Mirror, mirror on the wall….who is the fairest of them all? Selfie, selfie on the phone….am I the prettiest, is it me alone? Friends, if you have a body this blog is for you. Body image is something many of us have struggled with at one time or another. As human beings, this is nothing new. For a very long time, we have been comparing ourselves to each other, trying to fix our perceived flaws, make ourselves thinner, more attractive and reflect an unrealistic ideal of self perfection.
During pre-revolution era France, pale skin was all the rage thanks to trendsetters like Marie Antoinette. With pale skin, however, often come more noticeable veins (something feminine people of today’s society don’t necessarily appreciate), and they were coveted just as much by women of this time. So much so that they would often color in their veins with blue pencil to highlight their vascular features. In addition, arsenic was often ingested as it was thought to help lighten skin color and even out complexion.
Curvy women with abundant hips and thick waists were considered the pinnacle of beauty during the Renaissance. The 15th century brought with it paintings of beautiful, voluptuous women, often nude or draped with flowing fabric. Stomach rolls and rounded derrieres were representations of financial and social abundance.
Corsets were a daily requirement for civilized ladies during Victorian times. Women would bind their waists in restrictive corsets to give the appearance of an impossibly tiny waist that tapered out into fuller hips. Some women bound themselves down to a mere 12 inches! Women avoided sitting down in order to prevent cracked corset—or worse, cracked ribs.
Wow…ok, so ingesting arsenic, coloring veins in, being curvy to having a 12 inch waist. We have been really working at this body image thing for a long time! Many people, myself included, think the advent of social media has made it even worse. Especially for young girls and boys. I am the mother of a 22 year old daughter and two sons 20 and 18, so I speak from experience. The amount of time and energy our daughters, sons, nieces, nephews etc. spend on social media platforms is mind boggling. Back in my day, 1980’s era, our body pressures came from airbrushed models in Seventeen magazine and MTV. Body image pressures were definitely around and they did influence us but they are nothing like the 24/7 interactions that are happing on social media that our kids (and us too!) deal with every day.
Did you know that girls will spend upwards of an hour and half each week preparing for selfies? This is a conservative estimate, trust me. My daughter tells me that she knows plenty of girls who literally spend hours and hours prepping for, taking of and posting pictures on a daily basis! The pictures are posed, staged, cropped, and edited. And when we see these perfect versions of our friends, family members, classmates etc. they cause a discourse of internal messages. “Why can’t I look like that?” “Her stomach is so flat. I’m jealous.” “He has six pack abs, and is ripped. I’ll never be that strong or good.” “She looks so amazing in that bikini. I wish I could just wear short sleeves and not feel gross. Ugh. I hate myself.” The list goes on and on.
So as we can imagine, all of this body image comparing and contrasting is creating big problems with our youth in the form of anxiety, depression, eating disorders, bullying and more.
So how do we stop this madness? First, go on a diet. A media diet. A few weeks ago I taught a seminar on body image at Hanover High School. I asked the class of juniors and seniors if they could stay off social media for a week. Not one hand was raised. I countered with how about three days? Nope. No one said they would try it. This was deeply concerning to me. I understand this is how this age group communicates, but three days? I mean, c’mon. I encourage everyone (no matter what age) to go off of social media for at least three days. Give you some time to hit the reset button. The next thing to do is to talk about it with your kids. The worst time to talk to your kids is when you say “can I talk to you about body image and social media?” That will cause an instant defensive reaction and a curt no thanks. I find the best time to talk to my kids is when they are in the car with me. The car for some reason seems to be a safe place for conversations with kiddos. Put a question out there about how they feel about body image in their peer group and then just listen. This shouldn’t be a lecture about how things were back in your day, but more of an understanding of the pressures they go through. Speak to them of having a healthy and strong body, of wellness and internal happiness and peace. Finally, walk the walk. If you want your kids to have good body image, then you have to have it too. Embrace your imperfections, don’t talk about body parts that need to be shrunk, don’t say unkind things about yourself in front of them (or ever). You are your child’s greatest teacher. How you treat yourself and show yourself respect is what they will emulate.
We are all beautiful. We are all unique. We are all amazing human beings. There is no perfection. This is what we should be telling ourselves and what we should be teaching to others.