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Thursday, January 16, 2014

SMART Youth Answers

When Did Healthy Come to Mean Perfect?

Why is it that every time we turn on the television, log into Facebook, procrastinate on Pinterest, ride the subway, or simply walk down the street we see images of women who look nothing like you or me? Instead, we see women who are incredibly thin looking great in all the latest fashions, attracting the most men, and generally, being presented as the standard for beauty in our society.  In today’s world, we are constantly bombarded with images of women whose bodies are almost unattainable, if not unhealthy, as the beauty ideal. Normal women simply can’t live up to this image. When we are constantly told by the media and popular culture  “this is what beauty is,” it is no wonder that most women face some sort of body image issue.
Not surprisingly, the number one New Year’s Resolution for 2014 was “lose weight,” highlighting how unhappy Americans are with their bodies. Who remembers the iconic scene in Mean Girls where “the plastics” are all standing in front of a mirror criticizing all of the things they hate about their bodies? Although that is a movie, is their criticism of their bodies that different from what we, along with most of the women we know, say about ourselves on a daily basis?
For example, the latest trend among teens and young adults is achieving the thigh gap, or the hollow cavity which appears between the tops of your legs when you stand with your feet together. Although the thigh gap is physically impossible for most women, and many who do achieve this standard are considered underweight, this trend has caught fire on social media websites. #Thighgap is now a common hashtag, and there are numerous twitter and blog accounts dedicated solely to the thigh gap phenomenon. There is even a wiki page on how to achieve a thigh gap. If the new standard of beauty is having thighs that don’t touch, what hope do most of us have of feeling very content with our own bodies?
With almost unattainable beauty standards presented to us every day without even having to leave our homes, it is no wonder that eating disorders and other unhealthy weight loss strategies are on the rise, particularly among teens.

So with all of these images and ideas bombarding us on a daily basis, how do we keep ourselves from obsessing over body image? Here are some ways that we can all work to end these unhealthy beauty standards and learn to love our bodies just as they are:

  • Make an ongoing effort to STOP talking about diets and "imperfect" body parts with your friends. Instead, talk about your future plans, what is going on in the world, or even your celebrity crush.
  • When you catch yourself criticizing your body or what you've eaten, STOP, remind yourself that self-criticism is part of the problem, and shift your attention elsewhere; repeat as necessary.
  • Challenge media images to yourself, and out loud when with your family and friends. Write and complain if you see images you don't like. Support products with advertisements that feature "normal" looking and/or "normally" sized people.
  • Start to appreciate all of the amazing things that your body can do! Like busting a move on the dance floor...
  • Take good care of yourself. Learn to eat well (most of the time), get moderate exercise and enough sleep, give yourself treats occasionally, and keep supportive people in your life.
  • Exercise and move your body for strengthening, health, pleasure, and/or stress reduction. Over-exercising can be just as damaging to your body as not exercising at all.
  • If you begin to feel overwhelmed by all of the crazy beauty standards presented to us in the media, watch this awesome clip on loving your body from Jennifer Lawrence!
Promoting positive body image among our friends and family can go a long way in combating the unhealthy beauty ideals that we encounter every day in our lives and helping ourselves and those we care about love our bodies and ourselves.

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