Your Body, Your Self
Body image dissatisfaction is so epidemic in our society that it's almost considered normal. Recent studies show preschoolers are already exposed to hearing that certain types of foods, especially sugar, might make them "fat." Kids as early as third grade are concerned about their weight. But the most vulnerable are teens. This is the age we are most impressionable and start to develop self-confidence and self-perception. Body shapes are changing rapidly. About half of female teens think they're too fat and almost 50% are dieting. There is a lot of pressure to succeed and fit in. One of the ways to fit in is to have "the perfect body."
Body Image Questionnaire: How do you measure up?
When you look in the mirror what do you see? When you walk past a shop window and catch a glimpse of your body, what do you notice first? Are you proud of what you see, or do you think, "I'm too short, I'm too fat, if only I were thinner or more muscular?" Most people answer negatively. Take the following quiz and see how your Body Image I.Q. measures up. Check the most appropriate answer:
- Have you avoided sports or working out because you didn't want to be seen in gym clothes? Yes___ No ___
- Does eating even a small amount of food make you feel fat? Yes___ No ___
- Do you worry or obsess about your body not being small, thin or good enough? Yes___ No ___
- Are you concerned your body is not muscular or strong enough? Yes___ No ___
- Do you avoid wearing certain clothes because they make you feel fat? Yes___ No ___
- Do you feel badly about yourself because you don't like your body? Yes___ No ___
- Have you ever disliked your body? Yes___ No ___
- Do you want to change something about your body?
Yes___ No ___
- Do you compare yourself to others and "come up short?"
Yes___ No ___
If you answered "Yes" to 3 or more questions, you may have a negative body image. See guidelines under "Tips" for help in changing your perception to a more positive one.
Girls are overly concerned about weight and body shape. They strive for the "perfect" body and judge themselves by their looks, appearance, and above all thinness. But boys don't escape either. Boys are concerned with the size and strength of their body. There has been a shift in the male body image. Boys live in a culture that showcases males as glamorous "macho" figures who have to be "tough", build muscles and sculpt their bodies - if they want to fit in. They think they have to be a "real" man, but many admit being confused as to what that means or what's expected of them. This confusion can make it harder than ever to feel good about themselves.
Some sports can contribute to a negative body image. The need to make weight for a sport like wrestling or boxing can cause disordered eating. But other boys says sports make them feel better about themselves. Jon, a 15-year-old, states, "Guys are in competition, especially in the weight room. They say, 'I can bench 215 lbs.' and the other guy says, 'Well I can bench 230 lbs.' If you're stronger, you're better." Daniel, age 16, shares, "Guys are into having the perfect body. But if you feel good about your body, you automatically feel good about yourself."
Most of our cues about what we should look like come from the media, our parents, and our peers. This constant obsession with weight, the size of our bodies and longing for a different shape or size can be painful.
Where do these negative perceptions come from? Here are just a few of the factors contributing to negative perceptions and obsessions about our body:
The media plays a big part. Surrounded by thin models and TV stars, teenage girls are taught to achieve an impossible goal. As a result, many teenage girls intensely dislike their bodies and can tell you down to the minutest detail what's wrong with it. Most teens watch an average of 22 hours of TV a week and are deluged with images of fat-free bodies in the pages of health, fashion and teen magazines. The "standard" is impossible to achieve. A female should look like, and have the same dimensions as Barbie, and a male should look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Buff Baywatch lifeguards, the well-toned abs of any cast member of Melrose Place or Friends, and music-video queens don't help.
Take a look at the 10 most popular magazines on the newspaper racks. The women and men on the covers represent about .03 percent of the population. The other 99.97% don't have a chance to compete, much less measure up. Don't forget it's a career with these people. They're pros. Many have had major body make-overs and have a full-time personal trainer. Most ads are reproduced, airbrushed or changed by computer. Body parts can be changed at will.
The images of men and women in ads today do not promote self esteem or positive self image. They're intended to sell products. In the U.S. billions of dollars are spent by consumers who pursue the perfect body. The message "thin is in" is sold thousands of times a day through TV, movies, magazines, billboards, newspapers and songs. Advertising conveys the message "You're not O.K. Here's what you need to do to fix what's wrong." Girls and boys believe it and react to it. In a 1997 Body Image Survey, both girls and boys reported that "very thin or muscular models" made them feel insecure about themselves.