Body Image: Why It Matters and How to View It Positively
By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations
For the last two weeks, I’ve written about fat. Fat is necessary for our survival. It belongs in our diet and in our bodies in reasonable amounts, providing energy, cushioning our muscles and organs and metabolizing essential vitamins. But it’s easy to get too much of a good thing.
Obesity is the cause of health problems and unhealthy sources of dietary fat and fat in excess do no one any favors. “Fat” is a dirty word applied to food and people with snide derision. To finish up this series, I thought it fitting to focus on body image, an integral concept that is part and parcel in our discussions about fat.
The physical traits we find appealing in men and women today are not timeless; idealized bodies are the product of culture. In western society, women with Rubenesque bodies were once considered the peak of perfection. society would deem chubby today were, until the 20th century, celebrated for their size. Larger bodies were a sign of good health, wealth and elevated social status.
For women, the standards have changed dramatically. Waif-like figures — slim, tall and toned — make the cover of magazines. Men, too, magazine covers and advertisements unanimously tall, muscled and impeccably physically fit.
How we feel about our body matters. Our worth should not be determined by the world (or in our own minds) by our physical appearance. But to say that our appearance doesn’t matter, or shouldn’t, is to avoid and deny reality.
The ideal body of the American culture is increasingly demanding and narrow. In the US, the rate of development of eating disorders has been increasing steadily since 1950. Though more prevalent in women, men can and do suffer from disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, binge eating and body dysmorphia.
The health consequences of eating disorders are devastating, both for those suffering and their friends and family. (A discussion of eating disorders deserves its own article. For more information about eating disorders, signs and symptoms, how to seek help and how to offer it, I’ve included a list of links below.)
There is no list that can encompass a “cure” for improving your body image. Every one of us is different, affected by diverse cultural and familial influences and internalized “standards.” I’ve listed a few of the ways to begin or sustain a positive body image below. In the links provided after this article, you can find even more.
Take a moment to marvel. The next time you start cataloguing your perceived physical flaws, reflect instead on all that your body does for you. Every day, your legs carry you from place to place. Your heart hasn’t skipped a beat — it’s reliably working for you, a dutiful muscle pounding in your chest. Your skin replaces itself every 30 days. What has your body given you?
Keep in mind that there is no “right” body. We look the way we look: varied, diverse, each of us a little different. The bodies we see in advertisements and in media are homogenized and unrealistic. In many cases, they’re literally unreal thanks to editing software like Photoshop. Be critical of the images you see. Though we’re being sold the “ideal,” we can choose (or do our best) not to buy into it.
The time you spend worrying that you’re not good enough is much better spent enjoying yourself with friends, family, a hobby or a good book. Redirect your thoughts to something positive in your life. Keep a list of good things by the mirror or in your wallet if you need to! Try not to wallow in worries about body image.