Body image has become sort of a catch phrase in our current culture (just type it into Google and you get about 1,360,000,000 results) , and it has started to take on a negative tone but what it simply is, is what we believe our bodies look like. We talk about a body image being warped when it makes five-year-old little girls suck in their stomachs so they look like ‘Barbie’ or when people starve themselves until they are skeletally thin, or, conversely, when a person who is really a size 12 insists on buying clothes in a size 2. An ever-growing industry that ranges from fashion to medicine is built on our dissatisfaction with our body image.
It is really exhausting to try and make it through a day being unhappy with yourself, so why does it seem like everybody, at least in America, is struggling to stop hating their bodies and wishing they looked more like the person sitting next to them?
We could blame the fashion industry for flaunting their willowy models (and perfectly chisled, body-hair-free male models), or we could blame Hollywood for its reluctance to cast female actors over age forty (with the exception of Meryl Streep) as anything other than a mother or aging spinster, and maybe we could blame reality television for casting breast-implanted, collagen-lipped mannequins on shows with titles like ‘The Real Housewives of…’, but they are only part of the problem. We are part of the problem too. Without us as consumers, the fashion industry and Hollywood would crumble into dust, so the things that they market to us are the things that we are telling them we want to see.
A few years ago, Glamour magazine, after getting feedback from its readers, started to include more plus-size models in its fashion spreads. This is a bittersweet thing; it is a step in the right direction for the fashion industry to finally show us what their clothes would look like on OUR bodies and not the body of someone who makes a living exercising and watching what they eat, buuuuuuut the average size of an American woman is 12-14 and the average size of a plus-size model is a 6. So we are getting closer to a realistic representation, but its up to us to push for more and not only for our own sakes, but for that of future generations.
I recently stumbled across a book while shelving in the children’s non-fiction section at the library where I work titled ‘Kid Confidential: An insider’s guide to grown-ups’ written by Monte Montgomery and I paged through it out of curiosity. With dismay, I read a bit of the chapter about why adults are always talking about their bodies (the book lists the main reasons being that adults are very insecure and they also have frequent health problems). It is pathetic that we are so anxious about what we look like that our insecurities are addressed in a book for kids. This is how insecurities about body image are cultivated! We’ve got to chill out about this.
I’ve decided that I will not longer call myself fat, not even in my head. I will stop speaking about myself (even in my internal monologue) in a way that is negative and demeaning. It is not an easy habit to break especially since the ability to self-deprecate has become a lauded quality, almost a way of bonding with others, but try this: when you start to think to yourself, “ugh, I’m such a fatso,” stop and consider whether or not you want your daughter/favorite niece/best friend’s child/student to view themselves that way. We have to lead by example. If we can get these thoughts in check in our own minds, we will become more comfortable with who we are and be able to demonstrate that what matters isn’t being the skinniest twig in a pair of low-cut jeans but is, instead, being a healthy, happy, well-rested person.
This is not to say that we will just wake up tomorrow and suddenly love everything about our bodies (wouldn’t that be nice?), but that we need to put a positive spin on the things we feel not-so-great about. Wouldn’t you rather hear “I’ve gotta work on these love handles” than “Ugh, my hips are so fat”? This isn’t self-deprecating; it is empowering. It is ok to have things you want to improve about yourself, and giving those things a name other than Fatso makes them less intimidating. I’ve got some work to do on my crotch biscuits (a term I learned from Tina Fey’s memoir ‘Bossypants’) and my spare tire. Maybe you would like to tame your thunder thighs or trim down your cankles?
Whatever it is that you’d like to change, realize that it is possible to have a positive body image and still see room for improvement. We are, after all, only human, and I’m not suggesting we put on blinders to the things we don’t like about our bodies. I am suggesting that we stop punishing ourselves for not looking like Heidi Klum in a swimsuit and that we are careful not to view the things we are dissatisfied with as faults but rather as works in progress.
I’m getting off my soapbox now, thanks for listening.