Discussions about body image often centre around how women need to have more realistic body role models, or how we need to have representations of “real women’s” bodies in glossy magazines.
If the media included images of women with a diversity of body shapes and sizes, we would see a reduction in disordered eating and an increase in women’s sense of self‑worth. Why? Because, following this reasoning, women’s self‑esteem is dependent on the way we look.
Maybe the real scandal is the belief is that women’s perceptions of their bodies are indelibly linked to their perceptions of their worthiness as human beings. Contrary to common belief, self-esteem isn’t about believing that you are perfect just the way you are. It’s about believing that you are a worthwhile human being with flaws and talents, who has the ability to overcome the first and nurture the second.
The other day I mentioned jokily to a friend that I always wore shirts that hung lower than the waistband of my jeans to avoid showing off my muffin top. She rushed to assure me I wasn’t fat and that I was totally cute.
Apparently acknowledging the slight bulge over my belt loops immediately equated to me thinking I’m fat. And that meant I needed reassurance that I was still an okay person by being told that I’m cute to look at.
Let’s leave the fact that by hovering at the borderline of the medical definition of “overweight”, I call myself a bit chubby, even though I’m thinner than most. The more interesting issue is the automatic assumption that to believe I’m a worthy human being, I have to believe I’m physically pleasing.
Now, I enjoy being cute as much as the next person, but it’s not something that contributes to jacking up my self-esteem. It’s just a superficial bonus.
But is this what we’re taught to accept as fact? That you can’t feel good about yourself unless your looks are perfect, or you think they are? That you have to see women who look like you in magazines in order to believe you’re a valid member of society? And is this a belief we want to continue to disseminate?
Glossy magazines are never going to stop populating their pages with beautiful young women. They are pleasing to look at, fleshy works of art. They sell. Rather than decrying the lack of ‘real women’ in magazines, a saner, healthier option might be to campaign for the separation of body shape from self-esteem.
Then we might see a reduction in people’s dysfunctional relationships with food and eating. For example, how often do you hear people talking about “needing” chocolate, “punishing” themselves with healthy food and exercise, rewarding themselves with being “naughty” with a donut?
The real issue should not be whether we are pretty, but whether we are healthy.
But we have a choice. We can choose to stop needing to see famous people with muffin tops so that we can feel good about ourselves. We can choose to recognise our worth as people without needing a magazine to tell us we are worthwhile.
And we can choose to accept our flaws and talents as they are, and to stop measuring our personal merit by our muffin tops.
Image credit: yomi955
Elsewhere: Sarah’s blog.