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Body Image and Self Esteem

This is the story of A.

As A grabbed a slice of bread to go with her lunch, her all time crush, C, yelled at her “Don’t put butter on it. You’re getting fat. No one wants to date a fat girl.”

A was a 20 year old, perfectly healthy, impressionable girl, who blamed her ‘not skinny’ figure for lacking a boyfriend and, desperate to get one, ended up existing on a daily diet of carrots, yoghurts and cereals. Despite a lot of people telling her how beautiful she was, she could not see it. Everytime she saw herself in a mirror, she had a panic attack and she only wished she were someone else. After losing 44 pounds in less than two months, looking at herself in the mirror, she still could not see herself the way everybody else did. In the meantime, while she was starving herself, she was not feeling prettier, either. Only more miserable, instead.

Sadly, this is not only the story of A.

I have recently read that approximately 91% of women are unhappy with their bodies and resort to dieting to achieve their ideal body shape. Your ideal body shape depends on various factors such as your age, the country you come from or the culture you have been raised in. Media inevitably play an important role, too. Unfortunately, only 5% of women naturally possess the body type often portrayed by the media. In fact, the real world is very different from the way media portray body types. While your body image is the mental picture you have of your body, your self-esteem is the ‘real’ opinion you have of yourself, how you value and respect yourself as a person. It goes without saying that how you feel about your body can deeply affect your self-esteem.

Women do not simply decide to hate their bodies. We teach them to. We are forced to believe that the kind of beauty models we are exposed to, are real and easily attainable, but the truth is that many actresses we see on TV have endured hours of exercise and have deprived themselves of the proper nutrition in order to maintain a thin figure. Some even resort to plastic surgery, liposuction and breast implants. The use of such unrealistic models sends an implicit message that in order for a woman to be considered beautiful, she must be unhealthy. Also, diet commercials are constantly appearing on our television screens telling us that once we lose weight, we will be happy.

It’s not our body, though, that needs to fit our clothes. It should be the other way around. We should dress our body finding a dress which is right for our body type. Too often I see girls starving themselves to look pretty in a dress. For instance, all women seem to want a thigh gap nowadays. The “thigh gap”, a space between your thighs so they are not touching while you are standing, is the latest body trend launched by thousands of blogs that has become the main pressure point on women’s self-image. According to most teenagers, thigh gaps make skinny jeans look sexy. While I understand that some women have a genetic predisposition being petite and very slender, for most women thigh gaps are impossible to get and disordered eating may be the only way to achieve this body goal.

We spend a lot of money trying to look the way society tells us we need to look. But are all these efforts even worth it? If diets really worked, why are there so many? The reason why a new diet pops out every month is because last months diet didn’t work. Unfortunately, most diets do not work properly and those which do, are not without consequences. In most cases, as soon as you start dieting, you automatically set yourself up for failure. Most diets on the market at the moment are very unhealthy and deprive you of the proper nutrition your body needs in order to survive. They can therefore lead to health problems. Not to mention the countless low-carbs myths. I don’t think none of us need to take a college class to understand low-carb eating. However, some people assume it means they should just eat meat all day. Also, some people believe that because low-carb is a good idea, then low-fat and low-carb combined together will be even better. Huge mistake!

You need to get energy from somewhere and if you don’t eat carbs, then you must add in fat to compensate. If you don’t, you will get hungry, feel bad and eventually give up on the plan. Nothing will sabotage a diet faster than hunger.

I am not saying that dieting is completely wrong or useless. Eating a balanced diet and working out regularly go hand in hand and are good for your health. It’s unfortunate, though, that in today’s society, people have forgotten that it’s what’s inside a person that counts, not what’s on the outside. We need to start loving and accepting each other for who we are, not what we look like, especially because reflections in the mirror can be easily distorted by socially constructed ideas of beauty.

Next time you decide that you are going to start another diet because you feel you are too fat, say to yourself the actual reasons why you want to lose weight. Is it because you are truly unhappy with your body or is it because somehow you are firmly convinced that nobody is ever going to like you the way you look now? Take a minute to reflect and maybe sign up for a self-esteem class instead. If we learn to love and accept ourselves, we will also begin to love our bodies, no matter what size we are. After all, beauty, health and strength come in all sizes. Your weight does not and will never define your self-worth.

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