Last week (Feb 26 – Mar 4) was National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. So I’ve been thinking a lot about such illnesses, which affect 10 million American Women, according to the National Eating Disorders Association.
When you read about the topic and talk to people who have had experience with eating disorders, it’s clear that a big part of the problem is our idea of the “perfect” body. From childhood, we are conditioned by the media to think of a “good” body as a skinny body. I think it’s time we change our minds.
The fitness industry and aesthetic pressure.
But where did all that hate come from?
Society and media have a huge impact on the way we see our own bodies. From childhood, we learn what it means to be pretty. We also learn that we must aim to be beautiful because our value as people is often measured based on our appearance. This is especially true if you are a girl. This is how we develop our concept of the perfect body image.
That’s what we call “aesthetics pressure” — the many ways in which society pushes us to look a certain way.
Such pressure has always existed. But it has been getting stronger lately because of social media. Now, our bodies are not the only thing on display. Our whole lives are out there, open to the judgment of others. This makes most of us feel the need to create the illusion of a perfect life online.
Having a perfect life, of course, means having a perfect body. Thus, the industry of fitness has had a boom in the past few years. Everybody goes to the gym and eats healthy. At least, that’s what it looks like on our Instagram feeds.
If you don’t have that “standard” fit body, it’s easy to feel a blow at your self-esteem.
But living the fitness life is not easy. Many of the people who post those “perfect” pictures work on that full time. Exercising and dieting is their job. They are paid to promote clothing, accessories, dieting programs, and so on. They’re influencers. But that’s not always obvious and sometimes we forget it.
Then, we feel guilty for not going to the gym every day. Eating a cupcake after lunch feels like a crime. We look at your normal, healthy body at the mirror and see a failure because we don’t have a flat belly or a thigh gap. We blame ourselves for not eating better. For feeling too tired to exercise after work. For not being as beautiful as the girls on magazines.
That’s when aesthetics pressure gets dangerous.
We need to focus on being healthy, not skinny.
Wanting to have a body that we like is not inherently bad. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look good. Everyone deserves to look into the mirror and see someone who they think is beautiful.
But we need to rethink our idea of a “good” body and shift our focus a little. Instead of trying to look “fit”, we should first aim at being healthy. We need to begin to think of a “good” body as a functional, healthy body.
When we say we want to have a good body, we usually think that achieving a certain body image will make us happy. But it’s important to remember that it’s impossible to be happy while being unhealthy.
Now, we also have to break the stigma that says that if someone is fat, they’re automatically unhealthy. Some people are genetically predisposed to being fat. That’s their natural body build. But that doesn’t mean they’re not healthy. If they do not have heart diseases or any other illness, then their weight is not a problem and should not be seen as one.
Many fat people die because of misdiagnoses. If a fat person goes into a doctor’s office complaining of shortness of breath, the doctor will likely recommend that they lose weight. The fact that that person could have asthma or lung cancer is often overlooked because of our tendency to associate body fat will bad health.
Of course, body fat can cause issues. A person’s posture and internal organs may suffer, for example. But if we focus on being healthy, exercising properly, eating well, and having regular check-ups, this is not a problem.
Dieting and exercising with safety
Should you decide to try to lose weight, do it with responsibility. I started this article by emphasizing that food is not the enemy. Neither is dieting. When done right, it can be beneficial not only for your physical health but also for your mind. There is evidence that a healthy diet can help improve the mood and speed the recovery of people living with depression.
But to get the best from your diet, you need professional help. A nutritionist is a far better adviser than that old magazine article or than your neighbor. They can create a dieting plan that is designed for your individual needs. After all, everyone’s different and so are our bodies. The diet that works for your friend won’t necessarily work for you and vice-versa.
The same thing is true for exercise. I talked before about how the fitness industry helps create aesthetics pressure, but the gym is not your enemy. You can even use fitness to combat anxiety and depression! All you need to do is make sure you exercise moderately and with proper supervision. Don’t try to overdo it.
Confident is the new beautiful.
One of the main reasons why people tell girls we need to look beautiful is because we need to be attractive to men.
That’s, of course, an extremely sexist affirmation. But don’t get me started on that.
Anyway, as the saying goes, “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder”. That means that different men find different things attractive. One man may love women with long hair, while another may think a pixie cut is the sexiest thing in the world. It’s impossible to please both. We shouldn’t even bother trying.
But you know what every man will always find attractive? Confidence. When a woman thinks she is beautiful, that in itself makes her beautiful. The prettier you feel, the prettier you will be. It changes your attitude, and that’s everything.
Of course, we should not replace aesthetics pressure with the pressure to love oneself. It’s ok if you don’t love every single thing about your body. It’s ok if there are things you’d like to change. There’s no shame on that.