November 6, 2009

Whose Body Image Isn't Bruised?

One of my favorite things to do is peruse reader comments to New York Times articles that interest me. Today I came across a little posting by Tara Parker-Pope that asked Women, "How Healthy is Your Body Image?" This is definitely a hot topic, and also a sensitive one, as women (even ones with healthy image and activities) all struggle with this in some way, shape or form. I think that much of the problem lies in: mirrors, women's magazines, and diets.

The problem with mirrors is that they're all over the place. One entire wall of my apartment's bathroom is a huge mirror (talk about influencing how much you look at your body!). We stare at our faces as we wash our hands at work and linger over our reflection as we walk by store windows, constantly assessing ourselves whether we're consciously aware of it or not.

Likewise, women's magazines have a similar mental effect as a mirror, except what is being mirrored back to you is an altered image. These are models and celebrities who most likely look the same as you in real life, but after being put through photo shop get the fabulous privilege of representing perfection. My favorite magazine moment happened while I was reading a summer issue of SELF magazine (a publication aimed at boosting women's morale and image) when I noticed that one of the bikini-clad tight-thighed models adorning an article about self-happiness was missing her belly button! Where was it? And more importantly, why was it missing? I promptly wrote to SELF and pointed out their fumble... They responded with the admission that the belly button had been removed during editing, and the team had forgotten to put it back on.
Prime example of how we can't use these models as our mental representation of what we should look like... I don't know about you, but I want my belly button where it is!

On to my final point, about diets. The problem with diets is not in the action of dieting (well, sort of, but we'll get into that later), it's in the name. "Diet" is a word that connotes following a ritual and instructions that has been made up by someone other than you -- that is, someone without your life, physical and mental needs, and who doesn't know what you really enjoy and what you can do without. YOU know all of those things, though! So why follow some other guy's instructions when what works practically and effectively for you in your life is most likely completely different? It needs to be you who decides the healthy changes to make, and certainly not all at once like most diets command. Can we replace the word "diet" with "awesome and useful personal tweaks?" Replace diets with little life changes, and they'll add up to big dividends in the end. Can that latte be made with 1% instead of whole milk? Maybe, you decide! Is it awful to take the stairs to your 3rd floor office instead of the elevator? It may be more manageable if you start doing it every other day at first, this isn't boot camp. But it may be worth considering.

Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that nobody is perfect, and striving for perfection is always always going to leave us dissatisfied. Who are we trying to be perfect for anyway, the store reflection? I don't know about you, but last time I checked, window panes don't have enough brain cells to pass judgment. It's about feeling good and happy in your own skin, whatever that may mean for you.

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