Society’s messages about body image are generally shaped by the media, the beauty industry and outdated notions of health and fitness. These messages define body shape and size as targets for regulation and control. Ironically, a majority of media photos that portray women with perfect bodies that are enhanced by modern technology to achieve the effect, or portray women who may actually be seriously underweight. At best, such figures may be natural for only a small percentage of the population.
It is both unfair and unrealistic to expect everyone to look like these so-called perfect women, but the power of such images remains hard to resist. It may be difficult to give up the pursuit of this mythical perfect body size, even though that pursuit may end up being detrimental to one’s emotional and physical health. Perhaps it would be easier if the ideals were not so tied to our sense of well-being. Perhaps it would be easier if media images did not carry so much aspirational appeal –provoking an atmosphere of envy, intended to motivate people to buy products and services in the hope of attaining those images (Cooke, 1996). Instead, we have multi-million dollar diet, drug, and cosmetic industries waving their products at women (and some men), implicitly saying, Try me, give me your money, and I will promise you eternal happiness.
So What’s Normal?
In her book, Cooke (1996) asks, What size should I be? For her answer, she does not refer to the usual insurance company height-weight charts. Instead, she points out that people’s body shapes and sizes are results of many factors. These factors include people’s genetics, the environments they grew up in, their stages in life, their nutritional intakes, their cultural norms and their life styles. Ultimately, Cooke’s answer is . . . Me-size. As silly as that may sound, it’s true. Believe it or not, body size diversity is normal.
As you seek to understand normality of body shape and size, question the media’s and advertisers’ images of perfection. Make your own decisions. Don’t be fooled. We don’t expect everyone to be the same height; how is it that we expect everyone to have the same body shape or size? When you think about normal, think diversity.
What Can You do?
In today’s society, size oppression is so prevalent that it is sometimes difficult to imagine that things could be otherwise. However, you can take a proactive position in challenging prevailing standards. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Question standards before accepting them.
- Don’t buy fashion magazines–at least don’t buy into them!
- Imagine what fashion photographs look like before they are technologically enhanced.
- Ignore height-weight charts.
- Ignore or challenge the Body Police.
- Take time to become aware–without judgment–of the body size diversity around you.
- Get rid of your bathroom scales.
- Wear clothes that fit.
Remember . . .
The next time you feel guilty over having eaten a donut or the next time you compare your body shape with that of someone you pass on the street, remember that body size diversity is normal. Remember that body size is not the determining measure of yours or anyone else’s health or worth as a person. Remember that crash diets don’t work and that exercise should be fun, not punishment. Remember to think critically and to not be conned by the media stereotypes of the perfect body. And above all, accept yourself and others for who they are, not for what their measurements might be.
Insert inspired by: Cooke, Kaz. (1996). Real Gorgeous: The Truth about Body and Beauty. NY: Norton
For more information on this subject, please contact Precious Life Services at 830.372.5980
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