I’ve been thinking about body image a lot lately. It got into my head a few weeks before I moved, when I realized that I needed to make a change about how I relate to my body and to food. I spend all day online at work, and, probably due in large part to the nature of my job, I’m inundated with marketing ploys that tell women they aren’t good enough. I see supplements, vitamins, diet plans, make up, work out advice, beauty columns, and healthy lifestyle information all day long and the common thread among these is that we should be more. We can be better, and stronger, and healthier, prettier, skinnier, sexier, blonder, more desirable. Can you imagine if we took every supplement Dr. Oz suggests taking on his show and website? We wouldn’t have time to do anything all day but pop pills. And I don’t mean to suggest that I don’t think that exercise and healthy food are important (quite the opposite), but I did come to recognize that there is this constant message being thrown at me that says that I should be this girl who doesn’t exist.
Hardly any of the advice we get from the media is helpful. Is it better to treat yourself now and then so that you don’t feel deprived, or is a raw food diet really the only thing that will make my body happy? Should I drink 8 cups of water a day, or should I only ever drink water and cut out all the calories from anything else? Should I work out 3-4 times a week, or every day for at least 90 minutes? No matter which way you go, there is always something even healthier and better. If you really let this affect you, which unfortunately I (and a lot of people I associate with daily) have, it can run your whole life.
Change is good to a certain degree, but it shouldn’t come at the price of being ashamed of yourself all the time, or genuinely disliking your body because it doesn’t look like Scarlet Johansson’s. Like everything in life, we have to find a balance when it comes to being healthy. I think that what makes it hard is that the end goal isn’t always to be healthy or happy. Sometimes it looks a lot more like trying to be perfect.
This realization was reinforced for me times a million when I started to tune in to how many times a day the women I love put themselves down. I have the most beautiful friends. Seriously. Such pretty girls. And yet they never run out of things about themselves that they want to change, and we get together and all of us seem to have awful things to say about ourselves. “I am so pasty white right now.” “Gawd I do not need these chips. I only went to the gym for 45 minutes today.” “I seriously hate my thighs.” And it’s like this is normal behavior.
I think the worst part is, that with how pervasive these ideas really become in our culture and in our own though patterns, it starts to feel like there is nothing more important than being pretty. Society tells us, if you are pretty, you will be loveable. If you are pretty, you will be powerful. And so on…until it starts to feel like there is nothing worse in the world than being unattractive. It becomes a fear. A constant worrying pit in the bottom of your stomach, and voice in the back of your mind.
There are definitely girls I know who are much more mature than me, and wouldn’t dream of obsessing over something this trivial, and I admire them very much. And there’s something sad about writing this. About admitting that I’ve spent years thinking these thoughts until they were second nature, but it’s true. The truth of the matter is, that as awful as this whole issue sounds in writing, it’s become the norm in our culture.
I’ve stopped reading healthy living articles and magazines, and I’m limiting myself to my own advice and my own summary of what I know about being healthy. Eat food when your hungry, and don’t when you are not. Eat your veggies. Pick things that are healthy whenever you can. Eat the chocolate chip cookie if you already tried to stop thinking about it, and that didn’t work- just don’t eat the whole batch. Work out for as long as feels good, and as often as you can. Push yourself, but don’t hate on yourself. Quiet that voice in your head that says mean things when you look in the mirror, and focus on things you like about yourself. Remind yourself that you are more than just looks every day. Ignore all other diet advice until this advice has proven not to work, then perhaps re-evaluate.
When it comes down to it, we need to teach our girls and ourselves that there is nothing more important than being kind, and smart, and true to yourself. When in doubt, try to see yourself the way that people who love you see you. They don’t look at you and see all of the little imperfections you might notice in the mirror. They see someone much more complex, who is beautiful because she isn’t perfect, and who couldn’t be replaced by anyone else in a million years. At least, I know that is how I think of my peeps!
Food for thought: according to the Huffington post, women experience an average of 13 negative thoughts about their body each day, while 97% of women admit to having at least one “I hate my body” moment each day.
42% of first to third grade girls want to be thinner.
Over 24 million people suffer from an eating disorder in the United States.
50% of commercials directed towards women mention physical attractiveness.
Koalas never drink water. They get fluids from the leaves they eat. True story. Crazy right?