How to Fight Against Our Culture’s Beauty Obsession and Gain Self-Love + Acceptance

Recently, on a walk, Tanner & I were talking about how we want to raise Willa Jean. We were talking about complex issues & topics that have been on my mind a lot lately—>From my thoughts on the book Beauty Sick by Renee Engeln to the super bowl halftime to intuitive eating & my expertise, to human trafficking to woman empowerment & even to modesty… there’s a lot (clearly lol) I’ve been trying to learn & decide where I stand. As parents (still crazy to say☺️😜), Tan & I know that the way we raise Willa will have a huge influence on how she feels about herself & these topics. One thing particularly that we know we want to do (as best as we can) is raise her to have self-love & acceptance. We want her to know that she is far more than her body size, shape, and looks & that she can accomplish anything she puts her mind to. In order to do this, we know we need to be an example. We need to be kind & confident in ourselves & to others & do everything we can to fight against the cultural obsession of appearance.

This blogpost is a combination of notes from the book “Beauty Sick”, from my fav account on Instagram @beautyredefined & from my own personal thoughts & experiences as a Registered Dietitian. I talk about negative body image & what “beauty sick” is, unrealistic beauty ideals, how they affect us &  how to overcome them, and how to find peace with yourself & body.

Negative Body Image

“Body image is a complex phenomenon that involves how an individual perceives, thinks and feels about their physical self.” Holding a negative body image can affect a person’s sense of well-being and can be related to many mental health conditions including anxiety, depression, social anxiety, body dysmorphic disorder and eating disorders.

Unrealistic Beauty Ideals

As humans, we are born with self-confidence and love for our bodies. Overtime, with exposure to media and marketing, we start monitoring our body and negative body image or talk finds a place in our lives. Why? Because of our culture’s unrealistic beauty standards. These “ideals” are based on magazines, social media, and advertising that take the most beautiful women, give them everything they need to look even more perfect(including photoshop touch-ups), and then tell the world that everyone should look like this.

While I was in college studying Dietetics and working as a Personal Trainer at our university’s gym I wrote a blogpost about called “Stop the Fat Talk & Start the Self-Love”  In it I list examples of how we are influenced to believe achieving these unrealistic beauty ideals is not only normal, but expected.

  • a quick search of ‘beautiful women’ and/or healthy women’ into google images shows a particular representation of the unrealistic beauty ideal our culture has. Most images do not include different body shapes that can also be considered ‘healthy’.
  • social media pressures including Instagram posed fitness model pictures & Pinterest “Bye Bye Thigh Gap” exercise instructions
  • tabloids are at every checkout stand in America with titles like “How to Lose 20lbs in 1 Week”
  • the diet industry(a 60 billion dollar/year industry) flooding the world with new diets and supplements every week
  • Sitcoms so frequently using overweight characters’ bodies as the basis of many of the show’s jokes.

Due to societal expectations of what is considered beautiful or attractive and the media being saturated with particular representations of ‘healthy men & women’ and ‘#fitspo’, it is no surprise that people tend to perceive their bodies negatively and often engage in negative body talk.

Negative Body Talk & Beauty Sickness

Negative body talk involves voicing concerns or talking negatively about our appearance in relation to weight, body parts or comparing our bodies to others.  It includes, but is not limited to “old talk”(talking negatively about grey hair, wrinkles, aging spots), “ugly talk”(lip size, hair type, skin color)  & “fat talk”(body size & shape). There are many things considered negative body talk for example: even asking someone if they have lost weight, which can be meant in a positive way, is actually categorized as negative body talk as it is reinforcing the stereotypical view that everyone should aspire to be skinny and lose weight. .

Humans of various ages, all genders, ethnicities, and body sizes are constantly engaging in negative body talk. It’s a huge problem. Why? Because negative body talk & body shaming DO NOT motivate healthy behaviors. I repeat… picking apart your body & comparing it to our cultures unrealistic beauty ideals WILL NOT improve your overall health. Instead it will likely cause you to feel shame.

Shame makes you want to disappear. It’s global, hard to shake & often opens the door to anxiety, depression & eating disorders. The act of body monitoring & feeling shame becomes a cycle. The more emphasis you put on your physical appearance= the more shame you tend to feel. Why? Because our cultures beauty ideal is out of reach for almost all women & we are probably going to end up in the losing end of that comparison.

So what is beauty sickness? Watch this TedTalk, “An Epedemic of Beauty Sickness” by Renne Engeln. Here are some examples of beauty sickness:

  • not leaving your house or going to a particular activity because you aren’t wearing makeup & you think you don’t look good enough.
  • looking in a full-length mirror & feeling shame about your body (parts).
  • plastic surgery/injections slowing signs of aging or for “beauty enhancement” as if you weren’t beautiful enough alone. (This approach takes young women who are already worried about how they look, then tells them it’s only going to get worse as they age. Interesting thought to realize that some feel like you’re not even thirty & starting  the downhill slope. Are looks really the most important?)

Basically it’s what happens when women spend so much time worrying about weight loss goals, state of their body, their looks, etc. You become an observer of yourself and spend all your time worrying about what other people think of you other. When you are in beauty sickness you can’t focus on other things.

Fighting Against Beauty Sickness

Recognizing negative body talk and “beauty sickness” will give you the tools to evaluate your thoughts & realize what they mean. Acknowledging them in your life and making the chose to get rid of them will get you on the path to finding self-love and acceptance.

Here’s a part of it & 15 things we can do to fight beauty sickness & come to love yourself:

  1. Acknowledge that beauty will always matter to the human mind and that’s okay, BUT it shouldn’t matter as much as it does today. We don’t have to turn off the want for beauty, but we need to turn it down. 👏
  2. Realize that there are parts of ourselves that we will like more than others and that’s okay. You don’t have to love every part of yourself.. but rather just realize that’s who you are & come to accept it.
  3. Don’t seek out media that features idealized, objectified, beauty-focused images of women. If you encounter them, give them as little of your attention as possible.
  4. Reconnect with your body’s breathtaking range of abilities. Think about what your body helps you to do, what your arms hold, what your legs allow you to do, how your body expresses your deepest emotions, what it facilitates, it’s internal systems, and when your body feels strongest. Focus on what your body CAN do & you will be motivated to care for it—no matter how it looks.
  5. Put beauty in its place behind the other things that matter more to you. Do this by creating a list of things that matter to you & see how many things top beauty. Putting beauty in its place will mean different things to different women—and that’s perfectly fine. It should still play a role in our lives; just not an outsized role.
  6. Don’t compare yourself to other people (including media images of women/men).
  7. Make deliberate choices to turn down beauty sickness over and over again until it becomes a habit.
  8. Control the words that come out of your mouth. Stop the negative body talk. Don’t attack yourself or the bodies of other women/men. Studies show that negative body talk intensifies dissatisfaction of our bodies. It’s more than just stopping “fat talk” we need to stop “old talk”(grey hair, wrinkles), “ugly talk”(lip size, hair type)  & “fat talk”(body size & shape). Also stop praising others for how they look. This reiterates that looks matter most. For example: Don’t call your daughters pretty (don’t call them ugly, but rather focus on their other qualities & strengths). We as humans have plenty of important things to talk about it—let’s focus on those. Words really do have more weight and meaning than we can imagine.
  9. Don’t choose clothing that requires so much body monitoring as it distracts you from what’s going on around you. Embrace function over form.
  10. Shift your perspective on your body. Think of it as an instrument and not an ornament.
  11. Instead of focusing on numbers, focus on feeling better, being healthier, enjoying movement & feeling stronger.
  12. Don’t pressure your daughters, family members or friends about their weight or body size. Don’t.
  13. Practice self-compassion. In moments of self-doubt (we all have these) treat yourself with kindness and warmth. Self-compassion doesn’t require approval or input from other people; it’s all dependent on you. It only takes practice.
  14. Learn to love food instead of making it the enemy. Don’t diet, rather practice intuitive eating & gentle nutrition. Learn to see food as something that brings you together with others & creates community & hospitality. This will create peace with food and your body.
  15. Run away from the mirror and face the world🌏, realize you are deserving of love NO MATTER how you look, & go reach those dreams of yours!

 

You can make meaningful cultural change by taking steps in your own life to lessen the focus on appearance and by encouraging others to do the same. Let’s do this together & live large! 🙌💪

Resources:

  1. Body image definitions: https://www.adavic.org.au/PG-articles-body-image-how-to-overcome-negative-body-talk.aspx
  2. https://beautyredefined.org/
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63XsokRPV_Y

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