrenched in women since they were children. However, when you resolve to love your body, nothing can stand in your way.