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How Do Negative Body Images in Media Impact Women? Physical and Mental Effects

Updated on June 6, 2011

What Do You See When You Look at Me?

Has this question become too important? Do women now care more about what we look like than who we really are? It is evident that outer appearance has taken up a greater space in the human psyche than ever before. This is evident in the amount of attention given to the subject in the media, conversations, and at the market. Are we insidiously buying into the idea that because we are less than perfect we are less valuable? Some people feel that it is a valid question that deserves our attention. April D. Fallon, Ph.D. said, "The way we view our bodies is a reflection of our self-esteem." If that is true, and evidence suggests that it often is, we should at least be concerned. Our viewpoint on this issue can affect our physical and mental health.

In particular, females, more so than males, tend to be less satisfied with their bodies, especially regarding weight. In studies Dr. Fallon did she found that women think they are heavier than others see them, but men have a more accurate picture of their bodies and shapes. In fact, she went on to relate that women's perception of what men consider an ideal female figure is much thinner than males actually desire. So what accounts for the difference?  What makes women, in general, feel that only thinness is socially acceptable or that men prefer women that are thinner? Furthermore, what makes women feel more critical of their bodies than men?  Where were these ideas generated? How is body image being distorted even now?

The Root of Negative Body Image

In many places the world over, women and girls look to TV, movies, and magazines for the gauge of what they should look like or what is ideal in physical features. In this way, society has put way too much emphasis on physical appearance. That is a real issue causing pressure for women who feel like these media images alienate them from others. That is not the only factor. These distortions regarding body image may have begun long before that. For some women, it began in elementary school where girls may have been teased over what are merely physical differences, like being very tall, very short, being slow to develop or quick to develop, the texture or color of hair, or the size of her lips. This may sound silly now, if you have developed a healthy measure of self-worth. Yet, many women still struggle with having a negative body image. For them, it can be so bad it can actually keep them from reaching their full potential in life. They are not able to say: "So what! I may not look like the woman on the cover of a magazine, but I am beautiful from the inside out! If you don't believe it, just look beyond what you can see and get to know all that is me!"

The Strongest Reasons for Changing Attitudes of Negative Body Image

The impact of negative body image is huge! Having these distorted perceptions of self stemming from the ideas like "I am ugly" or "I look awful" can cause increased feelings of loneliness and even heighten fear of intimacy. Obviously, that is not good for self or relationships with others. Science Daily of June 6, 2006 noted that "adolescents with negative body image concerns are more likely to be depressed, anxious, and suicidal than those without intense dissatisfaction over their appearance, even when compared to adolescents with other psychiatric illnesses, according to a new study by researchers at Bradley Hospital, Butler Hospital and Brown Medical School." That shows how deep the issue of negative body image really is and how it can affect mental and emotional health. On the physical side of the matter, there are girls who feel such pressure that they engage in starving themselves (anorexia nervosa) or bingeing and purging (bulimia) to obtain some real or imagined ideal look.  Eating disorders are associated problems that are so prevalent that there are hotlines like the one found at  set up to help out with interventions. This makes it evident that a change in mindset about body image is needed.

How Do Women Move Past Negative Body Image?

It is reassuring to note that most women do get a grip as they get a little older because they come to realize that these perceived flaws do not define them as a person, despite any harsh criticism they've heard otherwise. Plus, most women come to recognize that these ideas have a much less significant role in achieving their goals in life than they ever imagined while in college, high school, and even less so elementary school! What if you are one of those many women who have not been able to define yourself outside of physical negative body image? Here are some practical things you can do:

·         Realize that negative body image is a problem. It is not serving your best interest. It could be holding you back from reaching your full potential. You do not have to conform to some media-produced image to reach your full potential. You are uniquely you.

·         Do improve what you reasonably can. That is not a contradiction of all that has been said. Yet, sometimes there are things we can improve that will contribute to better physical and mental health, such as eating healthy, avoiding obesity with all its associated ills, exercising, and maintaining good hygiene and posture. All of these contribute to a sense of well being and help reduce negative body image issues. Some may choose to go as far as cosmetic surgery, which is becoming ever more popular. If you have a physical feature that is causing you physical or emotional distress, such as breasts that are so heavy they are causing grooves in your shoulders and daily accompanying pain, it may be worth looking into. That is a personal decision. On the other end of the spectrum, if you feel that surgery is the only answer for every so-called flaw and you become a frequent flyer under the knife, this may indicate an even bigger problem associated with negative body image.  

·         Try to Be Positive. Say it with me. "My body parts are just the right size for me, and I am satisfied with them." Dr. Mary Froning has taught women to say phrases like this for 21 days to affirm their contentment with their bodies.  No matter how women get there, we all need to arrive at a place where we can have a measure of satisfaction within our own skin!

·         Accentuate the Positive. No you cannot necessarily eliminate all that you may see as negative, but almost everyone has something about themselves they feel good about. Is it your hands, feet, lips, hair, eyes, or legs, which? Even if neither, there are more important things to look for. Are you a good listener? Do you have a good sense of humor? Are you compassionate? Are you creative? Then draw attention to these things about yourself, and that will draw others attention to these qualities you have on the inside. Remember, these are the things about you that will last long after physical features may fade away.

·         Do Have a Sense of Humor. Don't take yourself so seriously. That does not mean to make yourself the brunt of your own jokes constantly. Some experts say this just means that if someone kids you about a physical feature, give it back in a humorous way. Even if you just laugh and let it go, that's better than letting thoughtless comments tear you down.  

·         Reset Your Priorities. What is more important anyway? Is it your looks or the person you are inside? If you can let go of the artificial notion that having physical attractiveness is the only way to be happy, you will find more contentment in relationships with family and friends.

·         Wipe the Steam from the Mirror. Now you can see clearly that it's not your nose, your ears, your hair, your hips, or your lips that will determine your future. It is your own attitude and behavior that will have a greater influence than your looks.

·         Recognize that Beauty Can Be More than Skin Deep. It comes in many shapes, sizes, colors, and heights. In fact, its greatest value may not meet the eye but always touches the soul. That is why people can see the beauty beyond physical features in the women they love and admire. So women can dismiss negative body image with all its baggage and accept the value of who we really are within.      


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