A few days ago I was scrolling through Facebook when I came upon a video that caught my eye. It was posted by OSKARTBRAND.com and was titled, Stay Beautiful: Ugly Truth in Beauty Magazines. Watching this video, I couldn’t help but feel a deep sadness and concern for the self-image of women and young girls in first world society.
“85% of beauty magazines’ content is dedicated to making you feel imperfect and inadequate,” was one of the quotes that got me thinking. I’ve never been a huge beauty magazine consumer, but I do pick them up here and again, looking for the newest fashion or styles. I have found the colourful and glossy pages of ultra-thin models and outrageous fashion designs to be more amusing than having anything to do with me and my self-image. At the same time, I know I have felt pressure, especially in my younger days, to look as perfect as the women depicted. In my opinion, magazines aren’t the only culprits. Music videos, television commercials and other forms of media often portray unrealistic and sexist imagery of women.
“70% of women feel guilty, ashamed and depressed after only 3 minutes or reading a fashion magazine,” is another quote from the video. It saddens me to think of women altering their feelings of self based on reading a magazine, and I have to wonder what kind of self-sabotaging behaviour it is to continue to buy and read material that has that effect on you. At the same time, you can’t always escape all of the media pressure to look a certain way. I have talked to so many women, especially young women, who feel inadequate or even disgusted by their bodies.
“In the US and EU 50 million women suffer from eating disorders.” What a mind-boggling statistic! Though horrific, it is not surprising at all. Almost every young woman I know personally struggles on some level with body image and eating. I will leave their stories for them to tell, but I will share my own personal history.
The first time I consciously remember questioning the perfection of my body was in grade one. I was six years old. My teacher casually suggested I sit beside another girl in the class who was “chubby too”. I hadn’t realized I was chubby until she labeled me as so.
I officially started dieting to change my body when I was fourteen. I was five foot four and 110 lbs. Obviously not fat. But I didn’t have the body shape of a long, lean torso with a flat stomach and I thought I could diet my way to achieve that. Of course, I couldn’t, so it failed. Instead of recognizing the futility of dieting, I began a long and self-deprecating journey trying to find the right diet and exercise program that would have me looking good enough.
Over the years I struggled with poor eating behaviours, using food to fill up other voids and then dieting to take off the extra pounds. I’m pretty sure I messed up my body’s natural metabolism. It’s likely why I went from having a full, thick head of hair to hair that is fine and thin. I never achieved the unattainable model-inspired body I hoped for, even at my best.
I’d like to say it was the wisdom that accompanies maturity that changed things for me. And although that certainly contributed, the real change came for me after I had a mental breakdown in my early forties. I made a decision to change my life, and part of my journey toward health included a new attitude towards myself of love and acceptance. It is my belief that my relationship with God and my focus on my spiritual self created the opportunity for a new vision of myself to unfold.
I’m 50 years old now. I don’t weigh the least I’ve ever weighed nor do I weigh the most. Frankly, I’m not all that interested in a number on the scale anymore. I’m more attuned to how I feel. Even though I’m not as fit as I’d like to be currently, I’m gentle with myself. I just finished battling Lyme’s disease for two years. I’ve had Type 1 Diabetes since I was 24. I have Thyroid Disease. And I am a self-proclaimed Foodie and Wine-lover. Instead of focusing on myself and how I look, I cherish every single moment of my life and focus on how I can fulfill a higher purpose of spreading love and light to others.
This seems like a great place to transition into a more positive discussion. After-all, it’s wise to address the issues, not put your head in the sand. Still, there is always a silver lining, even if sometimes you have to look for it. I set out to find examples of changing attitudes and I wasn’t disappointed. What follows are just a few.
At Refinery29.com they are “actively and powerfully spreading the message of body positivity… (stating) stretch mark and scars, rolls of skin, indicate what a body has been through and what it can do.” That had me remembering how hard I cried when I discovered the multitudes of stretch marks covering my stomach after I birthed my first child. Now my vision of those marks has been transformed into a sort of warrior pride. I feel the ropey skin and recall with fondness the birth of my children and experience deep gratitude for my abundant blessings.
The Dove beauty campaign states as it’s vision: “We want women and girls of all ages to see beauty as a source of confidence, not anxiety.” They believe in the power of education and deliver in-school programs to young people to address the growing concern of poor body image in young girls. I can’t help but concur that the solution is education, not just of women and girls, but as a society as whole.
“We equip women and girls of all ages with tools to understand and resist harmful media messages that affect their self-esteem and body image,” says the About-face.org site mission statement. The site deals with body image, health and weight, mental health, and eating disorders. It provides education and resources with a click of a button, on-line.
The bottom line is that there is a growing awareness of the unhealthy images of women in media and the increase in poor self-esteem and body image in women and young girls. There are people speaking out about it. There are educational campaigns aimed at changing it. So yeah, I’m feeling concerned about media-influenced ideas on women and beauty. I’m also feeling hopeful and optimistic that the future of humanity will evolve into one of greater understanding, equality and liberty for all.