We live in a time and place obsessed with appearance. MyBodyMyself is a discussion of how the cultural focus on beauty hurts an individual woman’s perception of her own body -- her body image -- and her whole self.
The thousands of images of perfect women’s bodies we've seen in our media on a daily basis, for decades, has made each of us feel flawed in comparison to an appearance standard. Our culture's focus on our looks has created the idea deep down that it's our job to look like the people we see in the magazines, on TV, and on social media. So, we've tried to control our bodies the way our diet culture advises, by restricting our food.
For middle-aged women raised in the 60s and 70s dieting was normal. This was the beginning of our current diet culture. Half a century of dieting and food restriction later, we see how the need to control our body shape and size has wreaked havoc on our generation. And, it's spiraled out of control for our daughters. Their generation has had more social media, more focus on their bodies, more cultural fat-phobia and weight stigma, and less of safe place to land at home because of our generation's body image issues.
One of food restriction's ugliest by-products, eating disorders, was practically unheard of 50 years ago. Today, the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) predicts that 20 million women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with an eating disorder in their lifetime. This number is staggering; nearly 1 of every 8 American women will be diagnosed with a mental illness around body image and eating.
Eating disorders are the "canaries in the coal mine" signaling our toxic environment. We all live on a continuum of body dissatisfaction today, from disliking parts of our bodies to a pervasive hatred of the skin we live in. Seven out of every 8 women live with this negative view of their bodies, a negative body image.
Our focus on our own bodies -- how they appear to others, what to feed them, and what they need to weigh -- has become an overwhelming distraction in our lives and the lives of our daughters. It zaps our confidence and courage because we feel flawed. It steals our time and energy because we spend so much of our time and energy focused on how we appear to others. This time and energy drain keeps both younger and older women from living how we want to live. It keeps us down; it keeps us small.
Yet, body image and body shame are rarely discussed. These topics are not talked about at home or in school. They lurk under the surface of our day-to-day activities, often not even noticed ourselves without our seeking them out as an exercise in self-awareness. Rachel Simmons author of Enough As She Is calls body shame the "white noise of girls' development" and a "hidden subculture of struggle."
But, the tide is turning. Like many cultural woman's issues surfacing in the Trump Era, there is a realization bubbling up inside of us. We are becoming aware of a status quo we somehow missed. As we have tried so hard to be beautiful within our culture's narrow, appearance standard, we are realizing at how poorly this has worked out for us.
When we eavesdropped our President's conversations with other men caught on camera, we realized that many men -- the "boys who are just being boys" -- don't see a real person behind our appearance. When we play this beauty game, we end up only existing for those boys in pieces they can grab. No one wants spend their life being a compilation of pieces to grab. We certainly want more for our daughters.
The #MeToo movement lifted the lid on sexual harassment as not just a part of the game woman put up with in society and the workplace. So, too, comes the notion for women that it's not just part of the game of being a woman in our world to have our bodies seen and reacted to as objects on view. #It'sNotMyJobtoPleaseYourGaze. We women don't have to play a beauty game where the rules actually stink and we never win.
It's time we women learn to appreciate our bodies for what they do for us, not as an ornament for others' viewing pleasure. #Let'sTakeOurBodiesBack. This is how we learn to love and appreciate our bodies as vehicles to live our best lives from. This is how we re-gain a positive view of our bodies living in such an appearance-focused culture.
It's time to have that healthy dose of self-awareness as a prerequisite to a complete education at home and in school. This blog talks about discussions we can have with our daughters in our homes. I'd like to see high quality, positive body image curriculum in all high schools in the country in the next decade.
We don't have to stay down or small. It's time to inhabit our bodies, figure out what makes us happy, and spend our precious time doing that.
No one can make you feel that your body is flawed without your consent. Don’t consent.
-Adapted from Eleanor Roosevelt