Body ImageThin thighs and protruding hip bones are foremost on the minds of women young and old. Add perfectly flat stomachs, visible rib cages, bony upper arms and very little body fat- and we have an ideal body that look like it hasn’t eaten a morsel in over a month. Unfortunately, this is what the majority of the fashion models look like today (Waterhouse,1999).
Women of the nineties are confronted with myriad of images, roles, concepts and possibilities. We do everything within our reach to look our best, be our best, do our best in the many facets of our lives. We strive to express ourselves in the most confident, positive and graceful manner possible. However, to the degree that out outer expression differs from out inner feelings and attitudes, we suffer. Like it or not, we live in a society which is very outer oriented, and we are constantly bombarded by perfect images everywhere we look. We see this so-called perfection in magazines, television, and movies. Somehow we are given the suggestion that we need to be this perfect if we are to ever gain the happiness we seek. You don’t have to go very far to notice that the ideal for women’s bodies at present is a thin, fit, healthy, young, white woman. Open a magazine, an advertisement, or walk down the street, the message of what a woman should look like is all around us. The inescapable presence of these images contour our images or our own bodies, primarily as women.
Surely the profit mongers have vested interest in all these images and our hunger as a society to appear perfect. They have produced a never-ending supply of cosmetics, surgeries, pills, potions, and clothing to somehow be our perfect solution. Notions of the ideal body are linked with the economy. There are many businesses that rely upon the American desire for thinness to survive. In order to create a market for their product, they attempt to make women feel inadequate about our own bodies. Their product or exercize equipment will get us on the way to the real us, the thinner, better, more popular us. We are given the message that our value depends on our physical appearance. We are told that we must be sexually attractive to be successful and happy. An ideal weight is presented as a requirement for being sexually attractive.
?It’s a truism, for instance, that a few clothes are more shocking than none. But for women especially, bras, panties, bathing suits, and other stereotypical gear are visual reminders of a commercial, idealized feminine image that our real and diverse female bodies can’t possibly fit. Without those visual references, however, each individual woman’s body can be accepted on its own terms. We stop being comparatives. We begin to be unique.? (Gloria Steinem).
The so-called ideal body weight is said to be seventy and one half inches tall, weighing one-hundred and fourteen pounds, having ten to fifteen percent bodyweight, and wearing clothing sizes four to six. However, the average woman is only sixty-four and a half inches tall, weighs one-hundred and forty pounds, has twenty-two to thirty-two percent body weight, and wears clothing sizes twelve to fourteen. It is false statistics like these that give women the wrong image of what an average-women is supposed to look like. The comparison between the ideal woman and the real woman are quite different. Most models weigh eighteen to twenty-four percent less than the average healthy American woman. While one-third of all-American women wear a size sixteen or larger. Ninety percent of all girls ages three to eleven have a Barbie doll, which is an early role model with a figure that is unattainable in real life. Seventy-five percent of American women are dissatisfied with their appearance. While only two-perfect of females are biologically destined to attain the present so-called ideal woman. The average person sees between four-hundred and six-hundred ads per day: That is forty-million to fifty million by the time she is sixty years old. One of every eleven commercials has a direct message about beauty. (Stice, et al. 1994)
In the United States, conservative estimates indicate that, after puberty, five to ten percent of females and one million males are struggling with eating disorders. Up to two thirds of females engage in abnormal eating behaviors during adolescence. In a recent survey, ninety-one percent of college women had tried to control their weight by dieting. Eighty-percent of American women report being dissatisfied with their appearance. Forty-five American women and twenty-five of American men are on a diet on any given day. These are just some statistics to show the obsession of a persons’ physical beauty, and more than quite often these statistics and beliefs lead to an eating disorder.
What is an eating disorder? Eating disorders include extreme attitudes, emotions, and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues and are experienced by both men and women. All are serious emotional and physical problems than can have life-threatening consequences.
Anorexia Nervosa is characterized by self-starvation and weight loss. Refusal to maintain body weird at or above a normal weight for height, body type, age and activity level. It also includes an intense fear of being fat or feeling fat despite dramatic weight loss. Quite often a loss of menstrual periods takes place within
females. These are all symptoms of Anorexia.
Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by a secretive cycle of binge eating followed by purging. Bulimic ear large amounts of food in a short period of time and, then rid themselves of the food by vomiting, laxatives or over exercising. It’s symptoms include: repeated episodes of bingeing and purging, as well as feeling out of control during a binge and eating beyond the point of comfortable fullness. They also have a serious concern with their body weight and shape.
Compulsive overeating and other disorders are characterized by-periods of uncontrolled, impulsive or continuous eating beyond the point of feeling comfortable. While there is no purging, there may be sporadic fast or repetitive diets and often feelings of shame or self-hatred. Any combination of the symptoms constitutes an eating disorder, which are emotionally and physically damaging and require professional help.
?We need a widespread rebellion of women who are tired of worrying about their weight, who understand that weight is not a matter of health or discipline but a weapon our culture uses against us to keep us in our place and feeling small. We need to quietly say no to ridiculous weight standards, reassuring ourselves that we’re good and worthwhile human beings even if we aren’t a size 6, and further, to protest those standards more demonstrably, on behalf of others as well. Both decisions require a change in attitude which, while not necessarily impolite, is rather less tolerant of the everyday demeaning comments about body size that women now accept as their due. In other words, we need to begin to throw our weight around.? (Laura Fraser).
A better self-image can make us feel better about ourselves. It is a start to give us the energy to do what we want to do and work for what we want to change. By learning to accept and love our bodies and ourselves we can overcome this ongoing struggle. But to change the societal values underlying body image, we need to do more than love ourselves. In addition, we need to focus out attention on the forces that cause tension between us as women, such as, racism, sexism, ageism, and our obsession with size and shape. In order for this to happen we need to create a world where women feel comfortable to make their own choices about appearances only for ourselves and not for others. Then we can begin to realize that all women have potential no matter what their size.
If we can begin to eliminate hatred and ridicule levied against women who don’t fit the ?ideal? woman, then we can lessen the stress of not fitting in. This can also open the doors of building a social change movement that links all women who want to live in a world where we can be content with our bodies just the way they are. We need each other to encourage us to change our attitudes that make us dislike our own bodies. Quite often the attitude of our own bodies can interfere with our relationships with other women, and this only furthers us from our goal.
The idea of body image is so hard to over come, when right when you come out of your mother you are faced with your first sign of inferiority, and that sign is food. In many cases the most often breast feeds her son more than her daughter, and in some countries mothers often breast feed sons for two years or more while they only breast feed the daughters for less than half that time.
To explain why woman are so obsessed body image and why we feel inferior at birth, we can look at rational-choice theory. This is an attempt to explain the emergence of social outcomes by the action of purposive agents who are subject to a host of contrainsts, both external and internal. These are derived from institutional constrainsts as well as opportunity costs. Clearly we can apply body image to this theory because commercials, magazines, and the media are out institutional constrainsts and the obsession and demeanor of self worth with in ourselves is our opportunity cost.
More and more everyday women are beginning to challenge the equation of beauty and weakness. Shifting to a body perspective in which every woman matters in a public sense takes a major shift in consciousness. We need to break the silent hold on the ?ideal? body-imagine on female self-esteem, relationships, and social and economic opportunities. By doing this we will need to adopt a conception of womanhood that is fueled by physical, emotional, and spiritual diversity. Perhaps if we do this then we can end the discrimination based upon how we look. If we find ways to change the societal forces that make is so difficult to accept ourselves the way we are, then and only then can we lead into a future where every woman can be valued for who she is and not her dress size.
1. Dobkin, Rachel and Sippy Shana. Boston Women’s Health Book. Simon and Schuster Inc. 1998.
2. D. Waterhouse and Eating Disorders Awareness and Prevention. (1999).
3. England, Paula. Theory On Gender/ Feminism on Theory. Walter de Gruyter, Inc., New York, 1993.
4. Steinem, Gloria. Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions. Henry Holt Co. New York, 1995. (p 176).
5. www.about-face!, (1999 ).
Social Issues Essays