For the last few weeks, I have shared with you my remarks on an ongoing campaign against negative influences on women’s perception of their bodies. In the fight to love our bodies more, we have turned to outside sources that we assume have slowed us down along the way. Put simply, we are playing the Blame Game and pushing ourselves out of it. If we are the ones who want to feel better about our bodies, we need to put matters into our own hands.
There are a lot of things out of our control that we simply cannot change, but we can change our attitudes. I hang out with a group of girls from my hometown that are absolutely gorgeous in my opinion. I don’t think I could ever share clothes with any of them—everyone has a different shape, height and style—but that doesn’t make any of them less beautiful. You probably don’t base your friendships on weight, nor would you judge your friends for how they look. Yet we scrutinize our own bodies and hold ourselves to a higher standard than the people we love. I’m not sure why this is, but it’s time we edit our perceptions.
My first suggestion starts with education. If we could address self-esteem with children from a young age, explaining the stereotypes and gender expectations they might face in the real world, we could quell those negative thoughts. In the fifth grade, they separated the genders to discuss puberty and family life with us (I guess they didn’t think we could maturely handle the discussion with members of the opposite sex in the room.) What if they also took this time to discuss the negative pressures society places on our body image? Not just in terms of weight and beauty, but also in terms of what it means to be feminine or masculine. Children could see how Photoshop creates something unreal, and understand how everyone has a different body type.
We may have overlooked men in this whole equation because we think they are responsible for all of this, and hey–maybe some men are. However, we can’t ignore the fact that men face similar struggles to women in different forms. For example, masculinity is this tiny box–if a man is sensitive, he may be called “gay” by his peers, and gay men may feel less like men because of their sexual orientation. If a man isn’t buff–if he’s lanky or overweight, is he an embarrassment? Women can be guilty of helping this image along: we may see a celebrity like Ryan Gosling and swoon over his deep soothing voice and his ability to lift women like Emma Stone up in the air just like in Dirty Dancing, but we see Will Ferrell and think of a hilarious, goofy comedian– not worth fantasizing about.
So first, we need to build self-esteem into the curriculum for children and address the idea of low self-esteem and negative body image rather than dancing around the topic. I remember learning about eating disorders in middle school; we learned about the different kinds (anorexia, bulimia, over-exercising) and the horrible effects they have on the body (low energy, lack of focus, messed up teeth.) We did not learn why one might resort to an eating disorder or healthy alternatives to love your body. Eating disorder education only educated me about potential solutions, albeit terrible ones. With negative self-talk surrounding children in their own homes, education should delve further into the roots of it to try to eliminate it at a young age.
Now that we are adults, we cannot go back to the days where we would throw on a bathing suit without crying or where we didn’t need to spend hours in front of a mirror. We must only go forward from here, and this includes forgetting about cartoons and dolls, because fixing them will not redeem us from present-day low self-esteem.
Here comes my next solution: fitness. I might never make it onto the cover of a magazine, but that shouldn’t stop me from being the healthiest I can be. When I exercise, I feel so in control of my own body, like I am doing something productive. I think the best part of a healthy diet and exercise regime (emphasis on healthy–not eating 1000 calories a day or overexerting myself on a treadmill) is that you get an idea of what your body looks like at its best.
I can’t make my boobs bigger, hips smaller, or skin tanner, but that’s okay with me. I have grown to accept that my body is beautiful in its own way, and embracing my health has only helped that. So let’s stop complaining about Photoshop and other so-called unrealistic depictions of beauty and focus instead on what we can do. Surround yourself with positive influences, compliment yourself more, and tell the women (and men) in your life how beautiful you think they are. That’s the revolution worth partaking in.
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