It is widely known that there is a body image epidemic running rapid across the world. There are many academic studies on this very issue. If you are interested in finding out more facts and statistics about body image, just check out your favorite search engine and you will find hundreds of websites dedicated to educating the public about body image. However, lets start out by defining body image. About-Face.org says body image “refers to the way we perceive our own bodies and the way we assume other people perceive us.”
The “ideal” body design differs from country to county, but for my post I want to focus on the American idea of the perfect body. I’m positive that just reading those words “American idea of the perfect body”, many of you have conjured up that image in our mind. To ensure we are all on the same page, here is what I have put together. For a woman, America idealizes a thin and slender frame, somewhat large breasts in comparison to the body, gentle curves through the waist, and a lifted butt. Men should have broad shoulders, defined abs, large biceps, strong legs and just all around strength and agility.
Is this the body that most people have in the US? No! Where are these unrealistic expectations coming from, and how did they become so deeply ingrained in our culture. I’m not an expert, but I believe body envy has been something the human race has been suffering from since the very beginning. In more recent years, Photoshop has become a huge advocate for the ideal body. Advertisements, movies, magazines and countless other mediums show men and women with perfectly sculpted bodies and clear skin. As a whole, we know that these images are false portrayals, however, it seems that we cannot stop obsessing about trying to be like these fictional photographs, regardless of our knowledge of the lie. Something deep within us craves to be seen by others as being perfect. Perhaps it is because we have always felt so imperfect when we compare ourselves to others. Or maybe we believe if our bodies are flawless, our lives will follow suit. I do not know the answers to these questions, but it is something that I often ponder.
These issues with body image often leads to mental disorders such as body dysmorphic disorder, anxiety, depression, anorexia, and bulimia. DoSomething.org says that “95% of people with eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25” and “only 10% of people suffering from an eating disorder will seek professional help.” As a culture, we are sick because we know the truth. We know the statistics of the harmful effects unrealistic body lust, yet we continue to saturate the media with these images of “perfection” and damn the consequences.
I am most worried about our younger generation. The current pre-teens and teens. As a middle school teacher, I hear a lot of boys and girls discussing their bodies. I hear many girls talking about being fat, when they are only a size 0, and I have even hearing other people calling other kids fat! I see Girls who wear size 2, looking in the mirror and sizing up themselves and finding themselves wanting something different, when in truth they are already perfect. It truly breaks my heart because I have been in their shoes, and even after 29 years of life, struggle with my own body image issues.
I have never been stick thin. I am a curvy woman and always have been, even as a teen. I wear a size 10-12 and I have the hour glass body type that many woman actually covet. However, those who do not have this body type do not understand that buying clothes in a store can be impossible. ESPECIALLY as a teenager. I recall countless trips to the store with my mom where I would just sob in the dressing room because nothing would fit. My waist looked “small” but the pants never would fit over my hips so I would have to go up several sizes to just reach my waist. Once I was able to button the pants there was almost always a huge gap right above my bum because they weren’t designed for my body type. I deeply thank whomever invented the curvy pant design because now I can actually wear pants that fit me! Now shirts were not as difficult, but they weren’t easy either. I have always been chesty so those little, tiny shirts everyone wore around were out of the question for me, and I found that deeply unfair. Needless to say, I hated shopping. I hated seeing cute clothes that I knew would never fit me. I hated my body because it couldn’t conform to what I thought was normal. I always thought I was fat, and because of that fact I believed that a man could never love me. I only thought skinny women could find true, head-over-heels love. How sad is that!?
As I have grown, I realize that no matter our size we can always experience love. I have also come to be proud of the body I have. I actually even love how I look! I use to ask God to change my body so I could be pretty, but He never did answered in the way I expected. He changed my mind so I could see the beauty I already possessed. I don’t always think I look amazing, and I still find myself wishing I was thinner, but I am no longer ashamed of being curvy.
It is vital we start teaching our youth that they are perfect, and the perfect American body only exists in very few. We need to educate them about embracing who they are and being proud of being curvy, round, thin, apple, pear and every other shape! We cannot continue raising people who will spend their lives missing out on their own true beauty.
Remember, you are beautiful!