We all have at least one thing we want to change; a thinner waist, smaller nose, fuller lips, thicker hair, bigger breasts, etc…However, when does a healthy inventory of ourselves turn into an unhealthy self image? Where do these desires to perfect one self stem from, and how far would you be willing to go to achieve your ideal self?
From websites walking you through step-by-step how to become a bulimic or an anorexic, to waist training rituals, and celebrities that lose unimaginable amounts of weight in short periods of time, and the quadruple M threat: magazines, models, movies and media. These messages that we need to be younger, thinner and prettier are all around us.
This isn’t a new phenomenon however. The Greeks and Romans used to take crocodile dung baths with the belief that it would tone the body and held anti-aging properties (http://mom.me/mind-body/7471-weirdest-beauty-rituals-throughout-history/item/tapeworm-diet/ K.Thor Jensen, Mar. 2015). They would also ship in human urine from Portugal and use it as mouthwash as it was believed to be a potent cleaning agent. During the 1800’s in England, people would take tape worm larvae in pill form in order to lose weight. Dating as early as the 19th Century, women in China would bind their feet to the point of not being able to walk in order to achieve the desired ‘lotus flower foot’ (a 3 inch foot was the goal). This was a sign of wealth and status because if your feet were so tiny that you couldn’t walk, that demonstrated that you were too wealthy to have to work. This practice would start on girls as young as 4 years old and began by breaking all their toes except their big toe and binding them so they couldn’t grow. Another example from this era is people taking arsenic in small doses because it was said to give you a ‘healthy glow’.
These practices may seem shocking, but are they really any different than some of the practices we do today? One example is injecting Botox, a toxin, into your face. Another is elective plastic surgery which seems to almost be the norm at this point. Specifically, plastic surgery done on adolescent girls whose bodies aren’t even done developing yet. Diet pills and supplements with the promise to help you lose weight, some of which aren’t approved by the FDA. Waist training trends, despite the potential health risks and that the benefits are unproven. Crash diets, such as the baby food diet or liquid-only cleanses. We put our bodies through so much abuse, and for what? To be desired by men and women alike? Because ‘sex is power’? But…power over what? Obviously not ourselves if we’re letting these messages control our actions.
We’re fed these messages from an early age, in children’s toys and TV programs. So it’s no wonder that statistically, adolescent girls are targeted and affected the most by these messages, due to their desire to fit in with their peers, their thirst for the newest and latest trends and media targeting this group the hardest knowing their susceptibility. This vulnerability can easily manifest unhealthy images and negative behavior patterns in these girls, which then go on to develop body dissatisfaction, low self esteem, eating disorders, and many other issues that further feed into these skewed beauty ideals.
These warped messages of what we need to do in order to feel ‘beautiful’ are going to be accessible no matter what. I’m not going to attempt to argue that we need to change society and the media, as it can’t be done overnight, and might not ever happen for that matter. The fight needs to start within ourselves. We need to change the way that we see ourselves and stop obsessing over unattainable ideals of beauty. We need to love ourselves daily, look in the mirror and tell ourselves things that we like and wouldn’t change. We need to surround ourselves with other healthy, positive people and stop comparing ourselves to one another as there is no comparison. We are each individual. We are each beautiful. As women, we have so much more to offer society than a pretty face or a slim figure. We are smart, powerful, creative, innovative, loving and healthy. I believe we can teach ourselves to take in the parts of the messages that are healthy, such as getting a new haircut or wearing the latest trends, but filter out the parts of the messages that make you feel badly about yourself or tell you that you need to change who you are from the inside out and take on unhealthy trends or ideals. Let’s let a healthy self image be the newest and latest trend!