Want to feel better about your body? Stop reading fashion magazines.
It’s the holidays. Magazines focus on our waistlines and ways to survive the season while keeping a slender figure. I’m all for good health, but we’re frequently sold an image, product or diet that does not always result in good mental or physical health, particularly for women.
What’s your ideal weight? In one alarming study, adolescent girls described their ideal girl as 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighing a mere 100 pounds.
This ideal is — at best — unhealthy and, for many, anorexic.
And while it’s unattainable for most girls, they still hold it. In doing so, they are more likely to be dissatisfied with their bodies, no matter their shape or size. They may feel disgust and revulsion toward themselves and envy and bitterness toward others. Carrying this skin-and-bones ideal is associated with low self-esteem and the development of eating disorders.
Males also can hold unhealthy, unrealistic body ideals and suffer from similar dissatisfaction and distress. According to one study, when boys experience body dissatisfaction, it is more likely associated with large, muscular bodies than a thin and skinny image.
Body image is believed to be a less prevalent issue for boys, who tend to view their bodies as a tool, rather than as a means of attracting others, but it is also a much less studied topic.
So where does the desire to be skinny come from? The answer is both complex and simple. It can be transmitted through family, peers, schools, athletics, business, and health care professionals.
But advertising is the most aggressive source of the overly slender image, according to a study in the International Journal of Eating Disorders. Thinness is equated with goodness and self-control. Slender images are used to sell diets, cosmetics and exercise programs. The female body is portrayed as an object of desire and when girls and women feel they don’t live up to the ideal, they are more likely to feel shame and anxiety.
Some simple strategies to improve body image include:
Putting down the magazine.
Make a choice not to subject yourself to ideals and images that will make you feel worse about yourself.
Seeking healthy role models.
Role models can help girls and women focus on eating to sustain healthy, functional bodies, rather than on dieting to become skinny.
Refusing to talk about dieting.
Peers have a huge influence on adolescent girls, but our friends affect our worldview at any age. Resist the urge to talk about dieting, especially non-nutrition-based fad diets, with friends.
Not isolating yourself.
Encouraging adolescent girls to develop healthy relationships with peers may prevent them from developing body dissatisfaction, according to one study.