Our preoccupation with how we look is increasingly getting worse. It’s clear that the sheer volume of body image messages has grown exponentially, generated by both, day-to-day media and social media. Take Susan Sarandon for example, who recently said, “I think the whole culture with selfies and all of this business has made us more and more self-conscious and less and less attached to our tribe.” She points out, quite correctly, that our obsession with selfies is leading to an increasingly narcissistic world.
Body shaming is when you criticise someone for the way you look, and with our disconnect from people there has been the birth of an indelible mean streak, one that results in people using the internet and the media to either bully or insult people – mostly about their bodies.
While males of all ages are slowly starting to feel the pressure of looking a certain way, females have forever been hounded to constantly conform to a particular look and/or body type – and are being vilified if they don’t. Whether it is through messages propagating ‘figure flattering’ styles, or guides to ‘dressing for your body type’, everything just encourages women to be ashamed of being who they are, so that they judge, aspire and ridicule what they see. This is to push them to aspire to be something that they are not – which, according to them, defines ‘success’.
Here’s a quick look at problematic body image messages that target different age groups:
- Babies: Seeds of fat-shaming were trying to be planted in the minds of new mothers by a baby clothing company, that produced a onesie that said “I Hate My Thighs” on the front.
- Preteens: Discovery Girls magazine published an article about what swimsuit best suited your figure – and they are a magazine targeted at 8-12 year olds.
- Teenagers: Aspirational brands occasionally decided to release clothing in sizes that are unrealistic. An American clothing boutique sold only one size – small – and made most teenage girls who are a healthy body size feel fat.
- Women aged up to 50 years: Photoshopped celebrities are a huge reason why the expectations on women to look a certain way has been turned way up. Other contributing factors include the general media’s focus on how someone looks rather than who the person is at their core, or musicians and other artists shaming thinner women (or heavier women) for not being ‘real women’.
- 60+ women: Many magazines targeted at those in their golden years talk about the pressures of looking young while aging, but also market cosmetic procedures and anti-aging products as the way to age without looking older.
So how do we tackle all this negativity?
- Confidence starts at home: Most people who face body image issues are first targeted at home. If they are not body positive, it is because their families are pointing out the ‘flaws’ in the way they present themselves to society. If you see this happening within your family, make sure to put an end to it.
- Compliment someone: Instead of tearing each other down, we need to praise each other. Spread the love, and whether it is something as simple as telling someone their hair looks lovely, do it and remove the stigma of raising people up.
- See something and react: A torrent of tweets and negative Facebook reactions, or actual physical letters written in, can prod a company or publication to reconsider a harmful image or story.
- Know that there’s more: There’s so much more to life than aspiring to ‘have the perfect body’. As we grow older, our life experiences become the pinnacle of what we’ve achieved, and you should never let the way you look taint what you’ve achieved, and you should never let it affect the ones around you either.
- Be kind to your body: Nurture it and love it. Feed it with nourishing food and movement. Do things that make you feel good on a deeper level and you’ll notice the surfaces changes don’t matter quite as much. Telling yourself that you’re perfectly imperfect will go a long way in healing the way you feel.
Remember, people change. The body is not permanent – if you decide to change the way you look because you want to, that’s great. But never do it because you are ashamed – you’re worth so much more than that.