If Barbie were real, she would be 5.9 and weigh 110 lbs. She would be considered anorexic. If GI Joe was life-sized, his biceps would be almost as big as his waist. So begins our journey to answer the question: what does ideal body image even mean?
Barbie and GI Joe are often one of the first models of “ideal body image” our children receive. The message being: if you want to be beautiful or strong, you need to look like Barbie or GI Joe. From the very beginning, it seems, we’re launching our children off with a highly unrealistic, bizarre and stylized sense of what the body is supposed to be.
The onslaught of ideal body images never “lets up” for our kids, nor does its impact on their self-perception. In fact, according to the National Institute on Media and the Family, the amount of time an adolescent watches television, movies and music videos is associated with their degree of body dissatisfaction, and desire to be thin.
Basically, the more kids are exposed to media, the worse they feel about themselves.
Images are powerful and their impact on our psyches and our neurochemistry cannot be underestimated.
We live in a time when we’re teaching our children and ourselves that there’s a “right” way to look, there’s an ideal body – and if we don’t measure up to the ideal – we should be unhappy and start getting to work to change what we’ve got to match what we don’t have – and what few people on the planet don’t even have. Again, this isn’t a new thing. It’s just getting to be a bigger problem every year.
We’ve been given an absolutely impossible task, and far too many of us have taken it far too seriously.
No wonder it’s so easy to feel stressed and miserable about how we look.
This ideal body image phenomenon doesn’t stop with our children – it continues to young adulthood and beyond. Studies at Stanford University and the University of Massachusetts found that 70% of college women say they feel worse about their own looks after reading women’s magazines. One of the researchers summed up the impact of exposure to an ideal body image this way: “People see the same images over and over, and start to believe it’s a version of reality.” If those bodies are real and they’re possible to attain, and yet “you” can’t attain it, how can you feel anything but bad or disappointed about your own body? Isn’t it time we got real about weight?
There’s definitely something amiss with our societal approach to the body, when we’re convincing approximately 80% of the population that the way their body looks is wrong.
Culturally, we tend to hold up one particular ideal body image – the supermodel body. We idealize the super-slim and “perfect” body – a low body fat index, toned muscles, no wrinkles, no softness, no signs of aging, and no signs that the person even eats! Now, the alarming part is that this ideal “model” body comes naturally to less than 5% of the population.
We’re holding ourselves up to an ideal that isn’t plausible for most humans. And yet, many men and women will put themselves on unhealthy diets and undergo surgery to look the way we’re told we’re ‘supposed’ to look.
If we now know that a constant barrage of media images of the ideal body image causes us to feel bad about ourselves, imagine what might happen if we were exposed, on a continual basis, to images of men and women of various sizes and shapes – might we start accepting and loving our body more?
Imagine if what was held up on the pedestal as beauty in our world was not thin-ness but rather diversity of body type:
The physical range and scope of being human…
Might it be possible that we would start encouraging self-love and acceptance instead of another generation of women and men who feel that they aren’t thin enough, fit enough or beautiful enough?
And if we take this one step further – imagine how this next generation might treat each other and work together – if they weren’t living in self-attack and trying to be different than they are.
If we can shift from focusing on an idealized and unrealistic body as the way to success and happiness, and instead put our energy into learning and appreciating our own natural beauty and abilities, there’s no telling how amazingly powerful we could be.
If you’re ready to step into this new and compassionate paradigm of beauty and body image – and would like to learn more – The Institute for The Psychology of Eating is at the cutting edge of Mind Body Nutrition and Dynamic Eating Psychology. This union of psychology and science provides the “missing link” that’s so needed to heal the relationship so many of us have with our bodies.
© Institute For The Psychology of Eating, All Rights Reserved, 2014
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