An article in the LA Times this week about women's obsession with beauty contains some chilling facts discovered in a study conducted by the YWCA.
Some of the facts:
* 80% of women say they are unhappy with their appearance.
* 67% of women aged 25 to 45 are trying to lose weight, though 53% of those women are at healthy weights
* 69% of women are in favour of plastic surgury - a 7% increase since 2006.
* Americans spend $7 billion annually on cosmetics
* 11.7 MILLION cosmetic surgical and non-surgical procedures were completed last year - a 500% increase since 1997.
* 40% of newly diagnosed eating disorders are in girls 15 to 19 years old - but cases start as young as 5 years old.
And the one that is most interesting to me:
*Girls who reported they spent the most time and effort on their appearance suffered the "greatest loss of confidence" of all respondants.
For most women, the struggle to find happiness with their appearance is a neverending experience. The worst part of all of this mess is that it is holding us back, making us weak, and stopping many women from living full lives. Women who won't go to the beach because of saddlebags, women who are afraid to give presentations because of their weight, women who can't date because of a fear of being seen naked. Good gracious! It is like we expect ourselves to be the photoshopped version of reality that we see in the magazines. But that is not reality.
But who is to blame? After all, placing blame feels good. It makes for an excellent excuse when you look in the mirror. Wouldn't it be great to look at yourself and say "Man, I look terrible, but it's all Playboy's fault!"
One thing I can say for sure - I don't blame men. Perhaps I like to blame some high-level executive men - the type that tell models and actresses to lose another 10 off of their already slender frames - but not your Average Joe. I truely believe that Joe Average prefers a curvy woman. It's not men that make us 'feel fat' or have 'bad hair days'. If anything, it's other women who we think put the pressure on us. We think other women are judging us, when in reality, other women are usually so caught up in their own insecurity they are too busy to think negatively about someone else. Surely, there is a segment of the female population that never grew out of their Mean Girl phase. The seemingly perfect types (whatever that means) who look down, judge, call names and spend a good deal of time feeling superior to everyone else. But I'm sure that comes from being painfully insecure as well.
Unfortunately, I don't think any one gender or company is to blame, that would just be too simple.
There was a time I did not believe that fashion magazines and television played a role. I liked the way of thinking that just because they use those models, doesn't mean that people would want to look like them. We're stronger than that, aren't we? We don't buy into that, do we? Well, I was wrong. So wrong. Now I do think media plays a big role in this. It simply took me experiencing my first 'wish' about looking like someone or being able to wear something I felt I couldn't, to know what it was all about.
All women have seen the articles in fashion magazines - "Dress for Any Body Type" - in which they use one single 12 year old frighteningly-slim model. Celebrity life is shocking lately - simply eating sushi and wearing a dress is enough to get called pregnant these days; developing anorexia is a new way to promote a career move, like a movie or album. Coco Rochas, a quite popular Canadian model, recently appeared at the CFDA event and talked about what it is like to be a model, "They said, 'You need to lose more weight — the look this year is anorexia, and although we don't want you to be anorexic, we want you to look it.'"
Certainly all of this attention on looking thin, youthful and airbrushed drags us down.
Placing blame feels good. But it doesn't offer solutions. I doubt pressuring the fashion industry to change their standards will do much good. After all, it is us who buy the magazines and clothing. Where does the change start?
When did looking a certain way begin to be our self worth? What about our accomplishments, our goals, our successes, our virtues? That must change. We have to look to who we are inside as people to find our self worth. Simply being a good person should be enough.
However wonderful I think it would be if we all stopped caring so darn much about appearances, I don't think its realistic. Instead, my more realistic action to take now is Positive Thinking.
When I was a hurdles runner (many moons ago), I would lay in bed at night and visualize running the race, nailing my pacing, clearing each hurdle. Thinking that over and over again on the night before a race helped me run a faster time. Usually it prevented me from knocking any hurdles down.
Not to get all Dr. Phil here, but positive thinking has immense power over our lives, and I believe it is more powerful than negative thinking; positive thinking can overcome the negative with time. Do I think we should lay in bed at night and think nice things about ourselves? Possibly. I do think it would be more beneficial if we started out our day with a "Wow my ass looks hot today!" rather than "Wow my ass looks wide today!". A simple exercise I read somewhere: Any time you are looking in the mirror and are fixated on something you don't like, you have to mentally stop yourself. Mentally say "STOP!". After that, you choose something you do like about yourself, tell yourself outloud (if you have the gumption) how great that thing is. Then think to yourself how awesome you are. Remind yourself of your virtues. It sounds totally lame when I type it out here, but I've actually tried it, and it works. At very least, it stops the negative thinking patterns.
The thing is, personal optimism correlates strongly with self-esteem, with psychological well-being and with physical and mental health (source). All very important parts of living a happy and full life. The way we think of ourselves reflects in how others see us as well - you've been told before to wear what you feel most confident in, as it will be what you look best in. And it is true!
It is one simple step we can each take to help us change our lives, these statistics, and hopefully, the lives of our daughters.