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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Body Image, the Media & then some.

 When you look in the mirror, what do you see?  Your perception of how your body looks forms your body image.  Interestingly, a perfectly-toned 20 year old fitness model could have a very poor body image, while an average-shaped 50 year old man or woman could have a great body image.  Regardless of how closely your actual figure resembles your perception, your body image can affect your self-esteem, your eating and exercise behaviors, and your relationships with others.
Do happiness and popularity really come from a diet sheet or a gym? In our media-driven culture our views of what our bodies should look like are warped.  Magazine editors, for instance, know that to make a sale, they need only to play on our doubts or create new ones, making us think we have “problems” that don’t really exist.  Every part of the body is picked apart and scrutinized. As stated by Dr. Joel Yager, “Every society has a way of torturing its women, whether by binding their feet or by sticking them into whalebone corsets.  What contemporary American culture has come up with is designer jeans.”
Society has an unhealthy obsession with images of beauty, good looks and notions of perfectionism as popular media, including television, movies and magazines have consistently portrayed an increasingly thinner and physically fit body image as the ideal for both men and women.  The constant flow of images that stem from a certain ideology have a profound effect and there can be little doubt that modern society's obsession with appearance can be traced to an onslaught of images portraying an ideal physicality that is not only unrealistic for the majority of people, but also unhealthy.
According to Kilbourne, Twenty-five years ago, the average fashion model was 8% thinner than the average woman. Today, that number has risen to 23%, likely reflecting a combination of rising obesity rates in the general population and progressively thinner ideals.  The average Playgirl centerfold man has shed about 12 lbs. of fat, while putting on approximately 27 lb. of muscle.  It appears that all of a sudden the ‘normal’ size is portrayed as overweight.   Even health and fitness magazines are not above scrutiny. Articles stress the importance of moderate diet and exercise, but pages are filled with advertisements for appetite suppressants and diet supplements. The diet industry is a multibillion dollar business, as women are consistently given the message that they are not pretty or thin enough. 
For instance, if one was to turn on any television show, flip through any magazine, or go to any movie and come across someone who doesn't fit into the narrow mold of what is considered good looking; chances are that person is presented as either the "bad guy" or, more probably, the "nerd”.
A recent study on media's impact on adolescent body dissatisfaction found that teens who watched TV shows that emphasized the ideal body typed reported higher sense of body dissatisfaction.  A study of 4,294 network television commercials revealed that 1 out of every 3.8 commercials send some sort of “attractiveness message,” telling viewers what is or is not attractive.  These researchers estimate that the average adolescent sees over 5,260 “attractiveness messages” per year.
Girls are influenced at a very young age when exposed to Barbie—the ideal woman with no body fat, but huge breasts. But, if Barbie were life-size, she would stand 5’9” and weigh 110 lb. (only 76% of what is considered a healthy weight for her height).  Her measurements would be 39-18-33, and she would not menstruate due to inadequate levels of fat on her body. 
Similarly, boys are given the impression that men naturally have muscles bulging all over their bodies.  Take a look at their plastic action-figures, such as GI Joe Extreme in toy stores.  If GI Joe were life-size, he would have a 55-inch chest and a 27-inch bicep.  In other words, his bicep would be almost as big as his waist and bigger than most competitive body builders’.
The government needs to allocate funds to produce exciting, media-driven advertising campaigns to provide information to kids and families about good nutrition, exercise, and healthy self-esteem. Messages need to be visible at school, on TV, and online. Media is a formidable opponent precisely because advertising firms have the financial resources to produce clever advertisements that convince consumers to buy their products.  It is true that capitalism creates a need that isn’t naturally occurring.  Advertising executives are paid hefty salaries to try to find a way into the consumer’s psyche. Magazine editors need to find ways to incorporate images of average-sized adults and teenagers into their publications. In addition, they need to find ways to resist publishing advertisements featuring emaciated models.
The resulting statistics are daunting.  81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat and 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner.  A 2007 report by the American Psychological Association found that a culture-wide sexualization of girls and women was contributing to increased female anxiety associated with body image.  Though media messages may not directly cause eating disorders, they help to create the context within people learn to place a value on the size and shape of their body.
In the United States, as many as 10 million females and 1 million males are fighting a life and death battle with an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia. Millions more are struggling with binge eating disorder, yet most fail to receive adequate healthcare and treatment.
There are no easy solutions.  Parents and health care providers alike must talk with children about media messages and healthy life styles.  Many of us take our bodies for granted.  We must celebrate the body and the miraculous things it can do when at a healthy and happy weight.  Perhaps you and your friends can agree to help each other overcome media pressure by not encouraging each other’s diet and food fads, advocating certain body shapes or endorsing right and wrong body shapes. Reduce the talk of losing weight and changing shape. Try not to wonder what your ideal body shape is and think more about things that make you feel healthy and comfortable in your own skin.  Look at different shapes and sizes in a new light for what they are – that there are many different types of beautiful.  Focus on what you love about yourself and each other—I can guarantee thoughts about body image will subside and other characteristics will surface and be admired, such as personality traits and personal achievements.  I mean, look at Oprah Winfrey.  She is well-respected (and not to mention a millionaire) and admired by billions worldwide, but isn’t idolized for being thin and in shape.  
A revolution must occur in order for long-term change and it all starts with our own perception and what we portray.  Millions of men and women alike are literally killing themselves to be thin as they try to conform to an idealized body image as portrayed by messages from the media. We must realize there is no such thing as one “ideal body weight”.  Every individual has a healthy weight based on our body type, bone structure, muscle mass, genetics what weight we FEEL our best at, and what weight our body tends to want to maintain at. There is a physiological limit to how muscular we can get, naturally.  And we must remember that weight isn’t the best indicator of health or fitness. Eating habits, exercise patterns and other lifestyle choices are more important.  And we must not forget, weight does not define who you are or what you are worth as a person.

I'm trying to be more mindful.  I've had to cut back on running, but crave the fresh air, so I go outside and try to find peace and serenity within the beauty around me.  I find that if I bring a book, I can walk until I find a quiet area to sit (preferably on a hill), breathe and read.  Though I'm not the greatest fan of this city, the Pittsburgh skyline is absolutely beautiful, especially with the sun clashing against each building-- giving off a radiant glow. 

Yes, I'm supposed to write more about mindfulness and relaxation, but right now I'm lost in another place, and I can't.  Maybe tomorrow.


  1. Those are some really, really scary statistics!!! But it's too easy to blame everything on the media sometimes?

    Do what YOU want:) Don't write if you don't feel like it, run less if that's what you're feeling comfortable with... :D

  2. Interesting and scary subject...

    Please take good care of yourself girl. You deserve it so much. Be nice and gentle...

    xxx Julia (Taste of Living)

  3. I hope that all is good with you


  4. I love that picture of the Pittsburgh skyline- how gorgeous. I went to CMU for a year, and I always thought all the bridges were so pretty!

    Those are some scary statistics. I'm working on seeing my body as something beautiful, but I'm not there's something we all need to strive for, right?

  5. i like this last line: "And we must not forget, weight does not define who you are or what you are worth as a person"
    the statistics are important to know because they are the facts that we as society need to deal with, and they are incredibly interesting, but sometimes we get caught up in facts/scientifically proven things/etc, and lose sight of our own feelings or thoughts,
    things that cannot be "proved" but are real nonetheless.
    take care of yourself sweetie. respect what your body and your mind is trying to tell you and then do what it says. it's the best thing you can do. if you are babysitting and the child is scared to sleep in the dark, you wouldn't force him to sleep in the dark. you need to treat yourself the way you would a friend, a child, someone you care for.
    i hope you have a lovely day. you deserve it :)
    be nice to yourself xox

  6. Great topic and thanks for all the startling statistics out there! WOW! it really is SO interesting how people off all shapes and sizes can have a whole range of body images!

  7. really informative post!

    Hope you are doing well! Thinking of you!! xoxoxo

  8. All of your posts are so beautiful!
    Everything you said is so true, this is a great factual yet beautifly written post. The compromise you have given yourself is wonderful! I love and crave fresh air and it took a while for me to learn that hey its OK to be outside reading and relaxing, just because its nice deosnt mean I have to exersize more, its all about health!!! Have a great week girl!! <3 <3<3

  9. hey love... how are you doing?
    just wanted to let you know i gave you the beautiful award :) because you're beautiful :)
    i hope you're okay and taking some time for yourself

  10. scary stats...but if people did watch so much TV, read so many celeb gossip magazine and care so much about the internet would the problem be as big? i dont remember skimming magazines, gossip columns of watching much of any unparented TV growing up- just something to think about. people should start living their lives and enjoying their family with quality time and less attention would be focused on what others are doing/looking like/feeling/living

  11. I stumbled across your blog and am so glad I did :)

    I, too, have suffered from an eating disorder. Consequently, I have often thought about how society breeds and even encourages unhealthy body image and/or disordered eating. I know that growing up I thought I would look like Barbie, too-- I even went so far as to secretly take breast-enhancement pills in the 7th grade. By 8th grade, I was already starving myself.

    These are the problems of our time. Thank you for addressing them,

  12. Loved this post!

  13. Wow, I loved this post. Well done and well written! Your blog is fantastic, I'll definitely be back.

    As a woman's rights activist I write and work around the subject of body image acceptance and the media's impact on our self esteem frequently. It plays a powerful role in the way young girls and women view themselves. The bottom line is, if we weren't made to feel bad about the way we look, we would be willing to spend so much money on the pointless crap they are trying to sell us. Naomi Wolf's book The Beauty Myth covers all of this so beautifully.

    Here are a few posts I've written on this topic you might be interested in -

    The Destructive Pursuit of Ageless Beauty