Thursday, May 3, 2018

Beautiful Bodies...Yours Included

I am going to start this off with some startling stats for your consideration....

Body Image StatisticsData
Percent of all women who are unhappy with their bodies and resort to dieting91 %
Percent of women who say the images of women in the media makes them feel insecure80 %
Percent of college-aged girls who feel pressured to be a certain weight58 %
Percent of girls in 1st through 3rd grade who want to be thinner42 %
Percent of 10 year olds who are afraid of being fat81 %
Percent of teenage girls who are, or think they should be, on a diet53 %
Percent of teenage girls who reported being teased about their weight30 %
Percent of teenage boys who reported being teased about their weight25 %
Percent of 15-17 year old girls who want to change at least one aspect of their physical appearance90 %
Percent of teen boys using unproven supplements and/or steroids12 %
Percent of girls age 15-17 who acknowledged having an eating disorder13 %
Percent of women who stated they would consider cosmetic surgery in the future40 %
Percent of men who stated they would consider cosmetic surgery in the future20 %
Total annual revenue of the weight loss industry$55,400,000,000
Total number of people with an eating disorder in the U.S.8,000,000

And, just a few more powerful statistics...

--Approximately 91% of women are unhappy with their bodies and resort to dieting to achieve their ideal body shape. Unfortunately, only 5% of women naturally possess the body type often portrayed by Americans in the media.
--More than 1/3 of the people who admit to “normal dieting,” will merge into pathological dieting. Roughly 1/4 of those will suffer from a partial or full-on eating disorder.
--The statistics are alarming - male body-image dissatisfaction has tripled in the last 25 years, from 15% of the population to 45%.

Here are some other statistics regarding men and the ideal male body:
  • One in ten people with anorexia are male.
  • 17% of men are on extreme diets.
  • 3% of men binge eat.
  • 4% of men purge after eating.
  • 3% of adolescent boys use performance-enhancing drugs.

Males and Body Dysmorphic Disorder

One form of male body dysmorphic disorder is muscle dysmorphia, a preoccupation that the body is too small and inadequately muscular. In reality, many of the afflicted men are muscular and large. Compulsive training in the gym is common, as is painstaking attention to diet and dietary supplements. Of particular concern, muscle dysmorphia may lead to the potentially dangerous abuse of performance-enhancing drugs.

So, there you have it.  The issue is obvious.  Body image, as well as our relationship to both health and food, within our culture is a huge problem.  Pun intended, and probably an understatement to boot. 
To turn the lens for a moment to the internet and social media, the beginning concept of “hot or not,” a prevailing social media concept on which most dating apps are based, was first seen online in 2000 with the launching of the photo rating site Hot or Not.  This slogan and site created by two male Silicon Valley software engineers.  Now, much of the culture on social media is, in a way, an ongoing expression of this original creation.  Liking or rejecting people (or things), as well as the physical appeal of women and girls.  Are they hot, or not?  

For many girls and women (though this is on the rise for men now), the pressure to be considered “hot” is felt on a nearly constant basis, both offline and online.  When girls post photos on Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook, they know they will be judged for their “hotness,” and in a quantifiable way, by numbers of likes.  Social media, which seems to produce a never ending explosion of selfies, appears to encourage an excessive focus on appearance for everyone, though especially for girls.  This focus is already having serious consequences.  There has been a significant decrease in empathy seen currently among youth, along with increase outward narcissism.

Additionally, all this hyper focus on appearance, coupled with the hyper-sexualization of girls nowadays, is resulting in huge problems.  A 2007 report by the American Psychological Association found that girls being sexualized (aka, treated as objects of sexual desire, as things rather than people), in virtually every form of media including television, music, literature, movies, video games, the internet, advertising, cartoons, clothing, even toys, resulted in a whole host of mental health problems. 
This included depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, eating disorders, cutting, and even cognitive dysfunction.  It isn’t that girls and women haven’t been exploited for their sexuality before.  Of course they have, for ages.  But the issue is that sexualization has become the prevailing, prominent, normalized mode.  This influences both how girls see themselves, as well as how they present themselves to others.
This hyper focus on appearance, as well as a narrowing of what is considered attractive and ideal, along with a hyper masculinization, has extended to men.  The male physical ideal continuing to ever narrow.  Hyper muscular, good looking, tall, a trim waist but with broad shoulders and huge arms, strong, stealth and fast.  Now add to the specified criteria: stoic, unemotional, aloof, independent, nose ever to the grindstone.  The expectations for men leave them emotionally closed off, often culturally shamed if they desire or act differently, and on a perpetual chase for this idealized body that, like women who chase such unattainable ideals, leaves them feeling frequently disappointed, unattractive, ashamed, and like a failure.  

So many of us, too many, go through life feeling less than good about our bodies.  Believing we aren’t attractive enough, fit enough, or are just flawed on one way or another.  Holding such negative self-image close though prevents us from fully sharing ourselves with others, as well as keeps us from leading as happy lives as we otherwise might.

Our perfection obsessed culture encourages us to view our bodies as a collection of parts and then further, to continually identify and reject “imperfections” among them. 
A vast majority of people, sadly, have a body part, or maybe several, that they have been giving themselves negative messages about for years.  The flatness of our stomachs, the size of our breasts and penis, bald spots for men, thin hair for women, muscle tone, rounded bottoms, the list goes on and on for things we “should” and thus, do worry about routinely.  When the advertising and media world around us holds up washboard abs, heads full of hair, and large genitalia as models of perfection, it’s too easy to fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to those ideals day after day, and of course, finding ourselves coming up short in some way or another, nearly every time.

But even if we were able to “fix” the things we are convinced are our worst features, we wouldn’t feel suddenly whole.  That’s because by the time people have become young adults, most of us have internalized the habit of perpetually scanning our bodies for features that don’t measure up.  This has become something deeply engrained within the majority of us.
What people do not realize is that this continual rejection of oneself, both when it’s physical as well as internally directed, prevents them from being able to fully connect in emotionally deep ways with others.  When you carry a belief that any part or parts of you are unacceptable, gross, ugly or bad, you simply cannot be completely present with someone else, or for that matter, even yourself.  Instead, you will be perpetually assessing yourself.

The truth is though, that our bodies are nothing short of miraculous.  For all that they are, and everything they do for us. 
They deserve our compassion, admiration, and even reverence.  Yet, making critical remarks about our appearance often passes for casual conversation nowadays.  And even for those who don’t criticize our bodies out loud, many of us do so in our heads daily.

Tasting delicious food, going on an exhilarating run, hiking a mountain, grasping something in your hands, holding someone you love close, watching a brilliant sunset of golds and oranges splashed across the sky, kissing someone you have feelings for, smelling something delicious, experiencing sexual pleasure, the sensation of massage, looking into someone's eyes who you care for, going on a bike ride, painting a picture, swimming in a lake on a hot summer day, dancing, the list goes on and on.  All awesome, amazing experiences, sensations, and things that our bodies do and feel. 

Learning to love your body as a whole, instead of perpetually picking it apart and remaining ever convinced its never good enough, is a recipe for keeping you from the deepest possible connection/emotional experience you might have with someone otherwise.  Its also a recipe for leading a life in which you are never fully happy.  In which every day, your self confidence, satisfaction and feelings of self worth are ever on a pendulum, swinging this way and that.  Depending on how you ate that day (were you "good"? Or did you "fail" today?), and the intensity of calories burned during your workout.  This sets you up for a lifetime of sadness, disappointment, regret, and self loathing.  
Important Note: this is not to say one should just throw up their hands and choose to be complacent in being unhealthy, letting oneself go, and/or putting in zero effort to maintain a healthy diet/weight/lifestyle.  That is equally a recipe for not feeling good throughout your life.  What my message is instead: caring about and maintaining your health, taking care of yourself, all while accepting and even loving your body, as it is, at the same time.

Try it.  Do something totally radical.  Instead of being one of the vast majority perpetually complaining about and hitting on themselves, how they look, the ways in which they come up short or aren't good enough etc, be one of the few who dont do this.  Decide instead, to look in the mirror and like what you see.  Make the decision that, while you will take actions in your life to live a healthy one, you will also end the self loathing and instead, focus on what is strong, good, beautiful and great about both how you look and who you are.  Do this, and watch your life change.
Only when you are able to do this, be mindful of and care about your health, attend to your physical fitness and eating well, make sure your emotional health is equally taken care of and nurtured, as well as loving yourself and who you are at this very moment, this is when you will live your happiest life possible.  This is when your heart and mind will be free to truly connect deeply with others, a lover, friends, you name it, because you are not perpetually caught up in self shame and self monitoring.  Believe it or not, that takes up a great deal of time and energy. 

When you are able to do this is when you can revel in both your body and your life.

No comments:

Post a Comment