Let’s face it: no one is getting any younger. I’m confronted with this fact every morning when I look in the mirror. It seems that new creases find their way onto my face while I sleep and shine boldly back at me in the hazy morning light.
Somehow, as I age, the me that I know seems to be fading, receding, leaving only a shadow of myself. I worry that I’ll somehow disappear, that others won’t see me, and in the not seeing, that my value, the meaning of “me” will be lost. That’s what I see in the mirror.
In the largest UK study on juvenile eating disorders, children as young as eight say they’re dissatisfied with how they look.
Furthermore, between the ages of eight and fourteen, the number of children who were unhappy with their bodies increased dramatically, from five percent for girls to 33 percent, and from three percent for boys to 16 percent.
Body image — the way one perceives their body and believes that others perceive them — is shaped by everything from family to peers to the media. It’s closely related to self-esteem.
In one study, nearly 91% of women were unhappy with their bodies and turned to dieting to try to attain their “ideal body shape”.
But only about 5% of American women actually possess such a shape naturally.
Studies also show that the more reality TV a young girl watches, the more likely she will find that appearance is important. A summary of research posted by the Social Issues Research Center shows that men looking in the mirror are more likely to be pleased or indifferent, while women are highly self-critical.
Women are continually blasted with images of what the “right” body looks like, or as Naomi Woolf calls it, “The Official Body”.
Idealized images on billboards and magazines make gorgeousness seem normal, and anything less seem ugly.
But worrying about the way you look can have dire consequences. It drives most eating disorders, depression, anxiety, poor grades, poor work performance and poor interpersonal relationships.
Worrying about your body makes you miserable and vulnerable to social pressures. Why?
1. It focuses all your energy on what you look like and devalues who you are as a person.
2. It stunts your emotional development, making you focus on the surface rather than on what’s intrinsically meaningful.
3. It increases your sense of helplessness, frustration, and powerlessness.
4. It puts the locus of control on what other people think, rather than on your own sense of self.
5. It whole-heartedly sucks the life out of you.
So how can we think of our bodies differently so that we don’t get caught in the trap of unrealistic expectations and perpetual disappointments?
Every wise person will tell you that the key to happiness is self-acceptance.
You may not be able to do much about the vessel that carries your soul through this world, but you have the ability to alter many other qualities about who you are as a person.
Body image can really be shaped from the inside out, from recognizing your worth and unique characteristics, developing them, embracing them, and pouring them back out.
Remember that life is short.
Is what your butt looks like really meaningful? Probably not where you want to place value in your life. Far better to place value in your relationships, your passions, your commitments to your community.
Know that our culture still hasn’t figured out how to accept REAL women, and you can still go to the beach to revel in the sun and waves in whatever outfit, or no outfit at all, because why not?
Grow into your body and self, put away the media messages and turn off the TV. Put your body through some paces, in any form that reminds you that your body has a purpose, your life has a meaning that YOU get to define, and then live it.