Take Control

May 19, 2010
April 21. “Dear Diary: All these Victoria’s Secret commercials keep popping up on TV. Every one is the same: a six-foot model is shown peering at her complexion in a mirror, arching her back and letting all the camera lights shine down on her glowing, bare legs (each with a six-inch circumference). Her lips are plump and her copper hair long and in perfectly tousled curls. Why don’t my legs look like that? Why aren’t my lips as voluptuous as hers? Why won’t my hair style like that? Dissatisfied, I put down my celery and headed downstairs to put the treadmill on its highest setting.” Does this sound familiar? Letting the media control thoughts, desires, the meaning for existence? According to the article, “For the Media,” eighty-six percent of women are disappointed with their appearance. Of these, thirty-four percent are willing to try diets that pose health risks, thirty-four percent are willing to go “under the knife,” and ninety-three percent have made various attempts to measure up to the impossible standards set by the media (2). Why has the media slowly but surely gained control of the minds of women everywhere? Is it perhaps that women have failed to take their good self-esteem off hold? That they have let physical ailments such as Anorexia and Bulimia control their well-being?

In a recent poll by People Magazine, eighty percent of women reported that the images of women in television and movies, fashion magazines, and advertising make them feel insecure about their appearance (“For the Media” 2). Over the past few decades, technology has increased, along with the media’s income. With each new cosmetic product sold, there is an equal economic profit. The media “machine” is economically driven as billions are spent on items such as cosmetics, new diets, and clothes. In her article, “Dying to Fit in—Literally! Learning to Love Our Bodies and Ourselves,” Christine Hartline states that they (the media) count on us buying into their myths and misrepresentations. “We will never fit in, we can never be happy, thus we can never end the pursuit” (2). Following the fads of the media aids in withering away physical, psychological, and financial resources. For what? Depression, despair, and depletions of self-esteem. The damage of a woman’s lifetime pursuit of thinness is impossible to measure. However, the images that surround us daily are digitally altered through photoshop and airbrushing (Hartline 2), and are creating a tighter and stronger grip about us and will continue until we snap. Thousands of women have become enslaved to these attacks on esteem, on women’s power, on self-worth. If already a prisoner of this war, wake up! Women need to take a personal inventory and examine their value system before sinking into the prison of repeat diets, repeat failure, and lifelong contempt for their bodies. We must be aware of the images presented to us and unmask them for what they truly are: destructive, superficial, and unattainable. We must reclaim and redefine our bodies as our own. Our bodies are biological and physiological miracles! Our bodies are not our enemies—they put us in motion; they create and sustain life. The list is endless as to the tasks that our bodies perform for us. Take a moment at this point in time and come to accept what you were given. By doing this, “you will learn to measure yourself by intrinsic qualities that are of far greater value and are far more beautiful than any image manufactured on a movie screen” (Hartline 2).

Trailing after the media in search of one’s identity not only costs time and money, but also emotional stability. How often do we look in the mirror and say, “If I could just lose ten pounds, then I would be happy”? Unfortunately, the majority of American women and adolescent girls are unhappy with their bodies, and many take extreme measures in an attempt to change their bodies, according to Nicole Hawkins in her article, “Battling Our Bodies: Understanding and Overcoming Negative Body Images” (1). One study found that sixty-three percent of female participants identified weight as a key factor in determining how they felt about themselves—more important than family, school, or career (Hawkins 1). Understanding that emotions are skin deep is a concept that most women cannot fully grasp. A negative body image is only a byproduct of negative emotions. When a woman looks at herself in the mirror and says, “Gross, I’m fat and disgusting,” she is really saying, “There is something wrong with me or with what I am feeling.” Insecurity can tap us on the shoulder at whatever given time, and when it does, out of human nature, we turn to something, or someone, to blame. Women in particular turn to their bodies. They put down their bodies by calling them fat, when in reality, “fat” is never a feeling, but the avoidance of feelings. Human emotions are some of the most powerful forces on the planet; however, they are also the most unexplained. If manipulated correctly and decisively, they can control a whole being. Once the base of one’s entire sanity “goes out the window,” logic becomes myth, fact becomes fiction, and food becomes the enemy.

When anorexics look in the mirror, they are convinced they see a “fat” person. Adolescent girls with eating disorders often exhibit unequivocal body image misperception, in which they misperceive the size of part, or the entire body. Hence, they are “blind” to their own figures (Hawkins 3). This battle of distortion between mind and body has continued to drag on generation after generation and cannot be ignored any longer. Fact: genes determine twenty-five to seventy percent of a person’s body. As stated by Kathy Bowen-Woodward in her book Coping With a Negative Body-Image, “you could diet all your life and exercise ten hours a day, seven days a week, and you would never look like the models in your fashion magazines. You have different ingredients—will bake into a different kind of cake. You have a different design—will be a different kind of car” (17). Those with eating disorders find themselves listening to the person on the television screen rather than reality. These voices of the media bury themselves into the minds of anorexics and bulimics and eventually end up controlling their thoughts completely. Dr. Alvin, Virginia B., and Robert Silverstein wrote in their book So You Think You’re Fat? that Anorexia Nervosa (completely starving yourself) has a mortality rate of ten percent, meaning that it kills one out of every ten people who have it (46). These numbers are the highest of any psychiatric illness. As stated by Arthur Schoenstadt in his article “Bulimia Statistics,” bulimia and associated weight concerns are beginning at earlier ages, with concerns of body weight and image emerging in girls as young as nine years old. A recent study found that seven percent of sixth-grade girls surveyed reported that they first became concerned about their weight between the ages of nine and eleven (2). Schoenstadt also asserts, regarding his article “Anorexia and Bulimia,” that research shows more than ninety percent of those who have anorexia and bulimia are women between the ages of twelve and twenty-five. These eating disorders often are long-term illnesses that may require long-term treatment. In addition, they frequently occur with other mental disorders, such as depression, substance abuse, and anxiety disorders (1). When will the voices cease? Who will silence them? How can it be stopped?

We must take control of these emotions by fighting back. Fight “Fatism”: work on accepting people of all shapes and sizes. This will help women to appreciate their own bodies (Hawkins 2). Make a list of those you admire most that have not obtained “perfect” bodies. Does their physical appearance affect your feelings toward them? Also, keep in mind that society’s standards of today are vastly different than those of fifty years ago. The “ideal beauties” of the 1940’s and 1950’s, such as Marilyn Monroe (size 14) and Mae West (size 18), were full-figured and truly beautiful women. However, such icons would be considered “overweight” today. The average woman is five feet, four inches tall and weighs 140 pounds. The average American model is five feet, eleven inches tall and weighs 117 pounds. Most fashion models are thinner than ninety-eight percent of American women (“For the Media” 3). This being said, if you ever have the temptation to call themselves fat, useless, or inadequate, instead you should state positive things such as, “My body is perfect just the way it is, and no one can convince me otherwise;” “My body is my friend. It is always giving and providing all that I need without asking anything in return;” “I take great pride in my size and find confidence with every step;” “My inner beauty and individuality shine brighter every day;” or, “Beauty is not just skin deep, but a reflection of my whole self. I love and enjoy the person that I am.” If every woman lets herself know how much she is loved, it will aid in healing the “unhealable” scars. It is time to change; change begins from within and radiates out. Let's begin.





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