What exactly is body image? Sarah Grogan, author of Body Image: Understanding Body Dissatisfaction in Men, Women and Children defines body image as “‘a person’s perceptions, thoughts and feelings about his or her body” and argues from as young as eight, most Western girls experience some dissatisfaction with their bodies. It’s not just young girls and women who feel this way. Studies have found that from the age of eight years old, boys are concerned about their body shape as well.
So you want to be perfect. But what does that mean?
We all know that what is regarded as ideal changes with the prevailing fashion of the day. The voluptuous curves of Marilyn Monroe were considered perfect in the 1950s but the waif-like figure of Twiggy was popular in the sixties; in the 1990s the so-called supermodels were mostly tall and athletically built, but fashion goes in cycles and it swung back to very slender figures. The death of a young model in 2006 sparked a huge media debate when it was revealed that she had been starving in order to conform to the trend for “size zero” models.
Perfect is a myth!
There is no one type of body for men or women that everyone at every point in history has agreed is ideal. Some cultures prize bigger bodies, some slimmer bodies; some men admire a small rear end or perky breasts, others prefer large breasts and buttocks; some women like men with six packs, others prefer their men cuddly.
If you feel bad about your body, remember this: there is a billion dollar industry dedicated to making us feel bad about our physical appearance. Every day we are confronted with images of perfect people on television, in magazines, on billboards, on public transport and even in toilet cubicles. While we may well know that models and actors are not representative of society, and that many of these images have been airbrushed to remove even the tiniest imperfections, this constant bombardment can be difficult to ignore.
To make matters worse, there are loads of people and products that promise to “fix” our bodies for us. You’ll find tens of thousands of diet books and exercise DVDs for sale on sites like Amazon, some of which claim to give miraculous results in no time at all. While books and DVDs Since 2000, there has been a huge increase in the interest in plastic surgery. The back pages of women’s magazines carry adverts for cosmetic procedures and surgery is a staple in many ‘make-over’ television shows. What was once the preserve of Hollywood stars is available to all, and treatments such as botox, breast enhancement or liposuction are often regarded as ‘empowering’. For some people they may be, but a lot of the time plastic surgery patients just fixate on another part of their body once they have work done, or they find that even though they look different, they don’t feel different.
Poor body image doesn’t always come about because we genuinely need to shed a few pounds — millions of men, women and children with suffer from poor body image regardless of their actual shape and size. The reasons why people develop poor body images are complex, and although the media plays a role other factors, such as our peer groups, parents, teachers and friends come into play. Unfortunately for most of us, society rewards those who fit into the prevailing aesthetic culture. Thinness in women and lean muscular bodies in men are associated with happiness, success, youthfulness and attractiveness, while overweight people are sometimes stigmatismed as lazy, lacking in willpower and unattractive. Overweight children are more likely to be ignored by their peers and overweight adults may be overlooked for jobs and promotions.
Not having a body that fits into the current aesthetic can affect our self-confidence and make us feel unattractive. In extreme cases, we may even feel worthless, hopeless and undeserving of the love and attention of our partners. Feelings of body dissatisfaction may make us feel wary of being sexually intimate with our partners. Men may feel unable to satisfy their partners; and it’s not uncommon for women to demand that all the lights be turned off when they are having sex or to insist on wearing at least some clothes in bed.
We are not going to promise you a quick fix to your body image problems. There are no easy solutions. If your body image is affecting your self-confidence or your relationship, it is important to get help. A good therapist can help you understand the reasons why you feel so negative about your body and assist you to build a more positive body image.