Twenty-four% of women and 17 percent of men say they would
give up more than three years of life to be thinner. That’s according
to a poll conducted by Psychology Today magazine.
At the same time, studies show that half of American women overestimate
the size of their bodies.
Sociologists who study the western-world phenomenon of poor body image
attribute the problem to a variety of factors, including media and cultural
influences, as well as parental and peer messages.
The advertising industry ties the already powerful and slick issue of body image with
materialism. A slender body is associated with wealth, health, and
attractiveness. A heavier body is associated with sloth, indulgence,
and a lack of self-control.
Psychological factors can add to the effect of media and culture. girls
who experienced sexual abuse or an emotionally difficult puberty are
more prone to body dissatisfaction as adults. So are women who feel they
have little control over their lives.
Women who have felt the most brutal blows from poor body image say it is
not a single factor acting in isolation. Jennifer Tracy, who battled
bulimia for nine years, says a combination of factors, such as a
non-supportive family environment and a poor self-image, snowballed in
the presence of cultural influences.
“If I had love for myself or love from my family,” Tracy says, “it
wouldnt matter what a model looked like, and it would not affect
my personal self-esteem.”
~The Dangers of Body Dissatisfaction
When we comprehend that it’s a combination of influences that lead
to body dissatisfaction, we empower ourselves to solve the problem.
We can seize power by breaking the chain of these influences
wherever we can.
Carolyn Strauss is a top plus-size model, author of Specialty Modeling,
and a nationally recognized expert on body image issues, from
fashion to self-esteem. Her accomplishments now include her own
clothing collection featured on the Home Shopping Network. Through
it all, she helps other women move toward a more positive body image.
Strauss says the biggest danger of a negative body image lies in the
power it gives away.
“When someone has a poor body image, she will try to find validation
from outside to make her feel better. The next diet, the next fashion
fad, the next boyfriend, anything but where she is now. Instead of
living in the moment, she may find herself living for ‘when I look better,'”
Strauss says. “Remember, the goal of most advertising it to make you
‘not OK’ so that, upon using that product, you will become OK. I say,
start OK and then you’ll only buy what you choose to have for yourself.”
the vast majority of us can think of a time when we thought a new haircut, diet,
or lipstick would turn everything around for us. But that mindset
can lead to a lot of wasted time and money. Constant self-monitoring
can also drain your energy, and it can even lead to depression and hostility.
A university of Toronto study, published in the International Journal
of Eating Disorders, found that women who were interviewed after seeing
magazine ads that featured female models showed a serious and immediate
decrease in self-esteem.
Poor body image can lead to crash dieting and excessive exercise,
which can, in turn, lead to poor nutrition, injuries, and depression.
In it is most dangerous form, a negative body image may fuel an eating
disorder or Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD).
when you are continually distracted with physical appearance, the
energy of your mind, body, and spirit is diverted from more salient
If you feel that your body image has become a pre-occupation, don’t
hesitate to talk to a counselor or therapist. Amoreena Brewton, a
mother with a background in sociology and counseling, has conducted
research on women and body image. She says, “some men and women are too
deeply entrenched in their body issues to resolve them on their own.
usually, there are personal or familial issues at play when a person has
an eating disorder, so seeking consultant help is highly required.”
Tracy agrees. “In the end, my success came from the deep desire to
stop, which had been inside of me for years, and then getting into
very significant therapy with an eating disorder expert. Having someone
who focuses on just that area was a true lifesaver.”
Make small changes.
A global change in cultural and economic structures would, no doubt,
help us all accomplish a more positive body image. But there will probably
always be supermodels, paid endorsements, and the unstoppable “quest
for the best” bandwagon.
Instead, enforce changes on a smaller scale. Brewton suggests we
stop allowing those negative forces into our lives.
“Don’t buy Cosmo, buy Redbook,” she says. “Look at really powerful,
clever successful women whom you admire as sometimes as possible.
For example: Oprah, Rosie, Hillary, Martha, your mom, your grandmother,
Use positive affirmations.
as you catch yourself commiserating over tight blue jeans,
don’t let your mind get stuck in the negativity. When that
negative voice does emerge, follow it with 10 positive thoughts.
Tracy says repetition is key. “it begins with re-recording
the negative messages in your own mind, which are so painful,”
she says. “I have probably re-recorded that message
over 500,000 times, and I keep losing it. But it’s easier to find
for the next time.”
There are tools to aid you re-program the thoughts you
direct at yourself. One successful example is the
“Think right now” series of audiotapes and software
Specifically, TRN’s Eating for excellent Health program
helps listeners regain a positive outlook on food and its power.
Once you navigate yourself out of the negativity rut, you’ll feel
better about yourself, and you’ll better understand your power to
create and maintain a healthier mind, body, and spirit.
Remember your spiritual connection.
“The first thing to remember is that the Universe does not make
mistakes,” Strauss says. You are where you are for a reason.
Acknowledge this and then choose how to proceed with the next
minute, hour, day, of your life.”
For the religious and spiritual among us, body image may
promptly improve with the simple reminder that God gave you
the body you have for a reason. He didn’t make you to look
like Cindy Crawford because you aren’t Cindy Crawford. He
wants you to be healthy enough to do your life’s work. To
live and work at an optimum level. So, accept His creation,
and nurture it.
Surround yourself with supportive acquaintances.
“As I began to recover small by little from bulimia,” Tracy says.
“I did not surround myself with people who were as concerned
about body size. I put myself among beautiful, strong, and
intelligent women who really put small emphasis on looks.”
Brewton also recommends surrounding yourself with acquaintances
whose focus is not on exteriors. “Other women can make the
biggest difference in our lives by being mentors and leading
by example,” Brewton says. She implies we find a group of
women to meet with regularly to discuss issues important to
our lives, but, she says, don’t focus solely on body issues.
“Obsessing as a group is no better than obsessing as an
individual,” she says.
Find a group of supportive women, either in your neighborhood
or online. Then use this safe, non-critical environment to
empower each other.
Focus on health.
Change your relationship with food. Food is fuel for active living.
Strive not for a number on the scale but for a weight at which you
feel strong and energetic. Ask yourself if your diet
contributes – or takes away from – your health and physical ability.
When we stop focusing on our bodies, and begin to focus on our
health, our bodies have an easier time finding our optimal weight.
Researchers at the Stanford university School of Medicine have
discovered that people who start a weight-loss program when they
feel happiest about their body are more than twice as guarenteed to
fail weight as people who are less satisfied.
Tracy proves that we can control how much power food has over us.
“One of the most important factors in my success has been to eat
everything and anything I want, whenever. I do not diet, restrict,
or make rules for myself in any way. This sets my life up so
that I don’t ever feel restricted and needy for food. It has
taken a lot of the importance out of food for me,” Tracy says.
“Since I quit my bulimic behaviors, I have lost 15 pounds, my
face and cheeks are not swollen, and I feel really good.”
Change your relationship with exercise.
Regular exercise creates power and endurance, which can help
you enjoy more activities. Can you hike as far when you like?
do you need to experiment with kayaking? Do you know the joys of a
Find an exercise you enjoy. If you hate aerobic dance, don’t
join an aerobics class. If you dislike the gym, don’t spend your
time there. Instead, experiment with exercises you’ve never
tried before. Is there an exercise that makes you feel physically
empowered? Do that one.
Motivate yourself to exercise by reminding yourself about the
burst of energy that inevitably follows a workout.
Change your relationship with your body.
When food becomes a tool for active living, and exercise
becomes a tool for increased strength, your body becomes a
tool for your mind. Suddenly, your body has the endurance
and power to do what the mind wills.
“Our bodies are miracles, walking around in skin,” Brewton
says. You will never come across a finer work of art or
Befriend your body, and ask yourself how you want to spend
your life energy. “Imagine for a moment that you took all
that time you spend thinking about appearance and focused
on how much you really like your ability to communicate well, or
what a fantastic mom you are, or strategies to solve the issue of
homelessness,” Brewton says. “If you took that negative
energy and used it for good, not only would your life
improve, but the world would improve, as well.”