As you can tell by the title of this post, I’ll be discussing sensitive topics that some may find triggering or would rather not read about. So I’ll start off with a trigger warning including body dysmorphia, eating disorders, mental illness, and other related topics. With that being said, welcome to the world of distorted body image created by societal pressures, stereotypes and outdated beauty standards! Isn’t it just stunning? It sure doesn’t impact our mental health or encourage unhealthy coping mechanisms to force ourselves into a one-size-fits-all standard, right? Totally doesn’t influence women, and men, into sacrificing their well-being in order to be accepted within a society that makes loving ourselves come across as controversial/impossible, right? Right…well, let’s get into how it does all of these wonderful things and more.
We’ve all been there before: you’re looking in the mirror, probably after a shower or getting dressed for the day, giving your body the run down and ultimately feeling disappointed, unmotivated, and all that super fun stuff. But where does that disappointment come from? What plants the seed for dissatisfaction towards our bodies? We tend to underestimate the mental and physical impact of specific body types being forced down our throats, whether it comes from social media, celebrities, unrealistic health standards, or even friends and family.
With the constant outpour of instamodels, fitness gurus, and overly edited posts, the influence of social media heavily impacts our mental image of what beautiful is “supposed to look like”. Women are trained to imagine the ideal body as tall but not too tall, “slim-thicc” but not too slim but also not too “thicc”, perfect hair but still natural, with crystal clear skin and no make-up whatsoever…pretty standard right? Especially when our favourite celebrities “naturally” fit the criteria, it’s hard not to compare every detail of ourselves to the women and men we love and look up to. Unfortunately, this image is considered the standard and impacts women of all ages, sizes, and colours, as explained in this article by King University. Through studies conducted by the Florida House Experience, 87% of women compare their bodies to those they view on social media, with 50% of said women comparing their bodies “unfavourably”. The article goes on to explain the negative impact of altered images alongside easy access to editing applications, giving social media users a false sense of self and security which further instills the obsession with insta-qualifications of body image. Not only does this play into body modifications, but also touches on softer alterations that can easily be viewed as insignificant. Let me ask you this, not as a call out or put down, but as an eye-opener. How many of the applications below have you used (in regards to filters/modifications), and if you use them, why?
So as to why, do you fall into the “I use stupid filters to meme with the homies” or more of an “I feel the need to fit a certain standard to the point that I don’t look like a real person and develop forms of self-hatred towards my natural appearance” category? I’d hope it’s the first, but for many including myself, we often find ourselves experiencing the latter. It isn’t always huge alterations like slimming our waists or changing our face shape that play into this negative outlook. Subtle fixes like smoothing skin, editing eye colours, removing cellulite, and more play into unrealistic ideals that impact self-esteem and self-love. Even the ways we pose to appear taller, smaller, thinner, thicker, sharper, etc. all play into our outlook towards body image. These subtle fixes teach us that in order to be beautiful we must be posed, sucking it in, pushing it out, and distorting our bodies to look like everyone else…despite the fact that everyone else doesn’t even look like everyone else due to the same modifications. Social media is a hard platform to conquer in regards to self-love and confidence. Through hate comments, trends, the want for likes and follows, and now the obsession with becoming popular or famous, it’s hard to remember that our natural form is beautiful and worth embracing wholeheartedly.
Even when we step away from the socials, these comments and standards seem to follow us through the gaze of family, cultural norms, and “friends”. This one is for all my ethnic ladies, how many times has Aunty or Uncle called you “healthy” upon greeting you? It stings, and for those who haven’t experienced this, the use of healthy is referring to gaining weight or looking bigger than usual. How about this, has a “friend” ever made a comment on your appearance as a “light-hearted joke or pointer” that made you feel bad about yourself? Or maybe cultural influence such as movies, celebrities, and harmful ideologies following one, and ONLY one, standard for the female body? These concepts are further amplified for women of colour, where ethnically fuelled stereotypes on body image are pushed to the extremes. Whether it’s the expectation to have an hourglass figure, be extremely thin, to look like popular stars from back home, or to be a hybrid of it all, culture often reinforces impossible standards that ultimately amplify concepts of objectification and sexualization of women’s bodies. Obviously, this list goes on for various ethnicities and cultural backgrounds, but you don’t need someone who isn’t a part of your ethnic/cultural background telling you about your own hardships. So let’s talk about said body image hardships through a different lens, focusing on eating disorders and mental illnesses that often become a stepping stone in the transition from female childhood to adulthood.
Trigger Warning: Eating Disorders, Mental Illnesses, Body Dysmorphia
Through these media and culturally reinforced ideals, women are yet again forced through an hourglass-shaped hole in the wall, where only the genetically gifted, fitness-obsessed, or mentally and physically debilitated can fit through. Most of you likely know what happens when these comments, social media influence, and form-fitting ideologies add up, and it’s an unfortunate reality for many women, even little girls. Although studies lack concrete evidence to claim these concepts as a direct cause, they show prominent links between their association. According to this article by the National Library of Medicine, links between Instagram in particular and Orthorexia are prevalent, which often leads to a well-known eating disorder, Anorexia Nervosa. Orthorexia is classified as an obsession or fixation on “healthy eating”, linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder, which ultimately limits what one eats to a highly refined list of “healthy items”. This fixation becomes an issue once this refined list becomes so restricted that primary food items are viewed as unhealthy, often leading to the avoidance of eating altogether. This links into anorexia nervosa, defined as an eating disorder characterized by weight loss, difficulties maintaining an appropriate body weight for height, age, and stature, and in many individuals, distorted body image.
Social media also plays into mental disorders such as body dysmorphia, as explained in this article by the Lexington Line. The article states “constant exposure to altered images can lead to an unhealthy pressure to achieve unrealistic body types, which can result in body dysmorphic behaviours”. This ultimately instills an obsession with body image and certain body parts in particular within those affected, such as the stomach, hips, thighs and arms. Social media also holds links to depression and anxiety, with constant exposure increasing body image fixation and related symptoms such as:
- Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased cravings for food and weight gain
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or self-blame
- Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
- Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
These symptoms differ slightly in regards to young children, which include:
- sadness, irritability, clinginess, worry, aches and pains, refusing to go to school, or being underweight
And again, symptoms differ with teenagers/young adults, including but not limited to:
- sadness, irritability, feeling negative and worthless, anger, poor performance or poor attendance at school, feeling misunderstood and extremely sensitive, using recreational drugs or alcohol, eating or sleeping too much, self-harm, loss of interest in normal activities, and avoidance of social interaction
Although the focus has been on mental illnesses and eating disorders, these aspects also play into harmful relationships with fitness and physical activity. Especially throughout this lovely pandemic, many have turned to home workouts as a healthy distraction from the vast list of Covid-19 unknowns. This healthy lifestyle becomes detrimental once the constant flow of fitness-inspo is introduced, increasing body dissatisfaction, obsessive relationships with fitness, as well as triggering unhealthy behaviours to those with a history of eating disorders, according to (this article). How many times have you scrolled through your feed only to find:
Fitspo has become an opportunity to reinforce unrealistic standards, as well as preying on those who lack body confidence by encouraging the blind trust of fitness influencers rather than trained professionals. Yes, these people may have banging bodies which are *wink* totally not *wink* the result of *wink* surgery and editing *wink* hidden behind sponsored health scams *wink*. Even the fittest of fit further enhance their figure, lie about their progress and how they got there, and pose to appear a certain size. Take Kim Kardashian for example, who not only promotes appetite suppressants, harmful waist trainers, and the excessive use of FaceTune, but also lies to her young and impressionable fans that her body is natural, no surgery involved, and totally not plastic… #SaveTheTurtles.
I respect and support women and their personal preferences to change their body in whichever ways they please. This includes plastic surgery, injections, botox, implants, etc. Kim K is just an example of media manipulation and toxic fitspo, further amplifying distorted perceptions of the “average” female body. Please don’t cancel me. xoxo
Despite all of the super fun things you just read that totally didn’t dampen the mood, let’s shift the focus to a more positive aspect of this topic. I’d like to bring your attention to the fact that despite the unrealistic body standards that women, and men, are coerced into following within our society, 2020 has been a year of growth and dismantling said standards. Body positivity, inclusivity, and appreciation have been at an all-time high throughout social media, the modelling industry, the workplace, as well as being integrated into our lifestyle. This emphasis has also been placed on the importance of mental health and wellness, reducing the stigma around it and normalizing self-expression as well as hard conversations.
Instead of focusing on our flaws, we learn to embrace them and uplift one another rather than changing to fit an outdated standard. Our generation may be questionable at times, but despite the endless amount of hardships we face, we’re always moving mountains regardless of their daunting size. Even throughout a literal pandemic, we still find ways to help one another and make change when it’s due. In times of need, we come together, we protest, we fundraise, we change the narrative to focus on equality, inclusivity, diversity and love. We continue to stand for what we believe in, even when it feels like the world is against us. We emphasize empowerment, uniqueness, perfection within imperfection, and all the little lessons laced in between the steps we’ve taken forward. In a society that made the game impossible to win, we became the game changers, simply changing the rules rather than changing ourselves. We are the game changers, the dismantlers, the mountain movers, with our hearts on our sleeves and empowerment in our hearts.