By Tanuja Aundhe:
If you’ve been reading the news, you must have seen several pieces about how body image and loving yourself are important. If you’re like me, you may have dismissed it as some sort of hippy-dippy stuff — who on earth loves themselves exactly as they are? There are always details you want to change about yourself, little things you don’t like, like that tum you’ve got there, or that mole, that pimple, or that freckle.Â You may have issues with the colour of your hair, the size of your cheeks, your mismatched feet (guilty) or whatever. Obviously, each of us has a pet peeve. You simply say ‘different strokes for different folks’, brush it off, and move on.
But, you know, as it turns out, loving yourself isn’t as bad as it seems. It may actually be really good for you.
You’ve seen the advertisements and the videos — the Dove Self-Esteem Project is actually trying to drive that point into people. In a recent TED Talk, their Global Director, Meaghan Ramsey, provided some startling statistics:
1. Women who think they’re overweight, regardless of actual weight, have higher rates of absenteeism.
2. 17% of women would not show up to a job interview on a day when they weren’t feeling confident about the way they look.
3. People who give exams while thinking they don’t look good (specifically, thin) enough, score lower GPAs than those who are not concerned about this, regardless of actual weight. (findings consistent across Finland, US, China.)
4. 10,000 people every month Google ‘am I ugly’.
5. 6 out of 10 girls are now choosing to not do something because they don’t think they look good enough. ‘Something’ not being trivial activities, but are fundamental activities necessary for their development.
6. 31% of teenagers are withdrawing from classroom debate because they don’t want to draw attention to the way they look.
7. 1 in 5 (20%) is not showing up to class at all on days when they don’t feel good about it.
Additionally, as many as 10 million Americans are now struggling with eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, according to the National Eating Disorder Association. Though no Indian statistics are available, a 2005 study conducted by the ICMR shows the prevalence of several significant psychosocial factors among Indian children and adolescents. A lot of these factors are triggers for future self-esteem problems and eating disorders.
Honestly, this is getting beyond ridiculous. Not looking good enough? Why on earth would you miss out because of that? But as these statistics illustrate, that is exactly what is happening. Let’s talk about why.
To begin with, “Self-Image”. I found this on Google:
So, to say this again, the idea that you have of your traits, And I use ‘”traits” broadly — it can be your characteristics, your mannerisms, your habits — everything, including your looks – that’s where the trouble begins.
Because, when your self-image includes your looks, at some point of time, it may become exclusively about your looks. It may just be all about the way you look. And when you notice a blemish, or a fault, or a flaw, it seems more important than it actually is.
And that’s where the problem is! When you centre yourself on a flaw, you make yourself feel imperfect, you make your mind think that you’re an amalgamation of flaws with one or two nice bits. When, of course, it is the exact opposite. You have a few flaws — but who doesn’t have flaws? Who loves themselves for the way they are?
A Google search for ‘self-image’ reveals some utterly terrifying images. You can see some for yourself below:
See that girl there? Who’s looking in the mirror? You can just feel it. She’s terrified of what the mirror might show her.
And what are the slurs and comments thrown at women daily? They hear ugly/stupid/crazy/dumb/bitch — in short, not good enough. Try again next time. And why? Well, Meaghan gave us some reasons why.
She said that, in these times, during their teen years, admittedly the most vulnerable time of their lives, people start questioning their perception of themselves, whether they are pretty or ugly. But why?
She attributed it to the following reasons:
(a) Teenagers today are rarely alone. They are always available online, and this may be why they are over-connected, through posts, pictures, likes, comments, to people who are actually of no consequence.
(b) Obviously, this leads to no privacy for these teens and makes their life somewhat public. (Speaking of public lives, Keeping Up With The Kardashians, anyone?)
(c) It also makes them value or evaluate themselves based on the kind of feedback they receive from peers online, those oft-mentioned and oft-criticised posters, commenters, likers and viewers.
(d) This plethora of connectivity also means that for teenagers now, there is no separation between online and offline life.
(e) Thus, they cannot differentiate between what is real and virtual, authentic and digitally manipulated.
(f) They already have bad role models available online — trends such as thinspiration, pro-ana, bikini bridge — which are typically full of stereotyping and flagrant objectification of women.
(g) In an image-obsessed culture, we are training our kids to spend more time and mental effort on their appearance at the expense of all other aspects of their identities.
Some research suggests that it may start at even a younger age, when girls are given Barbie dolls to play with — Barbie as an ideal of a perfect young woman is seriously flawed. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Sussex in 2006 concluded that thin dolls like Barbie do affect young girls’ body image over time, and indeed, “may damage girls’ body image, which would contribute to an increased risk of disordered eating and weight cycling.”
A YouTube Video also shows how exactly Barbie affects body image. This video also talks about another bit of research, done in 2014, which shows how preschool girls want to be ‘thin’ so that they can look like Barbie. Come on, you’re in preschool!
And it isn’t just dolls and dudes — mothers, too, may play a more important role than they think. Research suggests that a same-sex parent is the most important role model for a child. So, when the kid comes home, and sees momma (or daddy, depends) working out like crazy, abstaining from eating certain foods, going through complicated beauty rituals or painful procedures just so that they look better, it is obvious that they’ll feel inadequate themselves.
In fact, one of the lead designers for Barbie has said that Moms are affecting the children’s body image issues more than their dolls (The whole interview can be found here). Things aren’t helped by people such as the Mom who put her 7-year-old on a diet, then wrote an article in Vogue about it.
And why is a positive self-image important? Obviously, the above statistics show how it matters, but also, it makes you confident, it makes your self-esteem go up, it gives your overall happiness a massive boost. As one HuffPost writer has pointed out, it gives you a glow and a special style of your own.
Well, okay then. We’ve established that people today are pretty screwed up about what they think about themselves — now what can we do about it?
Meaghan offers a range of solutions, grouped under the following heads:
A. Educate for body confidence
Help teens develop strategies to overcome image-related pressures and build their self-esteem. Ensure that programs which are trying to do this have both a positive impact as well as a lasting impact on kids. The best programs address six key areas:
(a) Family, friends and relationships
(b) Teasing and bullying
(c) Talking about appearance
(d) Media and celebrity culture
(e) Competing and comparing looks
(f) Respecting and looking after yourself
B. Be better role models
Challenge the status quo of how women are seen and talked about in our own circles. Start judging people on what they do and not on what they look like. Take responsibility for the types of pictures and comments that we post online. Compliment people based on their effort and actions, and not on appearance.
C. Work together
Communities, families, and governments should all get together to try and combat this problem.
The talk was mainly towards a group of older women, however. What can we do? Follow the above steps. Educate yourself. Be nicer to your younger siblings, to your peers, to your friends. Don’t make catty comments (this isn’t Mean Girls, you know) or unnecessary comparisons. Don’t draw ridiculous comparisons, period. It isn’t really helping either of you all that much. Eat well and eat all that you want. Rujuta Diwekar supports me on that.
And if you feel yourself having a problem, going down a spiral, or even if it’s just a bad hair day, talk. Open up to people. Give it a try. Seek help if you feel that you may be having an eating disorder or a weight issue. Nutritionists and therapists are not that hard to find, you know. A Google search is all it takes.
And you know those Barbies? Want to know how they’ll look like in reality? She’d be a crazy tall, crazy thin woman who’d be forced to walk on all fours and won’t be able to lift her neck.
Try the concept of Wabi-Sabi. It is a Japanese philosophy which believes in embracing your faults, taking in your flaws and accepting yourself just the way you are.