Women and Body Issues: Are Having Body Issues the Norm for Women?
Lift up, don’t pull down
The more years I add to my earthly existence (okay, okay… the older I get, haha!), the more empathy I have for my fellowmen. I’m not trying to sound all kind and saintly here. What I mean is that suffering setbacks over the years have made me more sensitive to the woes of others. The more you live, the more you realize the need to be kind to others. Everyone’s fighting a battle. 99.9% of the time, you won’t have a clue exactly how much of an obstacle a person had to overcome to have that smile you see on his/her face. Mull that thought.
Anyway, joining a body positivity campaign as a campaign partner last summer reminded me of women and their body issues. Many women grapple with the problem of having a negative body image. It’s a phenomenon that cuts across all demographics. It’s also a trend that has been around forever and has no signs of waning. I can’t help but think,
Do women hate their bodies? If so, WHY??
“My arms are so fat!!”
Growing up, I came across individuals who were convinced their bodies weren’t pretty enough. I knew someone who was bulimic. I knew someone who wore rash guards – even though she never engaged in sports – simply because she thought her arms needed to be hidden. I knew someone who rarely posted photos of herself because she thought her face was plump. I knew someone who even went to the extent of eating only crackers and bananas one Christmas season because she just knew she was a few pounds above her ideal weight.
Imagine eating only crackers and bananas during Christmas – in the Philippines! – just because you deem your body to be far from ideal. Everyone who’s ever experienced Christmas in the Philippines will appreciate just how much of an excruciating ordeal that must’ve been.
(I must admit that I wasn’t always completely accepting of my body myself. As I mentioned in the social media post above, my body positivity journey was a slow and gradual mindset shift to self-acceptance. I look at the mirror nowadays and have a more balanced picture of myself: I definitely see the bad, but I now also acknowledge and celebrate the good. Knowing how terrible people feel because of a perceived flaw, this self-acceptance of mine is frankly one of the things I consider a life blessing.)
When did this learning to hate our bodies begin? Is media to blame? Are our own families the reason we feel so bad about ourselves? It’s like when Adam and Eve felt shy for the first time about their nakedness. What is it with this feeling of inadequacy?
Is body self-loathing a learned behavior?
Is body self-loathing a learned behavior? From a personal viewpoint, I’d say I think so. Our first thought coming out of our mother’s wombs sure as heck wasn’t, “Do I look fat in my birthday suit?” So what gives?
I read a few articles about the topic for this blog, and learned the causes of negative body image is reflective of the messages society instills in us. Standards for beauty vary and have constantly evolved through the centuries. Current aspirations for Barbie-like measurements, however, have led to the following sad stats and facts in the US (Ross, 2012):
- “According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 42 percent of first- to third-grade girls want to lose weight, and 81 percent of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat.
- According to a study in Pediatrics, about two-thirds of girls in the 5th to 12th grades said that magazine images influence their vision of an ideal body, and about half of the girls said the images made them want to lose weight.
- By adolescence, studies show that young people are receiving an estimated 5,260 “attractiveness messages” per year from network television commercials alone.
- According to Teen magazine, 35 percent of girls ages 6 to 12 have been on at least one diet, and 50 to 70 percent of normal-weight girls think they are overweight.”
The result of all these is that four-fifths of women in the U.S. are dissatisfied with their appearance, with more than 10 million suffering from eating disorders.
Like I said, sad.
It’s not also just the messaging of society at large. PsychCentral says our environment plays a significant role in how we regard ourselves. If your mother keeps disparaging both her body and yours often, for example, then that’s going to impact how you view yourself. Likewise, if you constantly receive taunting from your friends whenever you help yourself to a second serving of food, then that might push you into adopting unhealthy dieting behaviors. All these types of feedback from your family and peers may lead to body issues and a negative self-image.
The road to a healthy self-image
Given all these factors, how does one even start on the road to self-acceptance? I don’t have a definite answer. Neither do I have a road map. What I do know is that the road to self-acceptance and a healthy self-image is a unique journey. My journey will be different from yours. Your genetic makeup, your background, plus all your unique life experiences led you to where you are now. What you do and what you experience from this point onward will have a bearing on where you will be in the future. What I do also know is that a positive self-image leads to positive behaviors, whereas a negative self-image leads to destructive ones. When you accept yourself, flaws and all, it’s easier to adopt healthy practices that benefit you.
I hope everyone gets to the point where they could look at their bodies and appreciate how it can help them live the life they want. I read the following paragraphs from the Better Health Channel and found them to be enlightening. For those struggling with body issues, I hope these will help you in your journey:
“Your body image is how you perceive, think and feel about your body. This may have no bearing at all on your actual appearance. For instance, it is common in Western nations for women to believe they are larger and fatter than they really are.
Only one in five women are satisfied with their body weight. Nearly half of all normal weight women overestimate their size and shape.“
BetterHealthCentral also shares that making a pact with yourself to treat your body with respect (such as giving it enough food and rest) as well as trying some form of physical activity purely for the fun of it and not as a means of weight loss are some ways to improve one’s body image.
By the way, do you know those individuals I mentioned earlier? The ones who were conscious about their perceived body flaws? The sad part was that there was nothing wrong with them. Two of them were actually slim; the other two were chubby, but they weren’t obese and didn’t look bad at all, and I swear I’m not just saying this.
I will write more about this in the future. It’s an important topic and I just scratched the surface here.
What are your thoughts on female body image issues? I welcome all comments!
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