Yesterday must have been the international Body Weight day. I can’t think of any other explanation to my social media being flooded with articles and posts about weight and beauty: activists on behalf of all obese people claiming their right to be called beautiful; skinny claiming they are “fit”, not “skinny”. It was a hilarious read!
One article particularly struck me: Editor-In-Chief of British Vogue, Alexandra Shulman, was almost executed verbally by Yahoo Style for expressing her opinion that “no one should be refused work as a model based on results of a humiliating procedure or measuring in order to calculate BMI” (which, by the way, was admitted to be bogus a while back). I suppose Alexandra is lucky to have a few extra inches on her waistline, which very handily work as a firewall from insecure haters and bullies with *bogus* BMI over 27.
The same article brings back the story of Victoria Beckham being slammed for using “super skinny” models in her September show and bullied for failing to “promote positive body image” throughout her catwalk shows.
It is evident that media puts a lot of responsibility on designers. Various publications, in turn, found themselves amid fierce attacks from the public for publicizing heavily edited images. In the midst of this palaver are, of course, designers who face a dilemma – they have to sell overpriced products to the public, fast, and not to upset anyone. Their experience tells that the best way to sell anything is to use pretty, slim models, who have been the top driving force of sales for decades (apart from magic words “FREE” or “80% off”, of course).
And this is not purely a designers’ illusion; according to 1997 poll published by David Garner, out of 4000 entries, 82% of women and 53% of men said they would like to see fuller models in magazines, even though most still believe that clothes look better on thin models.
Another outcome of certain polls often left unaddressed, is that, despite all surrounding negativity, people are still drawn to magazines or TV adverts that explicitly deal with promoting a thinness ideal. The process seems somewhat like self-induced torture and refers to unexplored mechanisms in one’s psyche.
So is the fashion industry the cradle of all evil? Or is it merely responding to the demand, thus creating an endless vicious circle?
Do we understand where the problem comes from?
“Problem can’t be solved on the level it was created,” said Einstein, and I completely agree. In order to solve complex issues, we must understand what the cause is and work on the complex solution that will tackle a problem from every angle. So what could be the greater issue underneath the tip of the iceberg called “Body Dissatisfaction” and everything that follows from there?
According to www.Psychologytoday.com, “Body image is the mental representation one creates, but it may or may not bear a close relation to how others actually see you. Body image is subject to all kinds of distortions from internal elements like our emotions, moods, early experiences, attitudes of our parents, and much more. Nevertheless, it strongly influences behaviour. Preoccupation with and distortions of body image is widespread among [western] women -and, to a lesser extent, among males- but they are driving forces in eating disorders, feeding severe anxiety that can be assuaged only by dieting.”
Sophia B. Greene, author of best-selling book “Body Image: Perceptions, Interpretations, and Attitudes” defines ‘Body Image’ as “a multi-dimensional concept that includes perceptual, attitudinal, affective, and behavioural dimensions. The definition of body image is the mental picture we have in our minds of the size, shape, and form of our bodies and our feelings concerning these characteristics and one’s body parts.”
In other words, term “body image” implies a very personal relationship with our own body and perception of thereof, which is not necessarily based on how other people see us.
Bearing that definition in mind, would it be right to assume that by simply recruiting fuller models we will solve emotional issues for every insecure person? I doubt it.
Symptom, not the cause of the problem
There is a vast body of evidence supporting the theory that images of thin models, quite frankly, annoy people. These reports however hardly demonstrate how internalization of the media images occurs. It is not clear how looking at a picture or listening to information concerning physical appearances could alter the subject’s views. The internalization process, however, seems stronger for women who had more invested in their physical appearances than those who did not, thereby indicating that all women are not affected by mass media in the same way.
Another research also suggests that “the impact of the media on the mood of respondents is somewhat selective, affecting most strongly those who are dissatisfied with their shape to start with. Women who are extremely satisfied with their weight compare themselves to and study the shapes of models less than half as often as women who are body-dissatisfied.
Even more striking, 67% of the women who are dissatisfied with their bodies say that very thin or muscular models make them feel insecure about their weight very often or always -versus 12% of body-satisfied women-. 67% also say models make them want to lose weight -versus 13% of body-satisfied women-, and 45% say models make them angry or resentful -versus 9% of body-satisfied women-.”
The connection between mood and body is critical; it suggests that body dissatisfaction is not a static entity but rather is governed, at least in part, by our general emotional state. When we feel bad about something else, our bodies get dragged down in the negative tide.
The same survey from 1997, as well as other research, also suggests a potentially deadly two-way self-perpetuating process. When we feel bad about anything, our body satisfaction plummets, and when we hate our body, our mood takes a dive.
The conclusion seems to be pretty obvious: images of happy skinny people are taken negatively predominantly by those who are insecure and dissatisfied with their body. Acting, therefore, more as a trigger rather than the actual cause of distorted body image – this dissatisfaction with self, as stated previously, may or may not be subjective.
So what else is making us feel bad about our bodies?
Numerous psychology papers and researchers suggest various reasons such as abusive relationships, sexual abuse in childhood, bad sex, lack of encouragement from partner and looking at certain parts of our body. Interestingly, what people see and how they react to their reflection in a mirror will vary according to: species, sex, age, ethnic group, sexual orientation, mood, eating disorders, what they’ve been watching on TV, what magazines they read, whether they’re married or single, what kind of childhood they had, whether they take part in sports, what phase of the menstrual cycle they’re in, whether they are pregnant, where they’ve been shopping – and even what they had for lunch.
Cause VS Trigger
When dealing with emotional issues related to body image it is important to differentiate between the cause and the trigger. Reasons such as bad sex, lack of encouragement from a partner, looking at certain parts of our body, non-productive exercises, etc. tend to be triggered and not the actual cause.
The real causes can be many and all of them can be either arisen from certain beliefs about self, distorted image of self, secondary gain -attention seeking, feeling in control, the need for safety, switching attention from a greater problem- etc. These would normally come up in an expensive therapy session.
Healthy Body Image
Having a healthy body image involves understanding the controllable factors and taking steps to preserve this aspect of mental health. Positive body image involves understanding that healthy attractive bodies come in many shapes and sizes, and that physical appearance says very little about our character or value as a person.
Healthy body image means that our assessment of our bodies is kept separate from our sense of self-esteem, and it ensures that we don’t spend an unreasonable amount of time worrying about food, weight, and calories. to unexplored mechanisms in one’s psyche.
So get out of abusive, toxic relationships and learn to treat your body with TLC it deserves.