It begins rather innocently when someone tells a little girl she is getting a tummy, or she can’t have the second cookie because she doesn’t want to get fat. As authority figures repeat this same rhetoric thousands of times during the first 12 years of life, it is easy to see how girls become dissatisfied with aspects of their bodies. Children need to develop a sense of identity as they grow and mature, and much of that identity in girls often stems from the way their body fits them, how they compare in size to friends, and how much they weigh. Defining who they are with that self-imposed image is more than just a fleeting emotion that will dissolve as the child turns into a woman; in fact, as the child’s body begins to take on the womanly curves nature intended most women to have, some young girls resort to drastic means to try and maintain the impossible childhood weight.
Is Culture Responsible?
Around 1875, Queen Victoria’s physician noticed that many young girls had an intense fear of gaining weight that led some to commit dangerous changes in eating habits. Over time, other physicians began studying this paradigm of mystery that seemed related only to women, and the physicians found that many of these women were in positions they, themselves considered important, or they were under the direction or authority of an individual that stressed the importance of body image. With the current trend of Western culture’s idolization of thinness, men have also begun to develop the socially determined pressure of the body image. So, many people believe it is simply a problem of cultural identity, but researchers say the problem has been hardwired into the family for generations and will not easily be ignored or replaced.
What Are the Problems?
Different girls and women fight the battle of self-image in different ways and with different tools. The cause of anorexia nervosa is the overwhelming fear of gaining weight because these women see themselves as repugnantly fat. A girl with body dysmorphic disorder imagines herself as ugly and inflates even the tiniest of flaws. Found to be startling common, bulimia nervosa comes with the dissatisfaction of a woman’s body and the need to purge whatever they ate in a way to maintain control of life. Depression comes in many shapes and forms, but often the psychological view is negative, and the woman or girl believes she is unattractive or even homely. As any of these psychological and emotional problems alter the way a girl sees herself, and the way the world reflects her image back to her, the damage can be extreme before it is even noticed by loved ones.
How Can Women Fight Back?
Trends in body image come and go, but since the 1970s creation of the “Twiggy” look, the focus has been on the slender, amorphic, androgynous shape. Here are some ways you can fight back against social constraints about what your body should look like.
1. Love Yourself
The image you see when you look in the mirror alters the emotions, thoughts, and feelings you have in response to your perception of how you fit into the world. In other words, smile at yourself and the world will smile back at you. If you tell yourself you are fat, you will believe you are – no matter what you actually weigh. Instead, focus on who you are and how you fit into the world around you – and love yourself.
2. End Diets
More than 85 percent of women admit they diet. Shockingly, 75 percent of 10-year old girls have dieted. With all the dieting going on and all the experts to tell you how to get skinny and stay skinny, you may wonder why it isn’t working any better for millions of women around the globe that keep starving themselves every day so they can lose that last five pounds. The problem is that diets are psychological punishments women endure for an end they believe will make them into what they want to be. Perhaps that is why so many girls are seeking treatment for anorexia nervosa each year. There is no perfect diet and no perfect body shape.
3. Stop Listening
Ask yourself when you gave the media permission to tell you how you should look and how much you should weigh. Also, ask yourself why you should compare your body to that of a model that is almost 6-foot tall and weighs 120 pounds – for most people that is genetically impossible. The average woman is a 5-foot 5-inch tall individual and around that same 120 to 130 pounds, and what you see when you look at the photographs of those already slender models is an airbrushed image to make her taller and thinner. Why are you trying to be something that isn’t even real?
4. Accept Genetics
Almost 70 percent of what you look like is determined by your parents and your genes. You cannot change the size of your feet, the length of your legs, or the width of your grasp. If you believe you can fight your genetics, you will battle for your whole life against your own body. You are unique, distinctive, and exceptional – just the way you are.
Negative body images can cause emotional, mental, and physical damage to women as they battle for a positive self-image. But the society that has tried to control what women want to become is slowly losing the battle as females become more aware of the tricks being played on them by industry experts. Women are smart, wiser, and more self-loving than they have been in the past 150 years, and they are finally taking back their own power and winning the self-image battle.