Day 157 Question 157:
Why are so many women obsessed with dieting/weight?
Dieting is one of those subjects I know far too much about. If there is a diet out there…I have tried it out. I was always looking for a quick fix and had this inner desire to be thin. Why did I want to be thin though? There is a big difference between being thin and being healthy. For the majority of my life (and it still lingers within) I have been obsessed with my weight. I know so many women that are obsessed with their weight…probably more that are obsessed than are not. Why is that? Why are so many women hung up on what their bodies look like?
I truly believe that the media has molded us since we were very little girls to believe that being thin equates to being beautiful. I believe we have been taught since a very young age that men are not going to want to date or marry us if we are overweight…men desire a thin woman. I can guarantee that this lesson was taught to every young girl out there at some time by someone during their early years. I am not saying that these are things that EVERYONE believes but they are ideals that have been passed along throughout the years. The media bombards us with reality television and if you were to take a look at these shows…not one person is overweight. That is not the real world at all. I mean come on…the United States has an obesity problem. The media paints a picture that is not at all reality.
I speak a lot on this subject because I feel it is SUCH an important one. Dealing with weight and body issues can lead to some very major issues in a young girl’s life. A young girl’s perception of self and perception of what real beauty is can become very warped. This can lead to physical harm as well as emotional deterioration. It really can be an ugly process. Have we become such a money hungry society that we no longer care what we are teaching to our young girls and women?
Adele is one of the most talented vocal artists of this time. She is absolutely BEAUTIFUL in all forms of the word. She has been told over and over again how her weight will hold her back and how she would be so much prettier if she just lost weight. This is a woman that has won countless grammys and has a talent which others could only dream of and in the eyes of some she is still not good enough because she is not thin or doesn’t have the athletic body type. Is there really a question of why young girls start dreading the way their bodies look at such a young age and become obsessed with dieting. When I taught Teen Outreach Program classes, I had a separate meeting with all of the girls. These young girls were all 12 and 13 years old. I asked them what the biggest issues in their lives were at this current time. I was floored to hear the number of answers regarding their weight and their body issues. Some of these young girls had been picked on and called names because they carried a little bit of extra weight. One girl even admitted that her mother was constantly degrading her for being a “porker”. These girls were 12 and 13. They have the whole world at their fingertips and they were worried about their weight and what their bodies looked like. It broke my heart but I was able to relate. I had been in their shoes for as long as I can remember.
As I have stated in previous posts, I believe people should take responsibility for themselves. I believe in focusing on a healthy lifestyle. It is not rocket science to know that being overweight is not beneficial but it does not mean that someone needs to be degraded and belittled. People are overweight for various reasons and it is a battle to get the weight off and learn a healthy lifestyle…especially if you were not taught one at an early age. This is where I believe the media has failed us. Yes, it is easy for me to blame and point fingers but it disgusts me that these media companies are so obsessed with making more and more and more money that they allow young girls, young women and even boys and men to be brainwashed. They don’t promote healthy. They promote what is selling at the moment and unfortunately what seems to always be selling is sex, diet drugs and skimpy clothes. All of those things revolve around the human body and as a young girl that struggled day in and day out with my body image and weight issues, I felt so alone and so defeated because I was never going to have the body to wear those kind of clothes or meet a man that would want to have a relationship with me. The media brainwashed me to believe that what is on the outside is the most important….and it took me over 30 years and a lot of counseling and bumpy roads to finally get my head on straight to realize how very wrong that way of thinking is.
I wanted to include an article that I read that actually brought me to tears. I love my life now. I don’t LOVE my body but I am accepting of it and I embrace me now for who I am and not what I look like. I understand what beauty really is now. I am brought to tears from time to time by thinking about the person that I was and how broken I felt because I never felt good enough about myself. I felt that the only way to get ahead in life was to be thin and because I was not I was always going to be alone. There was so much I didn’t understand. The idea of any young girl, woman or man feeling the same way saddens me. I hate that this is something that has become such a focus of today’s society. Anyhoooooooo, here is the article:
By SANDY NAIMAN
For too many young girls today, you are what you don’t eat. A new Canadian study of 1,739 Ontario girls between the ages of 12 and 18 published last week in The Canadian Medical Association Journal confirms an alarming trend — 27% have “disordered eating attitudes and behaviours,” such as bingeing, self-induced vomiting and abuse of diet pills.
Consumed by their own body-consciousness, inescapable in our western “culture of thinness,” many adolescent girls won’t get into bathing suits, swim or even eat in front of boys, one 14-year-old explained recently.
“None of my friends do — you just don’t,” she says. “I don’t know why, but it’s just not done.”
This body dissatisfaction is becoming increasingly prevalent, almost a norm, in adolescence. Young women, more than men, too often grow up with a skewed self-image, a fun-house mirrored gaze, a constant sense of being observed. This picture is often mentally manipulated, just as the omnipresent idealized images of ultra-thin women in today’s media are often electronically manipulated.
“If you look at civilized society, we’ve always idealized physical beauty,” explains University of Vermont psychologist James Rosen, who has surveyed 3,000 adolescents about their bodies and eating habits.
This increase in body dissatisfaction among young women is fuelled by our cultural emphasis on physical appearance, fitness and, most of all, a lean body shape. Cosmetic surgery, on the rise in adolescents, is further evidence of this trend.
“Body dissatisfaction is a common experience today,” he notes. “Women often catalogue their body parts and focus on what they like and don’t like.”
“I like some aspects of my body, but I think I’m fat,” says Dana Lyons, 17, a Toronto OAC student, who is 5-foot-7 and weighs 119 lbs. “I don’t think my stomach is skinny enough, or my thighs,” she says. “And my feet are gross. But I like my wrists and arms because they’re skinny.”
Lyons (not her real name) wears a size 2 and admits, “I’m self-conscious about my body, frequently, but not all the time. It depends on the day.” “We all grow up looking at other women’s bodies,” says Joan Crisler, a psychologist at Connecticut College in New London.
“Women have always been on display — in museums, where there are far more studies of female bodies undressed, and in movies, where there are constantly more naked women than men.”
Young girls, growing up faster than ever before, are picking up on this ubiquitous trend to thinness.
“It’s a perceptual problem, striving to reach an ideal,” says Crisler. “The whole point of an ideal is that you never get there. If too many people approximate that ideal, it will change.
“We start to think about ourselves as others see us, rather than how we experience ourselves,” she says. “No wonder women lose their voices in adolescence. They’re so focused on the outer, they’re afraid to express the inner.”
Weaned on Sesame Street and reading Seventeen from the ages of 10 or 11, adolescent girls “are tuned into the subliminal and superliminal messages of the media (which is) everywhere today,” says Michael Levine, a psychologist and media activist with a 15-year-old daughter at Kenyon College in Ohio.
Here are the “in-your-face” messages they absorb: Beauty is a woman’s principal project in life. Slenderness is crucial for success and goodness. Image is really substance. Women are naturally self-conscious and anxious about, and bound up with, their bodies. Fat is a transparent sign of personal responsibility for weakness, failure and helplessness.
A willing and winning woman can transform and renew herself through the technology of fashion, dieting and rigorous exercise.
“They tend to set up a conditioning that facilitates negative body imaging and a strange relationship with one’s body,” Levine states. “If you want a recipe for the loss of who you are as a person, focus on boys, mirrors, size and scales.”
Linda Smolak, a psychology professor specializing in media literacy at Kenyon College, explains that young people don’t fully understand how manipulative the media is. “Once they do, you get them angry. Then the media are only part of the problem. Activating them is another.”
Smolak encourages girls to write letters to companies about unrealistic images, and though it’s not clear whether this helps their body image, it makes them feel less helpless.
“Though it doesn’t help them give up dieting,” she admits, “these campaigns can help change advertising.”
Imagine how young Canadian girls will feel watching Global TV’s new Survivor-style series Search For The Supermodel, aimed specifically at a diminishing teenage viewership, says Loren Mawhinney, Global’s VP of Canadian production.
“The concept has proven itself (with last season’s enormously popular Popstars and a successful Australian pilot of Supermodel) and we’re picking up on a commercial trend because it’s our job to generate audience,” says Mawhinney, who has a 12-year-old daughter.
We’re not choosing a supermodel, we’re following the Ford Model Agency process in choosing a supermodel, getting to know a group of 16- to 21-year-old gawky girls in heels.”
When Global launched its new prime-time line-up in June, Mawhinney said, “The appeal of the show is in the backstage gossip, the in-fighting that goes on behind the scenes. There are heroes and anti-heroes, like in Survivor.”
In a Toronto Sun interview, she added, “We’ll hate this one and root for that one. It will be an eight-part docu-soap about the making of a model. It’s not about body image.”
ALL ABOUT IMAGE
But unlike Popstars, which demanded a certain degree of talent from its competitors, isn’t Supermodel all about image?
Michael Geddes, Supermodel and Popstars producer, is convinced the show will “debunk the mythology around modelling and be entertaining and enlightening.
“If issues of body image or anorexia come up, I’m sure the Ford Agency will deal with it,” he says. “It’s about dreams coming true, not a runway show. It will travel home with these girls. But we don’t know how it will unfold. It’s a reality show … edited reality.”
People forget there are many ways to see the same program, says Kristen Harrison, a communications professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor where she specializes in body image, media and adolescents. “What’s gripping, reality-based TV entertainment for adults may have a different impact on younger audiences. We have evidence that by virtue of a person being on TV, they’re automatically idealized,” she says. “There’s absolutely no doubt and there’s lots of evidence to support the fact that exposure to ideal body images has negative effects on adolescent girls’ satisfaction with their own bodies and their emotions.”
Furthermore, most adolescent girls and college women don’t realize that photos of models in magazines are touched up and that their bodies are modified, says University of South Florida psychologist J. Kevin Thompson, a specialist in body image, media influences and risk factors.
“They compare their appearance and suffer because it’s not a valid comparison,” he says. “Only one in 200 women look like the average-size model, and the average size is an anorexic size at 5-foot-9 or 5-foot-10 and 105 or 110 lb.”
This obsession with body image starts very early with media advertising, he says. “It’s conceived to make people feel so unhappy, they’ll go out and buy cosmetics, clothes, diet plans and foods.
If we were happy with the way we looked, we wouldn’t have the angst to drive us to spend all this money.”
‘I DON’T LIKE MY … ‘ Body-conscious girls become body-conscious women.
“There isn’t a woman in the world who’s 100% happy with the way she looks,” says graphic designer Elayne Freeman, 50.
Petite (barely 5 feet), she recently curtailed her carbohydrate consumption to lose a few unwanted pounds.
“We’re so hypercritical. I don’t dislike my body and I would be happier if I was three or four inches taller, but I can’t control that and I’ve reconciled myself to it. “I do care about the way I feel. When I’m in good shape, it’s integral to the way I feel, so I run regularly — for head-control, not weight-control. Mind and body go together.”
Adolescents aren’t emotionally equipped to cast such mature perspectives on their perceived physical imperfections. Instead, they resort to unhealthy eating behaviours.
“There are three main causes of this widespread normal body dissatisfaction — parents, peers and media,” says psychologist J. Kevin Thompson. “Young women internalize pressures from all three groups, though until the age of 15, parents are more influential.”
Christine Bruce, 47, a Toronto actress and mother of two teenage girls, has always been thin, yet she admits she isn’t happy with her appearance.
“I don’t like my face,” she says. “Even if you don’t have a weight problem, you pick something else, but I try hard to be a good role model for my daughters and to deal with body-image problems openly with them, when they come up.”
If parents have their own body-image issues, “don’t obsess in front of the kids,” stresses Thompson. He has found that a mother’s level of food restriction and diet is related directly to her five-year-old daughter’s level of dieting.
CHANGING A VICIOUS CYCLE
“From an early age, girls are encouraged to view themselves as works in progress, something to be perfected — and that work will never be finished,” says Ann Kerr, program director of Toronto’s Sheena’s Place, a support centre for people affected by eating disorders.
Body dissatisfaction is a vicious cycle, but you can change it. “The more you think you look repulsive, the more you create that reality because of your attitude and expressions,” says psychologist James Rosen. “It takes mental concentration, but if you focus on the positives in your personality and practise mental control, it works.”
Here are a few ways to begin feeling better about yourself:
1. Don’t bad-mouth your body or catalogue your body parts or call them nasty names. It ruins your self-esteem. Instead of insulting yourself with phrases like “fat and ugly,” be a little more forgiving. Use words like “smooth, soft, athletic, curvaceous.” 2. Put your appearance in perspective. It’s one thing to find something wrong with your looks, but quite another to find something wrong with yourself because of your appearance. Focus on the positives. Give more air time to your attributes — your intelligence, personality, sense of humour, creativity and professional accomplishments.
3. Face a scary body image situation head on. Wear a bathing suit or shorts around the house and get used to the way you look in it.
“Women of all ages are victimizing themselves,” says Rosen. “They’re exaggerating the beauty of thinness. They may think that men are driving women to lose weight and become sex objects when, the fact is, men prefer a more fleshy, female physique.”