“Now every girl is expected to have Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall ass, long Swedish legs, small Japanese feet, the abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a nine-year-old boy, the arms of Michelle Obama, and doll tits… The person closest to actually achieving this look is Kim Kardashian, who, as we know, was made by Russian scientists to sabotage our athletes. Everyone else is struggling.”
– Tina Fey
The small, isolated population of the islands of Fiji had historically valued a robust, fuller figure.
When invited for dinner, guests were expected to eat until full capacity. Unbuttoning one’s trousers or laying down for a nap was the sign of a good, healthy meal much appreciated. (Sure wish that move was publicly acceptable today, amiright?)
In Fiji, “you’ve gained weight” was a common complement. Losing weight was worrisome to those around you. And eating disorders were virtually unheard of.
And then in 1995, anthropologist and Harvard professor, Anne E. Becker, happened to be there studying the culture when the government announced that the country would now have what so many other countries had had for decades: cable TV.
She decided to do a study on the effects of this new exposure to Western media on disordered eating among a group of adolescent girls. What she found, was that just a few years after the arrival of Melrose Place and Beverly Hills 90210, body image issues and purging to control weight not only arrived, but then dramatically increased.
By 1998, just three years after the arrival of TV, the percentages of girls who had induced vomiting to control their weight, were at risk of disordered eating, had been on a diet at some point in their young lives, felt the desire to eat less to lose weight and viewed themselves as fat, all increased dramatically from almost non-existent to higher and higher percentages.
This small, isolated, control group had turned out to be the perfect place to study the widespread and detrimental effects of media on our collective female psyche and body image.
To make a long story short, it’s really messed up.
We think we’re fat because we’ve been told we’re fat. Our entire lives. By the unrealistic portrayal of the female body in media. We were taught this. It is not inherent in our psyche.
The negative effect of media on our body image is a very real thing and we need to understand it and accept it if we are going to be able to change the way we see ourselves.
Basically, Brenda Walsh and the gang (and their stupid bangs) made us feel like we weren’t skinny enough so we started trying to lose weight. We started dieting. We started trying to mold ourselves into what we thought we should look like. And when we couldn’t, we started hating ourselves.
Dr. Becker’s work proves that the media we are consuming, whether directly or indirectly, from the world around us has a very real and very negative effect on our body image. Which is really important to nip in the bud, because those with poor body image are more likely to diet and more likely to gain weight than those who don’t. How’s that for unfair, eh?
Poor body image is really the beginning of the endless, exhausting cycle, the losing battle against our own bodies. It’s the launchpad for all of our attempts to change our bodies through deprivation and punishment in order to feel good enough and, ultimately, to be happy.
And it’s not an easy thing to overcome. Billions of dollars are spent annually on ads and entertainment that portray women’s bodies in unrealistic light. Airbrushing and photo editing remove wrinkles, pimples, cellulite and inches off the already tall, thin, beautiful outliers of our gender.
It’s in our sitcoms, commercials, movie theaters, on billboards and in magazines. Models sell us everything. And they sell us the idea that they are the ideal. That their perfectly polished, waxed, tanned, size double zero, 5’10” bodies are what we should look like.
And if we don’t look like them, we ought to at least try. Well, we ought to try if we want to be happy and valued and worthy of love and acceptance in society, that is.
Just have a look at Victoria’s Secret’s Perfect Body ad campaign last year. I’m not sure I need to say any more.
(P.S. Fuck off, Victoria’s Secret. Your store isn’t for women anyway.)
This negative body image, derived from media exposure, is where so many dieting and weight loss struggles originate. And that’s why it’s vital to understand and accept it’s affect on us, to call it out for the bullshit that it is.
Because whether we like it or not, we’re absorbing this message, at varying levels, from a very young age. And our mothers and friends and other women in our lives are absorbing it too. So if we don’t make these attempts to change our bodies on our own, they’ll certainly encourage us to with their behavior and rhetoric as well. Hardly any of us escapes it.
We feel like shit because we don’t look the way the world tells us we should look. This is where it all begins. Acknowledging, understanding and accepting that fact, becoming fully and deeply aware of it, is the first step toward positive, lasting change.
The next step would be to stop dieting. And we’d like to help you with that. We have a course coming soon that will teach you how to stop dieting and get your body and your life back. Pop your name in below if that’s something you’d be interested in.
Also published on Medium.