For many women, issues related to their body images are everyday concerns. From the moment they wake up in the morning until they go to bed at night, their thoughts centre around eating, exercise and weight. The bathroom scale may set the tone for their entire day.
Everything is fine if they weigh the same or less than yesterday, but the day is ruined if the scale reads a kilogram higher. This is even before going to their closets in an attempt to find something to wear that will minimize their supposed figure flaws.
Explanations of why women have negative body images abound. Society fosters the belief that women need to be slender to be attractive and confident. The diet and fitness industries promote the idea that our bodies are ultimately malleable and that we can obtain any shape we want if we simply eat the right foods and workout hard enough.
Feminist theorists attribute the problem to the backlash against women: if women are obsessed with their looks and dissatisfied with their bodies, then they do not have much time and energy left over to worry about challenging our male-dominated culture.
Women’s dissatisfaction with their bodies is probably a combination of all these factors, in a mixture that is unique for each woman. It’s normal in our society to have a negative body image, not necessarily healthy, but a normal reaction to what we see in pictures or in ads on TV.
Diets which used to be directed at the obese are now directed at the slim. The fear of fat is so rampant that many women (and a growing number of men) are dieting to avoid getting fat. The problem is that 95% of diets fail. This is not because of a lack of willpower; diets do not work because they are based on deprivation, starvation, and denial.
Dieting, over exercising, or constantly worrying about food and weight is an enormous drain on the talents and energy of women. While we should all attempt to live healthy lives, focusing on unrealistic role models is not healthy.
For ultimate weight control, some experts argue that picking the right parents is more important than picking the right diet. Because of genetics, only a minority of women can healthily achieve the thin “ideal” naturally.
Increasingly we are finding out that our idols also struggle. Many “stars” admit to having had eating disorders. This is not to imply that there is no hope. Women need to look to the real reasons behind their body image dissatisfaction.
The need to realize that beauty is not the only thing that makes a person valuable. By acknowledging body image dissatisfaction a reality, women can take the first step toward overcoming the dissatisfaction.
Many women feel silly about their preoccupation with appearance, eating and weight, and think they should hide it if they want to be taken seriously. But these are not silly little complaints; they are personal and often painful concerns that deserve attention. All women share them to some extent.
Whether we want to value, accept or change our bodies, we need first to change our minds. We also have to begin to treat our bodies with respect. When we give them what they really need (moderate exercise, healthy foods, sensual pleasure and relaxation) our bodies will respond by treating us better.