Imagine this scenario: you have an adorable little 5’4” friend, but she’s unhappy with her height. So unhappy, in fact, that she struggles for her entire life trying desperately to be 6’0”. Would you tell her that that she’s crazy?
OK, new scenario, and tell me if this one sounds familiar: you have an adorable friend who’s a size 8. She frequently complains to you about how fat her thighs are and pinches her tummy in your general direction, widening her eyes with a piercing look of disgust. In order to lose that “extra weight” she’s carrying, she diets and goes to the gym all too frequently.
In reality, these two scenarios are no different. Sarah Rankin, a health educator through Western’s Prevention and Wellness Services, gave me the fabulous example of women struggling with their own genetic makeup. With the constant bombardment of “ideal women” from the media, and younger and younger girls getting serious eating disorders, it’s clear that negative body image is rampant in the United States. “Society thinks [body image] is an important issue, but hasn’t figured out what to do about it in any real sense,” said Rankin.
Despite Dove’s advertising campaign featuring the promotion of healthy-sized models, the overall image the media portrays to girls is still one where, as Rankin stated, “a size six is considered obese.” In order to help combat the damaging effects of media and pop culture, the Positive Body Image group– a part of the Lifestyle Advisers– is sponsoring Body Pride week, a whole host of events surrounding promotion of a positive body image.
“We are trying to promote the concept of positive body image and empower women to try to learn about the media and effect of the images that we are bombarded with,” said Rankin. “[You] need to break free of products they’re trying to sell you when you when we all look fabulous the way we are.”
A classic example of unrealistic ideas for an “ideal” body type is doled out to children every day. We’ve all heard the astounding facts about Barbie’s ridiculous figure– my personal favorite being that if Barbie was a real woman, she’d have to walk on all fours due to her massively disproportionate breast to waist ratio.
To look further at the damage this little lady is inflicting on the youth of our country, the humorous documentary, “I, Doll: The Unauthorized Biography of America’s 11 1/2” Sweetheart,” will be shown in the Communications Facility, Room 125, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 2.
A couple fun facts this documentary exposes are that Barbie’s design was wrought from a German sex doll named Lilli and that there are more Barbies in the United States than actual people. Though the film brings lighthearted comedy to the issue, it also serves up some touching commentary through interviews with women and girls from many different cultures about the effect that Barbie has on them. An open discussion will be lead following the film.
Despite Barbie’s universal presence, girls aspiring to be thin are just one of the factions of society that deals with body issues. “I know a lot of guys with [body image issues], especially how the media is telling guys that they need to be big and buff,” said Kelly Crawford, president of the Positive Body Image group. “Men are developing eating disorders, too…girls want to be smaller while guys want to be hyper masculine which is just as destructive to your body.”
Rankin chimed in, describing the “Queer Eye Effect.” “[Being a] metrosexual has become a new trend. I read an article the other day that said that beauty products that had been marketed solely to women have seen a 29% increase in men’s purchases over just one year.” In order to find out more about this development personally, Rankin discussed her trip to visit a Macy’s Clinique counter, where a new line of men’s wrinkle cream has been introduced. Rankin expressed shock that men would actually march up to a makeup counter and purchase an expensive facial cream, but the employee said that they definitely are making the sales.
Why don’t we hear about men’s issues with body image? “Men don’t feel like they have permission to articulate these problems,” Rankin said. “Given our misogynistic culture, men have a hard time admitting to having a ‘woman’s’ problem.”
After hearing that statement, it really clicked: As a girl, I am constantly barraged by my girlfriends’ negative self-talk. Once one girl begins the negativity circus, all girls in the vicinity chip in their two cents about their fat bums and flabby tummies. Can you imagine hearing this amongst football players in the locker room?
Another less talked about body issue is with girls who aren’t complaining about their extra weight, but who are in fact upset with how skinny they are. This may sound absurd to some girls out there, but can you imagine being constantly accused of having an eating disorder? Both Rankin and Crawford discussed the struggle of very thin girls who are persistently told to eat more. “If you’re too heavy or too thin, you’re [considered to be] not healthy,” Rankin said. “There actually is a lot of research out there supporting the fact that you can be healthy at almost any size.”
Facilitating discussion and acceptance is yet another reason for Body Pride Week as “people don’t like to discuss their insecurities with body image… though a lot of people do struggle with it,” according to Crawford.
In an effort to get out and spread their message of self-acceptance, the Positive Body Image group is by putting on the annual “Food Is Fun” event in Red Square. This year, Red Square will be chocked full of free food on Wednesday, March 1 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m, courtesy of the likes of Mallards Ice Cream and local pizzerias. The idea is to trade your fear of food for a more healthy and moderate relationship with the necessary fuel.
The wise words of Derek Zoolander will also be spreading the word about and supporting a healthy body image on colorful t-shirts that will be sold for $12 in front of the Viking Union on Tuesday, February 28 and Thursday, March 2 by the Body Pride Group. The shirts are made in kelly green or blue with a picture of Derek Zoolander’s face and the quote, “There’s more to life than being ridiculously good looking,” emblazoned across the front.
Putting healthy foods in your body is yet another way to respect the skin you’re in. For those of you who are living in the dorms and coping with the unhealthy foods in the cafeterias or if you’re living on campus and find yourself eating Ramen instead of chicken breasts, an “Ask A Nutritionist” table will be set up in the Wade King Student Recreation Center from 4 to 6 p.m. on Tuesday, February 28..
One question that bubbled up in my mind while learning about all of these events is where the pressure to look like a runway model actually comes from. Clearly, the media is the catchall explanation for propagation of unhealthy images, but as a nation we’ve seemed to realize this and yet nothing has really changed in the grand scheme of things.
Rankin had a fascinating point of view on the media’s stronghold on ridiculous ideals. “If we were all going around feeling really confident and satisfied, why would we buy [these companies’] products?” Rankin described the incredible amount of money that is invested in making us feel inadequate about ourselves so we keep buying more and more products in order to feel like an attractive person.
Even then, have you ever stopped to think about why attaining ideals of beauty is coupled with happiness? Crawford gave one reason why college kids should try to adopt a positive body image. “So many people aren’t worried about getting up 2 hours early to look cute for class. It’s ok, but don’t let this get in the way of other aspects of your life! Shouldn’t we be more worried about personal growth than how other people see us?”
If you’re interested in making a change within yourself to stop the destructive habits of physical self-hatred, the Body Pride Week is a wonderful opportunity to start on your way. If you’re interested in more personal (or anonymous) help, contact the Lifestyle Advisors office in Old Main 560 at 650-2993 to get in touch with a peer educator from the Positive Body Image group.
The Lifestyle Advisors are a group of 50 peer educators from different social, ethnic and religious backgrounds who are aimed at bringing their intensive training in various aspects of health to Western’s campus community in a positive and empowering way. The Positive Body Image group is a collection of 12 students who volunteer a total of 60 hours a week to in an effort to pursue to goal of “developing a positive relationship with our bodies, finding freedom from calorie counting, disordered eating, excessive exercise patterns, and fat phobia,” according to their web site.