Are you happy with your body? Or are you like the millions of other people who are unhappy with their bodies? In our Western culture, both women and men must deal with increasing pressure to have what is considered the “ideal” body. Women are forced into being “thin” which is the exact opposite to the soft curves which come naturally to the female body. Men on the other hand, have to have muscles on top of their muscles in order to be considered masculine.
For most people, these “ideal” bodies are not only biologically unattainable but they are downright dangerous. We only have to look to Barbie and the action figure GI Joe as examples of unattainability. If Barbie were an actual living person, she would only be 76% of a healthy body weight – a weight consistent with anorexia often requiring hospitalization. And if GI Joe were life-sized, he would have biceps almost as big as his waist - bigger than most competitive body-builders!
Women want to be tall and lean. However, very few women possess the genetics to naturally produce this widely-coveted body type. And if they do, large breasts - also very sought after - usually don’t come with it - naturally that is. This leads to women still not being happy with their bodies, so they have to go out and get breast augmentation. There are also limits to how little body fat a woman can possess and still have normal hormonal functioning. A woman’s body cannot produce estrogen needed for ovulation and menstruation if body fat is below a certain level. With the absence of estrogen, a woman is also at higher risk of stress fractures and the presence of osteoporosis becomes more likely.
With men, having 6-pack abs is highly coveted. However, the ability to have very defined abdominals and the hyper-muscled body of male fitness models or action figures is almost impossible to achieve without the use of illegal steroids. As a former fitness instructor, I used to tell my students that everyone has 6-pack abs - it may just be under a lot of adipose tissue.
Even though these tall lean or well-muscles body types are largely unattainable, everyday we are told that these types of bodies are normal, desirable, and achievable. We compare ourselves to these ideals and feel unhappy with our bodies for not being able to achieve these unrealistic ideals.
Studies at Stanford University and the University of Massachusetts found that 70% of young women attending college feel worse about their bodies after reading women’s magazines and a 2006 study published in the journal of Psychology of Men and Masculinity showed that after watching prime-time television and music videos men felt more uncomfortable with themselves. “People see the same images over and over and start to believe it’s a version of reality,” says one of the researchers. “If those bodies are real and that’s possible, but you can’t attain it, how can you not feel bad about your own body?”
The media is very powerful for transmitting and reinforcing cultural beliefs and values. While the media may not be exclusively responsible for determining the standards for physical attractiveness, it makes escaping frequent exposure to these images and attitudes almost impossible. Advertising creates a seductive and toxic mix of messages for women as well as men.
Jean Kilbourne, author of “Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel”, says “…these images certainly contribute to the body-hatred…and to some of the resulting eating problems, which range from bulimia to compulsive overeating, to simply being obsessed with controlling one’s appetite. Advertising does promote abusive and abnormal attitudes about eating, drinking, and thinness. It thus provides fertile soil for these obsessions to take root in and creates a climate of denial in which these diseases flourish.” To read more about how advertising affects us, I have posted a link to Jean Kilborne's book below.
At the beginning of this article, I asked you if you were happy with your body. You may be wondering the same about me as the Body Image Editor. On a sale of 1 to 10, i would say at the present time that I am about a 7 or 8. Have I been happier with my body in the past? Yes, two years ago when I got married, I think my body was pretty fantastic - not the best shape I have ever been in, but pretty nice. What happened? Time - I am approaching my 45th birthday and things are not as elastic and perky as they once were - and lack of exercise. In the past 6 months I have not been exercising as much as I used to. I know what you are saying, I need to take my own advice and get out their and exercise!