My Body, My Self 

teen-age girls

I just spent the last two weeks in Paris eating French food, drinking French wine, and talking about life with French women. It just doesn’t get much better than that for me!

With all the discussion about body image and 'diet culture' in the United States, I was fascinated to learn that the average French woman doesn’t have the same issues around her body image and eating that we have here in America. While French society does put pressure on women to be thin, your average (not eating disordered) French woman does not diet and is not struggling with the emotional consequences of food restricting that so many American women experience. How could this be?

With so much emphasis on women’s bodies in our culture, and with all the media images imposing a narrow standard for beauty, it might seem impossible to have and maintain a positive body image.  The following four blogs in MyBodyImage discuss how to cultivate a positive body image using My Body Journal  as a tool to help locate your thoughts around your body. These blogs build upon each other and discuss how to develop a positive body image with discussion and tools centered around the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA’s) definition of a “positive body image:”

We all know physical appearance is just a part of who you are.  Clearly too much emphasis has been placed on appearance in today’s world. So, if appearance says little about your value as a person, what does say something about your character and value as a person to you?  How do you define yourself?  Is it in terms of being a loving mom?  A kind friend?  A competent athlete? Capable at your job? It is probably a combination of some of these things that make up how you define your whole person, your character and value.  

Let's try to think about our own body shape and size. This will take some focus because we often are not aware of most of our own deeply held thoughts about our bodies. Your task in addressing a negative body image is to become familiar with unhelpful thoughts about your body that you are  thinking deep down, so you can confront them. When they are left unattended, brewing below the surface of your mind, your thoughts can develop unmanaged as the years roll on. 

What is going on in a young girl's mind when she sees images of a Victoria Secret model that might cause her to internalize an unrealistic body standard? A girl forms her idea of who she will be from the women she encounters in her world. This is just how humans (and other mammals) work. A girl's mother will be her first role model for how to be a woman.

A hundred years ago a young girl might have had aunts, grandmothers and larger family living close by to add to the array of female role models she encountered in her world. In today's world, most of the women a girl encounters during her day are actually fake women. We have 5,000 ad images coming at us each day with pictures of women like the Victoria Secret models, according to the American Association of Advertising Agencies. The women in the ads aren't really real because they have spent hours in hair and make-up, trained like an Olympic athlete for the shoot, and the images have been digitally altered.