At last! This year, I can go on that long-awaited beach vacation safe in the knowledge that my excess pounds are normal. Yes, you heard me. I’m normal!
And how do I know this? Because some very big high street fashion brands have started featuring fuller-figured women in their swimsuit campaigns this season. That was a long time coming, but thankfully, we are now seeing women with all body types and sizes in swimwear being portrayed as attractive, sexy, and most of all, acceptable, in the mainstream media.
It seems that you don’t need to have the body of a prepubescent 14-year-old anymore to wear a fashionable bikini and it is OK to flaunt your curves and still feel good.
So, how long is it going to take you to accept your body?
You probably have a love-hate relationship with it, or at least, parts of it.
Thighs too big? Butt too small? Chest not full enough? Stomach fat a pain? Too skinny in general? Most women obsess over some aspects of their body, cutting them up into different sections as if they were joints of meat.
You probably feel that you have some good features and some bad, but believe that if only you had the perfect legs, stomach, or butt, that your life would be so much better.
This is an interesting myth that many women of all ages have bought into and we’ll take a look at why it is so misleading a bit later. Men also suffer from negative body image issues and can experience many of the problems that women go through such as body shaming and eating disorders, but this is a book about women and the obstacles they face.
A lot of women may also despise their weight as a whole and are totally dedicated to changing it. They desire to be thinner, fuller, firmer, fitter, taller, shorter, or even younger-looking, and will go to great lengths to try to achieve that. Quirky diet fads, exhausting miracle workouts, weird weight-reducing products, and costly cosmetic surgery are just some of the lengths to which women will go to fight the fat wars.
Forget about working on your inner confidence and self-esteem: you have to have a fabulous body to be happy, right? This is the kind of narrative that we are engaged in, both with ourselves and within society as a whole, and it’s an endless struggle.
I think it’s time to raise the white flag and make peace with who you are.
That doesn’t mean eating unhealthily, missing out on exercise, or neglecting to take care of yourself. All of those are important for your physical and emotional health, wellbeing, and self-confidence. But if you can remove the need to be something you are not (and may never be) from the equation, you can get to a much happier place without all of the stress.
Here are ten interesting facts about body image and how it affects women, who take many of their cues from family, friends, social pressure, and the media.
1). Approximately 91% of women in the US are unhappy with their bodies and try dieting to achieve their ideal body shape. Despite this, only 5% of women naturally possess the ideal body type portrayed by American media.
2). Those who are unhappy with their bodies and don’t eat healthily may develop eating disorders later on such as fasting, constant dieting, binging, or purging.
3). More than 1/3 of those admitting to ‘normal dieting’ will develop pathological dieting, with a quarter of those people eventually suffering from a partial or full eating disorder.
4). Self-esteem and body image go hand in hand, with adolescents developing eating disorders, experiencing suicidal thoughts, and engaging in sexual activity way too early.
5). A huge 95% of people with eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25.
6). The same source as above found that around 58% of college-aged girls feel pressured to be a certain weight.
7). Reality TV greatly influences how young girls feel about their bodies, and the more they watch, the more likely they are to dwell on their appearance.
8). Women students who consume more mainstream media than others place greater importance on sexiness and overall appearance than they do on abilities.
9). A survey conducted on how many people would consider cosmetic surgery in the future showed that more than 40% of women and about 20% of men thought it to be an option. Few differences were noted across age, marital status, and race.
10). Sadly, out of all those suffering from an eating disorder, only about 10% will seek professional help.
The above figures come from various studies that took place in the United States in 2014, and we can get a good idea of how important body image is, but also how destructive it can be if left to spiral out of control.
Recent figures from across the pond in the UK carried out by the Mental Health Foundation in March 2019 found that one in 5 adults (20% of those involved in the survey) felt shame about their body image, over one third (34%) felt down or low, and 19% even felt disgusted by it!
Sadly, 37% of teenagers felt upset, 31% felt ashamed, and 34% of adults said they felt anxious or depressed because of their body image.
In addition, 13% of adults experienced suicidal thoughts stemming from hang-ups about their body image, 21% said advertising images increased their stress and 40% of teenagers blamed social media for their body image issues.
We seem to be living in a world where the way we look is having a massive impact on our well-being, which is a shocking realization. Why can’t we just be happy with ourselves and accept our bodies? What is causing us so much stress, anxiety, and heartache in the first place? If we can get to the bottom of that, it is possible to break free from these negative impulses to be something that we are not and to love ourselves, nonetheless.
Today, girls grow up receiving messages about how they look, and this carries on into adulthood. A girl’s appearance is more likely to be praised than her achievements or actions and that makes her think that her looks are more important than who she is inside.
The media loves to focus on thin, attractive, young women, manipulating images with sophisticated technology to make them look even more perfect. As a result, this has become the beauty benchmark and one that most girls and women are trying to reach.
But it’s not all the media’s fault. Some past events in your life may have caused you to develop a negative body image, such as:
Being bullied or teased at school about your looks, or even by parents, family, or friends.
Being criticized for your appearance and told you’re too fat, too thin, or ugly.
Being underweight, overweight, or obese.
There are also rare cases of people having a distorted body view and this is a serious medical condition.
In a thin world, being overweight has, until recently, been frowned upon by the society that we live in. Those women who are obese are much more likely to be dissatisfied with their bodies and low self-esteem doesn’t help. There are exceptions to this, of course, and not every woman is hard on themselves because of their weight.
I recall one day in a new yoga class I had joined meeting Sofia — a woman in her late 30s who seemed quite overweight by my standards. I wondered how on earth she would be able to do all of the graceful moves yet, to my surprise, she was the most flexible, supple person I have ever met. Her extra pounds were no barrier to the way she executed beautiful, fluid sun salutations, while I couldn’t even manage the down dog position without falling flat on my face.
I was surprised at my own level of discrimination against Sofia, and all the Sofias in this world, which got me thinking that my perception of women carrying extra weight was also incredibly biased. But weight doesn’t have to be an issue that determines body image. If you have high self-esteem, feel comfortable in your skin, and aren’t influenced by external forces such as social media, you can love yourself no matter what. As a love quote says, “We accept the love we think we deserve.”
I don’t need to tell you how you feel about your body. What I do need to remind you of is that your body is unique and beautiful in its own way.
I know you may find that hard to believe, but until you do so, you will always be seeking perfection in a world that is constantly changing the goalposts about what is classed as beautiful, attractive, and acceptable.
Apart from that fact, it simply does you more harm than good to be overly concerned with your appearance at the expense of your inner well-being. Nurturing self-love for your body, with all of its pros and cons is the first step to feeling fully alive, content, and happy.
And it’s not some distant goal that you need to chase — it’s within you already.
Reversing that negative body image
There are many ways that you can do this, and a lot of it begins with changing some of your habits, as well as taking the time to nurture your inner self. You can go through this process slowly as you try to unlearn patterns of thoughts and emotions that may have been with you for years and years.
Take it easy and avoid being hard on yourself as you begin to understand how to feel more content with your body.
You can begin by thinking about the way you identify yourself when you look in the mirror. Noticing your imperfections is a habit that does you no good at all, and they are reinforced by your old friend, that negative inner critic.
How easy is it for you to look in the mirror just once a day and feel totally satisfied with what you see? To be honest, I think it’s a great idea to have a few mirrors as possible around the house.
This will help you to stop being infatuated with how you look from morning to night. It’s not about denial, but more to do with shifting your priorities.
The language you use to describe yourself is also important and the feedback you may get from others could reinforce how good or bad you are feeling even more. Don’t keep asking if you look fat in these jeans, this top, or that dress. If you want to wear any of them, do so without asking about how you look.
Do you enjoy those jeans? Then wear them. It’s as simple as that. You’ve also got to walk the talk, so if someone makes a negative comment about how you are dressed, such as, “That skirt makes you look obese,” be prepared to express how comfortable, sexy, and attractive you feel in it, end of story.
Getting away from that negative self-image isn’t going to be easy. After all, we are inundated daily with model-like girls who seem to look absolutely fabulous, no matter what they wear. Clothing is a big problem for women who feel their body type doesn’t match ‘the norm’ and shopping for clothes can be a major trigger point for anxiety.
How about, rather than popping into trendy ‘teen’ stores’ when you are not a size 6 or 8, which will only lead to tears, you try real women’s shops that cater for all sizes and body types? Also,
I suggest that you go clothes shopping without taking a friend along because you could easily be influenced by their choices.
How many times have you been talked out of buying something you really liked because a friend commented that it’s too low-cut, too long, too short, too tight, or too revealing? Learn to know what suits you, compliments you, and flatters, without the need for a second opinion.
As women, we have a curious relationship with our bodies. On the one hand, we are completely connected with our reproductive system and our monthly menstrual cycle, yet we are often completely disconnected from the value that our body has.
We ignore all of the amazing things it can do such as running, dancing, breathing, dreaming, and treat it more like a broken down car that needs new parts every now and again, or a battering in the body shop to knock the chassis into shape.
It will help if you can get more in touch with your body, which you can do by taking part in activities that you enjoy, such as working out, swimming, cycling, boxing, or whatever it is that feels right for you.
Be in awe of your female form — men have been doing just that since time began! Femininity is inherent in all women by definition, and nurturing your feminine side will definitely allow you to be kinder to yourself. You can do this by exploring different ways of dressing, changing your hairstyle, or fixing your makeup.
Instead of keeping that new dress or necklace for a special occasion, wear them today and celebrate life now, without waiting for the future.
Get to know your body better. Notice how it reacts to the way you are feeling. When you are stressed, your shoulders hunch up and when you feel down, you hang your head low. You may also experience aches and pains that are related to your emotional frame of mind and should keep an eye on these.
Take up an activity that requires a lot of body control, such as ballet or weightlifting, and gain an appreciation of how wonderful your body is. You will learn that your body is truly an amazing thing.
Make a list of the ten things that you like about yourself — anything that isn’t linked to your appearance. What about things like having a great sense of humor, being a fantastic football player, or a great boss? I am sure that you can think of many more.
Going back to my friend Sofia, she wasn’t just a yoga teacher’s dream. She was also very sexy — something about the way she held herself and how she walked. She simply exuded self-confidence, which also made her incredibly attractive to men. For her, the extra weight she was carrying wasn’t a burden — it was a bonus! (Still working on my down dog…).
There has been a myriad of influential women in the past who have helped to define what is or isn’t a desirable body type. Marilyn Monroe always springs to mind because of her curvaceous body that became such a symbol of sexuality. Every woman in the 1940s and 50s wanted to look just like her.
Then we began to idolize the childlike figure of Twiggy in the 60s — fat was no longer fun — and being skinny was in.
As the supermodel era emerged in the 70s and 80s, the emphasis was on looking healthy, sporty, and full of fun, only to be rejected in the 90s when models like Kate Moss rose to stardom. Back to being wafer-thin again, women and young girls, in particular, began wanting to shed those pounds in order to mirror the body image of an adolescent.
A very famous celebrity, known for her part in a family TV reality show has, in many ways, challenged again the ideal of what is or isn’t the body beautiful, emphasizing her large derriere as part of her sex appeal.
Whether you love it or hate it, the fact is that there has been a sharp demand for plastic surgeons to carry out butt implants as women rush to boost their ‘assets’.
Of course, this is just another passing trend. It is also one more example of how we tend to compartmentalize our bodies or see them as imperfect and therefore undesirable. And one question I do want to ask you is this:
who are you trying to impress?
Your fans, your followers, your friends, your boyfriend, husband, lover?
When you consider the motivation behind any kind of invasive surgery to enhance a certain aspect of your appearance, make sure that you are doing it for you, and not for others.
The social media trap
We have to get back to embracing our complete body form, no matter what that may be. You won’t be able to do that if you continue to spend countless hours of your day on social media, following women who have been airbrushed, nipped, tucked, and digitally filtered.
All the research that has been carried out so far about the effects of social media has shown how negatively it can impact our self-esteem, so I have some tips to help you get out of that toxic cycle:
- Reduce the amount of time that you spend on social media each day. Bombarding yourself with images of women who seem more beautiful than you can seriously damage your sense of self-esteem and the more you do it, the more you compound the effect. Live your own life instead of watching others live theirs.
- Be selective about who you follow. Instead of scrolling through the feed of super-shiny celebrities and picture-perfect influencers, choose to follow women who are successful despite their appearance. By taking control of what you expose yourself to, you will be creating your own filter and allowing yourself to be influenced by positive role models.
- Unfollow or unfriend anyone who may lead you to feel dissatisfied with your own body image — you don’t need that in your life.
- If you can’t keep off social media, follow people who have similar bodies to your own. There are plenty of positive groups and personalities out there, proudly celebrating their body type, as well as their particular ethnic or social background. Join them and celebrate your own body too!
- Even though you know that much of what you see on social media is fake, your brain still wants to believe it, so it’s important to keep reminding yourself that most of it is simply an illusion. By all means, follow your favorite personality, but don’t forget that they don’t look perfect 24/7, because that is just impossible.
- This one is going to hurt: the next time you upload a selfie, don’t edit it first. Put yourself out there as you are, and help other women to be brave enough to do that too. You do know that retouching your image is a bit like cheating right? It’s not the real you, so focus on loving yourself as you are — that is an extremely powerful step to take and one which you won’t regret.
- Being perfect is too much hard work. Concentrate on being a better person, one who will inspire others to raise their confidence levels, and be part of a global shift towards all- embracing self-love.
- Don’t be a part of the body-shaming culture. Offering unsolicited advice to friends about what they eat or how they look is not only rude but can have a powerful negative impact on their self-esteem. Guilt is a heavy load to bear, so don’t be responsible for passing that onto anyone, including yourself.
Thankfully, more celebrities are now talking about body shaming and are trying to raise awareness of the issue and promote body positivity.
Women like Serena Williams and Kelly Clarkson are taking a stance against this cruel phenomenon that we see all around us, and you can also play an active role in getting rid of it once and for all. Creating a positive body image depends on you accepting your own imperfections which, ultimately, will stop you from placing unfair judgments o others.
It’s great to look and feel your best in whatever skin you are in. By investing in yourself, you nurture an inner beauty that will shine through to all those around you. When you spend less time on your smartphone, you can devote more time to doing things that you love, and that’s one of the secrets to real happiness.
Finally, if you want to change your body weight, do it with the help of a trained professional. Crash diets and quick fixes don’t work. You need to change your mindset and lifestyle; something that is much easier to achieve if you don’t feel that you are doing it alone. Join a weight loss program if you want to shed some pounds, which will also help you to set realistic goals and adopt healthier eating habits.
If you have a negative body image due to being underweight, work with a doctor or specialist to gain weight healthily and take care of any underlying health problems you may have. Joining a support group can also be extremely useful as you will find yourself amongst other women who understand your problem and can help you to reach your targets.
Practice makes perfect, so the more positive thoughts you have about your self-image, the fewer negative thoughts will crop up in your mind.
While most of us have some pet hates about our appearance, we have learned to live with them and the truth is, they make us unique.
So what if your calves are too thick or your hips are too narrow? This is your genetic makeup and part of who you are, so embrace it instead of despising it.
As we get older, our focus tends to be less about our body parts and more about enjoying inner peace, so why not start practicing that now?
You are never too young to begin loving yourself!
Let’s end with this wonderfully inspiring affirmation, which perfectly sums up everything that I have been talking about in this article.
Repeat this five times a day — before every meal — and say it from th heart, which is where self-love is found.
Body, if you can love me for who I am, I promise to love you for who you are.