How do you view your body image?
Women are their own worst enemies when it comes to how they see themselves. But there are ways to make positive changes. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” so the saying goes. However, for many women, the most critical eye to that beauty is often in the mirror.
Advertising has long challenged women’s self-esteem with unreachable ideals of beauty. It’s only been made worse with the digital power to edit photos and narrow hips, widen thigh gaps, make breasts bigger and create perfect complexions with just a few mouse clicks. Combine that with the explosion of the often ruthless, sniping world of social media, and it’s no wonder body image remains a huge issue for so many women.
Early results from a women’s survey, indicate that women are usually their own worst critics. Less than half of survey respondents agreed with the statement ‘I like my looks just the way they are’, indicating that most women are unhappy with some aspect of their appearance and body image.
Psychologist, Dr. Mandy Deeks, says that these figures reflected previous research, which showed that more than 60% of women feel dissatisfied with their body. Even more worryingly, is that 66% of women feel guilty about eating.
“Women tend to focus on all that is wrong with their bodies and forget or dismiss the things that they actually don’t mind,” Dr. Deeks says.
The beauty trap
Dr. Deeks agrees that women are often more vulnerable to poor body image than men. “Women can get their self-esteem from the way they look while men tend to get their self-esteem from their physical strength, status and the roles that they play,” she says.
“There is also a lot of focus on appearance for women in the media, including social media, and this plays a big role in constantly reminding us of image and so-called ‘beauty’.”
A major problem for women throughout the centuries is that the beauty ‘ideal’ has changed so often.
Throughout most of history, it has been not only acceptable but desirable for women to have soft, bountiful curves. Yet in the 16th century, European women pursued a fashionable ‘hourglass’ figure by cinching in their torsos with corsets of whalebone and wood, reducing their waists to at-times alarmingly tiny proportions.
Now, over barely a century, women have had to endure body fashions ranging from the boyish 1920s, through to the voluptuous ‘50s sirens, to the spindly ‘60s to the skinny, sunken-eyed 1990s. It’s exhausting keeping up with the times.
But in recent years, there have been signs of a shift. And social media, for all its faults, may well have helped drive this. For the first time, any woman regardless of her shape, size or age could have a visual presence, challenging the ideals that had long dominated commercial advertising and marketing. They showed that fun, fitness and fashion weren’t just for women and girls with trim, toned bodies. And being healthy wasn’t just about burning fat at every opportunity.
This shift in attitude appears, in turn, to have influenced mainstream media. Remember the Special K television ads of the 1980s-’90s? The slogan
“Keeps you looking good” and the ongoing mission to ensure you could still fit into that little red dress? The message of weight management has now morphed to wellness and self-acceptance. The latest ad for the cereal – with the hashtag #ownit – opens with the statistic that 97% of women have an “I hate my body moment” every day, but then suggests that “100% of women can change something more important than the size of their butt – they can change their perspective”.
Even the world’s most popular doll has evolved. For more than 50 years, Barbie perpetuated an unrealistic, unattainable body image to young girls that many experts believed, at best, provoked poor body image and, at worst, eating disorders. The Barbie Baby-Sits doll of 1963 actually came with a small book titled ‘How to Lose Weight’. The single instruction written in the book: “Don’t eat!”
When Mattell launched a new line of more realistic Barbies, featuring a range of skin tones and body types, the world noticed. In January 2016, Time magazine put a curvy, pot-bellied Barbie on its cover with the tagline, “Now can we stop talking about my body?”
Eating disorders remain one of the more savage impacts of poor body image and women sadly remain the most vulnerable to them. According to the National
Eating Disorders Association, body dissatisfaction is also linked to depression and low self-esteem and has been found to be widespread in adolescent girls in the United States.
Impact on kids
Poor body image can even have an impact on how long a mother may breastfeed. Research has reported that in a recent study of 462 first-time mothers, almost half of women with obesity stopped breastfeeding their newborns within six months, compared to 18% of women who were of healthy weight or overweight.
Researchers described the result as “surprising” and suggested it may have been due to poor body image issues. Conversely, in 2013 it was motherhood – specifically the desire to set a positive example for her daughter – that prompted Adelaide mother Taryn Brumfitt to start the Body Image Movement as a response to her own battle with body image.
Encouraging women to be more accepting of their own and others’ bodies, and to put their health ahead of beauty, it has grown into a global movement.