Society still making the mirror an enemy

This week I am running a promotion on Instagram with an indie singer to help celebrate the release of her new single, Beauty Shine. Stephanie, the singer, is stylish, beautiful and confident. She is also what society would currently consider ‘plus sized.’

Her music bears the message that You Are Worthy – Worthy of love, respect, friendship, success, happiness, and all the good things in life, no matter what you look like.  It’s a message everybody needs to hear, especially girls and young women. Self-esteem is a fragile thing. Once that is damaged, it can take a lifetime to fix it. Some people never heal from damaged self-esteem.

Society is brutally judgmental towards the physical appearance of females. Yes, males also deal with societal pressures, but I feel confident saying it is not the same thing at all in terms of degree. Women are taught from a young age that physical appearance is critical to their value as a human being. It is not a new phenomenon of course, but it is alive and well.

My daughters have always been told how amazing they are. Yet, there is always worry I hear them express that that they look fat or too thin. People who should know better make offhand comments about what they eat or don’t eat. They both look great and they are both healthy, but they are also both continually conscious of and self-critical about appearance.

I remember standing in my bedroom before my senior prom, trying not to cry and ruin my eyeliner, because I looked so fat in my prom dress.

I look back now and want to smack myself on the side of the head because I obviously was not at all heavy in any way.  I was fairly intelligent and pretty rational but my perception of myself was just so off.

Societal pressures to look a certain way have always been with us, even going back way, way before the creation of social media. Technology has intensified it, and made that pressure even more powerful.

Have you ever seen this video of a beautiful model being heavily photoshopped because she was less than perfect? I first saw it several years ago and never forgot it. I also insisted my children see it. I think most of us understand the rudimentary capabilities of photoshopping. But some of the techniques displayed in this video really startled me.

How can you measure up against an image that the model herself could not measure up to?

Real beauty

Although there is certainly increasingly diverse representation of women and girls in the media, females worldwide struggle with issues of body confidence and self-esteem. Every woman knows that, I think. It was verified extensively and confirmed according to expansive research reports conducted by Dove. Utilizing that research, The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty was launched in 2004. It is a worldwide marketing campaign.  It includes billboards, print ads, television ads, videos, workshops, school programs, sleepover events, the publication of a book, and even the production of a play.  Here are a couple of examples of print advertising from the campaign:

And this one, which clearly features an older woman:

The overall goal of the Dove Real Beauty campaign is to build self-confidence in women and girls.

From the research at Dove

The Dove Institute is devoted to researching issues such as everything concerning women self-esteem. The data provided obviously helps guide marketing and public relations for Dove Brands, but it also provides some very important societal information.

According to the research conducted just a few years ago, regardless of their age or where they lived, 50% of the women surveyed had low self-esteem.  Those self-esteem issues were often severe enough have a negative impact on their lives. For example, of that 50% of women with low self-esteem, fully 70% of girls between 10 to 17 years of age and 85% of women 18 to 64 opted-out of important life events because they were uncomfortable with the way they looked.

Advertising and media, not surprisingly, plays a major role in the negative feelings bring experienced. 69% of women and 65% of girls cited increasing pressures from advertising and media as a major contributor to their focus on and anxiety about appearance.  I thought it was very frightening that the Dove study found 87% of women sometimes stop themselves from eating because they are unhappy with the way they look.

Most of us would consider bindings and corsets to be old-fashioned, almost archaic things. But are we really any different today? Too many women still manipulate themselves to fit popular ideals.

A few more alarming statistics about self-Image:

  • Dove research found that just 4% of women worldwide think of themselves as beautiful.
  • More than half of the women surveyed agree that they’re their own harshest beauty critic.
  • By the time girls reach the age of 17, 78% are “unhappy with their bodies.”
  • The Dove Self-Esteem Project found 47% of girls aged 11-14 refuse to participate in activities that might show their bodies in any way at all.

This issue is one that has been centuries in the making. The purpose of this particular article is not to give a lesson about women’s history, but I don’t think it surprises anyone that throughout history women have been and judged primarily for their appearance.

The body positivity movement of recent years is great. The celebrities and trendsetters who are trying to exemplify it are doing an awesome thing. But it’s not enough. It’s like trying to compare a tide pool to the Pacific Ocean. I’m not belittling the efforts being made, just pointing out that we all need to do whatever we can to help.

  Improving body positivity

There is no magical list of what to do to change negative thoughts about your body into a positive body image. You can, however, make a conscious effort to look at things differently and incorporate new thought patterns into your life.

Not everybody with poor self-esteem or a negative body image also has an eating disorder. Sadly, many do, so experts in eating disorders are also experts in improving body positivity. The following list is from NEDA, the National Eating Disorders Association. These are their 10 steps to positive body image:

  1. Appreciate all that your body can do.Every day your body carries you closer to your dreams. Celebrate all of the amazing things your body does for you—running, dancing, breathing, laughing, dreaming, etc.
  2. Keep a top-ten list of things you like about yourself—things that aren’t related to how much you weigh or what you look like. Read your list often. Add to it as you become aware of more things to like about yourself.
  3. Remind yourself that “true beauty” is not simply skin-deep. When you feel good about yourself and who you are, you carry yourself with a sense of confidence, self-acceptance, and openness that makes you beautiful. Beauty is a state of mind, not a state of your body.
  4. Look at yourself as a whole person. When you see yourself in a mirror or in your mind, choose not to focus on specific body parts. See yourself as you want others to see you — as a whole person.
  5. Surround yourself with positive people. It is easier to feel good about yourself and your body when you are around others who are supportive and who recognize the importance of liking yourself just as you naturally are.
  6. Shut down those voices in your head that tell you your body is not “right” or that you are a “bad” person. You can overpower those negative thoughts with positive ones. The next time you start to tear yourself down, build yourself back up with a few quick affirmations that work for you.
  7. Wear clothes that are comfortable and that make you feel good about your body. Work with your body, not against it.
  8. Become a critical viewer of social and media messages. Pay attention to images, slogans, or attitudes that make you feel bad about yourself or your body. Protest these messages: write a letter to the advertiser or talk back to the image or message.
  9. Do something nice for yourself — something that lets your body know you appreciate it. Take a bubble bath, make time for a nap, or find a peaceful place outside to relax.
  10. Use the time and energy that you might have spent worrying about food, calories, and your weight to do something to help others. Sometimes reaching out to other people can help you feel better about yourself and can make a positive change in our world.




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