TW: Eating Disorders, Body Image

Many of us avoid the full length mirrors. We take 100 selfies just to look at 99 in disgust, then try to  find 1 photo that’s decent enough for an updated profile picture. It’s cringey to look at yourself and see all the little aspects that you don’t like. But what if I told you, you could stand in front of a floor mirror or see your reflection in passing and not feel ashamed?

 

Western society has always had beauty standards for women and men. Within the last 5 years, it’s seemed even more often that those in their late teens and early 20’s are subjected to these images. Scrolling through the discover section of Instagram can lead to images of women with thin waists, flawless contour and thick thighs – that according to Twitter, can save lives –  and of muscular men with 6 packs and a striking jawline. It can be pretty daunting and a bit depressing to see these flawless people and to look back at the mirror and realize that we aren’t that person. But it’s absolutely necessary to be able to acknowledge that that person’s physical attractiveness does not diminish your own. You are your own standard; This is what self acceptance is all about. Body acceptance is the subset that I will be ranting about today.

 

Body acceptance is a process – a sometimes ugly, difficult process.

 

For women, it seems we are always flooded with advertising on TV, in magazines and on social media of flawless, gorgeous young women with the “perfect” body. We know some adverts are photo-shopped, but that doesn’t keep us from subconsciously comparing ourselves to what we see.

Even if you could ignore these images we see, there’s no denying we’ve all encountered a gorgeous young woman who we’ve somewhat envied for her physical beauty. Too often, we compare ourselves to these images and these other women. To be honest, I’m almost certain that the beautiful women you look at, don’t feel as beautiful as you feel they should.

Majority of us all struggle with comparing ourselves to someone who is “prettier”, “thinner”, “bigger booty-ied-er” etc. It’s an absolutely miserable way to live – constantly wishing to be like someone else, because satisfaction will never come. 

I’ve personally always struggled with my weight.

Early on in life, I used to constantly beat myself up verbally; I would tell myself I am fat, ugly and unattractive. I even remember at the age of 12, cutting out images of beautiful women from magazines in order to provide myself with “motivation” to purge. I thought that mentally abusing myself would get me to stop eating so much and would get me to be at the weight which I wished to be at.

This was simply not the case. In fact, I recall gaining more weight than ever at that time in my life; in comparison to now, where I am kind to myself, I am slowly but surely reaching my personal health goals in the correct way.

I found it fascinating when I came across this 10 year long study by students of the University of Minnesota, which found that “high body satisfaction among overweight girls [were] associated with less weight gain over time”. One experiment conductor, Dr. Katie Loth, goes on to explain that “Some people believe if young people feel badly about their bodies this might provide them to the necessary motivation to successfully engage in weight-loss efforts. The results of this study suggest otherwise.” The findings of this study seemed to reflect perfectly on my own life experience.

In the modern age, there are more ways that ever in which humans can be made to feel insufficient. Social media is one of the most prominent areas for women to find reasons to hate their bodies. One study conducted by Australian students of Flinders University found that “exposure to celebrity and peer images [through Instagram] increased negative mood and body dissatisfaction”, even despite that the women being studied were of similar physical appearance to those they compared themselves to.

This to me is the largest issue with self satisfaction; constant comparison to others prevents one from being comfortable with who they are.

There’s no reason for constant comparisons and wishing to be pretty like her, when you can accept, and be happy that, you are pretty like you.

 

Men’s body image is often ignored. Less often is it discussed that men are also subjected to images which can have a negative impact on their self confidence; especially that of younger men. In fact, one study found that “younger (but not middle-aged or older) men are particularly susceptible to idealized depictions of the male appearance”. 

I would like to take a moment to express that your insecurities are just as troublesome as that of a woman’s, and it is important that you too do not wish you were handsome like him, when you are handsome like you.

There is no logical sense in comparing yourself with anyone else; we are all devised of different genes, raised with different life experiences, lifestyles and ideals. As humans, we are all on the same level, no one is above or below anyone else.

 

Women; We are not in competition with each other.

Men; You are not in competition with each other.

 

“Yes, Maia. Western culture takes a deep dig at young people’s self image from day one. Thanks for expressing the most obvious and widely discussed issue among young female writers. What’s your point here besides attempting to gain an easy earned praise on an article which has been done before?”

Good question, and I admire your ability to think for yourself instead of blindly agreeing with everything the author puts out there. My goal here is to give suggestions of how to mentally fix this issue. Though a societal change is necessary, and images of women and men are slowly becoming more realistic, it’s a lot easier to change your mindset than it is to change every facet of advertising, television, fashion and movies. That’s not to say this mental shift will be an easy one.

 

It begins with self acceptance. Self acceptance, in respect to body image and physicality, is being able to see all parts of your physical self and to be okay with them as they are. While it’s wonderful to strive for healthy goals and work towards a better physique, it is necessary to feel that your current state is acceptable.

For me, I approached it with humor. About two or so years ago, I’d realized I’d reached 232 pounds and could be cut open to keep Luke Skywalker warm in Hoth. I looked in the mirror, and instead of crying – which I may have done internally – I just looked at my tummy, did the truffle shuffle and thought “Let’s work on this so I can live a long, healthy and happy life. But for now, this is me – and I like me”.

Had I not been able to be comfortable in my current state, I would not be comfortable as I am now, and I wouldn’t be comfortable when I do hit my final goal weight. I would constantly be seeing myself as not quite where I want to be.

That’s the toxic nature of striving for physical improvement (and general destination happiness). Well, if I just lost 10 pounds, THEN I’d be happy. If I just hit that bench max, THEN I’ll be happy. It is possible to accept yourself in your current state and strive to be better without hating where you currently are.

Licensed therapist Jennifer Hall explains that though “there is technically no such thing as ‘Happiness Destination Syndrome’…[it is still] very real and its symptoms are profound”. In her article, linked here, she goes on to express that “…there is nothing wrong with wanting to improve the quality of your life. There is nothing wrong with setting and achieving goals. And sometimes the feeling of dissatisfaction can actually be a powerful motivator to change things that you dislike. But thinking that  you are not enough and can absolutely never be happy until the next great thing happens will only result in you feeling empty and dissatisfied even after you have achieved the goal.”
I encourage you take a moment today to look in the mirror without shame.. Look at that cute smile. Look at those happy eyes. Gotta lil chub? Embrace it! Want a Kim K booty? I mean, you do you I guess, but be cool with the one you have. It’s time to free yourself from constant self comparison and to embrace yourself as you are.

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