Improving Your Body Image

Different cultures tend to glamorize different body types. Filipino culture values fatness as a symbol of wealth and strength. Renaissance culture valued pale skin so much that women used lead-based white makeup on their faces. Sometimes the body types which are admired can seem extremely trivial and strange. For example, two African factions - the Tutsi and the Hutus - started a war (which turned into a genocide) based on the sizes of their noses.

Western culture glamorizes thinness in women and strength in men. The media strengthens and influences these ideals by portraying thinner and skinnier women as fashion models or actresses. A study done on Playboy shows that women featured in that magazine have gotten skinnier over the years, as demonstrated by this graph of a Playboy models body mass index. Similarly, men featured in magazines such as Playgirl have gotten more muscular over the years. Here are some examples of how society's standard of beauty has become more demanding:

The incredibly thin body image found in most magazines and advertisements tend to be so far below the average weight that they may be unobtainable to the majority of the population even through diet and exercise. The extremely buff features of men are nearly impossible for most men to attain without using steroids. On top of this, these difficult-to-achieve bodies are enhanced with lighting, makeup, airbrushing and various digital tricks. Despite how different these images are from the average person, both men and women tend to feel inferior when they compare themselves to these "perfect" standards. We would like to encourage you to keep a realistic body image, and to avoid measuring yourself to these nearly impossible bodies.

Women

The female body is under constant scrutiny by the media, the diet and fitness industry, advertisers, fashion managers, family, peers, and the self. Everyday, women are sent the message that their bodies are, in some way, lacking. With so many sources telling females that they are inadequate, how can they become comfortable with themselves? We suggest that the solution lies in starting to view the body as valuable. The human body is something that should be appreciated and cared for. Each body is unique and a vital part of the human condition. Without their bodies, people would not be able to participate in many of the activities they enjoy doing. An unhealthy body inhibits one having complete satisfaction in life. A healthy body opens many doors to wonderful experiences. Hence we should value the healthy body and seek to treat it in a healthy manner.

The media tells women that cellulite is condemnable and that only a fat-free body is acceptable. In reality, "even thin, active women have cellulite." The images presented in magazines, advertisements, and other forms of media have been digitally enhanced, airbrushed, and altered in order to give the illusion of perfection. The purpose of these images (especially when it comes to advertisement) is to make women feel deficient, so they will want to buy some product. The images tell women, "unless you have this or that, you are not good enough." In this way, women have "been programmed by the media to think that beauty equals thinness."

The diet industry reinforces the message of inadequacy by falsely equating a thin figure with overall health and fitness level. The primary focus and interest of the diet industry is profit. It is not concerned with individual well-being: It disregards the fact that genetics influences body type; it even promotes products that are ineffective in the long-term-sometimes having deleterious effects.

So how can these negative messages be countered? How can women develop a positive sense of self, despite the criticism coming from society?-by practicing the three A's and adopting positive, self-loving behaviors:

Attention: Listening for and responding to internal cues, such as hunger, satiety, and fatigue. Basically, get back in touch with your body and its signals. Your body is excellent at regulating and letting you know what it needs in order to perform optimally.

Appreciation: Appreciate everything your body allows you to do and the pleasure it provides. It is because of your body that you can engage in the activities you love and enjoy what life has to offer. Realize and remember that! Write a list of all of the things you love about your body, not only its physical characteristics, but its abilities as well. Think of all the activities you love to do. Each time you look in the mirror, think about at least one of the things on that list. Smile to yourself as you remember all your positive assets.

Acceptance: Accept what you have rather than long for what you do not. Much of your body composition is predetermined by your genetics. While most people ascribe to the idea that there is a magic weight that indicates health, "healthy body weight is the size a person naturally returns to after a long period of both non-compulsive eating and consistent exercise commensurate with the person's physical health and condition." Blood pressure, heart rate, and cardiovascular endurance are much better indicators of physical fitness than weight, and body composition can more accurately let you know if your body is healthy.

Here are ten behaviors that positively influence body image:

  • Stop "fat" talk
  • Do exercise you enjoy
  • Stop weighing yourself
  • Do not label food as "good" and "bad." Everything is good in moderation
  • Adopt role models for their accomplishments, not their appearance
  • Stop reading magazines
  • Be aware that the media alters images and is only interested in profit
  • Write a list of your positive assets
  • Don't beat yourself up over an occasional "slip up"
  • Relax! Give yourself a break and do what you love.

 

Many women are dissatisfied with their physical appearance and wish they could change they way they look. We would like to encourage you to love your body the way it is. Focusing on perceived negative aspects of your body can be destructive to your emotional and sexual health. A woman who feels she needs to constantly improve her body is at risk for depression and eating disorders. Women who are dissatisfied with their bodies are also worried that their partners may "find out" their physical flaws, especially when they are engaging in sex. She may become so worried about the flaws she sees in her body that she is unable to enjoy what should be a wonderful experience of love and happiness.
Many women are also concerned with the size of their breasts. We would like to point out that many times men will not concern themselves with the size or shape of your breasts during sex. Large breasts do not add to a man's sexual experience very much. However, both partners being comfortable, having good communication, and engaging in occasional experimentation will make a great sexual experience.

 

Men

The "Adonis Complex" is a term that describes how men can also form a negative body image. Adonis, from Greek mythology, was half-man, half-god. He had a perfect body, and was supposedly so beautiful that even Aphrodite was amazed. The Adonis Complex suggests that men may compare themselves to unobtainable standards and become very critical of their bodies. We would like to encourage men to also love your body the way it is. Do not focus on perceived flaws, as this will only distract you from how wonderful your body really is.

Men may also be concerned by the size, shape or width of their penis. We would like to reassure you that most women do not care about penis size! You may wish to ask your partner how they prefer to be pleased, engage in sensate focus, or watch your partner masturbate to find the best ways of ensuring a wonderful sexual experience for your partner.

Create a healthy, realistic body image

Here are some tips that will allow you to create a healthy body image:

  • Don't measure your self-worth by your physical appearance. Your self-esteem should come from more important aspects of yourself such as your creativity, determination, values, intelligence and so on. You may want to consider activities that make you feel good about yourself such as joining a fun class or club, picking up a hobby or volunteering.
  • Avoid surrounding yourself with images of "perfect" men or women. Cut down on magazines, popular television shows, and movies that only show unrealistic men and women. Even if you consciously recognize that these are idealized images, your subconscious will pick up the message, 'this is what I should look like.'
  • Get out of an abusive relationship. We would like you to know that you do not deserve to be in a physically or mentally abusive relationship. Please read our section on domestic violence for more information. You may want to also look into the domestic violence hotline website.
  • Accept compliments. Do not throw out a compliment as a polite lie. Instead, try to savor the compliment and allow yourself the satisfaction of knowing you deserve admiration.
  • Don't focus on what you perceive to be flaws, it distracts from all of your wonderful qualities. Instead, make a list of all the things you love about your body. If you have a partner, ask them to make a similar list. You may find some of the things you believed were flaws are cherished by others.
  • Stop "fat talk" (a.k.a. fishing for compliments). This is when a person says a self-destructive thought out loud in the hopes that someone will contradict them. After awhile you will stop believing honest protests and perceive your own hurtful comments as true.
  • Do not use diet or muscle building pills, herbs or foods, especially steroids. Herbal remedies are not regulated by the FDA and may be a waste of money. Steroids are dangerous to the body, and may lead to dependency, acne, gynecomastia (enlarged breasts), aggression (commonly know as 'roid rages), high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and jaundice.
  • We would like to encourage you to pick up a moderate exercise routine and good diet. This will make you feel healthy and increase your self-esteem. Do not exercise or diet only for the purpose of weight loss, you may just get discouraged and quit. Also, do not exercise too much. One hour of exercise a day should provide a healthy work-out.
  • If you choose to engage in surgery to alter your body, consider closely your reasons for wanting to do so. Some plastic surgeons have patients visit a psychologist before deciding whether or not the patient is fully prepared for a procedure, but if your chosen surgeon does not, you might consider a consultation with a psychologist to make sure that you are approaching the surgery with a realistic attitude. Many times women undergo breast augmentation or other forms of plastic surgery in the hopes that the surgery will make them feel better and more attractive, but this is not always the outcome of surgery. Plastic surgery can have many complications, and emotional scars are not healed merely by changing one's outer appearance. Many times women still feel dissatisfied with their bodies after going under the knife. We are neither encouraging or discouraging plastic surgery, but hope that you make an informed decision and do so for the right reasons

We would like to reiterate that your body is a beautiful, wonderful thing just how it is. We would like to tell you that potential partners will care more about you than the size of your breast or penis. You deserve to have a realistic expectation of your body. Your body is beautiful, regardless of what size you are. The female and male bodies are beautiful in all of their shapes and forms. Honor your body and your self and you will live a long and happy life. 

 

 

References

White, Sabina and Shishim, Mark. "Relationships: Education 191A Sexual Health". Summer 2005. Student Health, UCSB. Accredited by: Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care, Inc.
(2004). "The 'Adonis' Complex". Addictions.net. The Eating Disorder Recovery Center (Addictions and More). Available from: 2/14/06 http://www.addictions.net/default.aspx?id=34
(2002). Voracek, Martin, and Fisher, Maryanne L. "Shapely centrefolds? Temporal change in body measures: trend analysis". Bmj.com. Institution: UC Santa Barbara UC Consortia. Available from: 2/14/06http://bmj.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/full/325/7378/1447
(2000) "Steroids Side Effects". The Steroid Truth. Available from: 2/15/06 http://www.thesteroidtruth.com/sideeffectsa.html

 

Last Updated: 16 February 2006.

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