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Emma Young

Body Image, The Media, and The Confusion for Millennial Women

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As women we're told verbally it’s important to love yourself.  But we’re told through images that more important than self-love is weight loss.  Yes folks, this is going to be a body-image post.  And sitting down to write was incredibly frustrating for me, because I felt like I had all of these great points to make – intelligent points that so many women have made before me – and yet I also felt incredibly powerless.  At times I feel like this notion of thin-ness as a prerequisite for beauty is unbeatable. We’ve all discussed it and railed against it, but what’s changed?

Most of the people I see in shows or movies are overwhelmingly skinny, and if they’re not then it’s something I take note of, because it’s an anomaly to see someone who looks ‘average.’  Magazines still sport headlines on ‘how to get a flat stomach in five days’ or ‘so-and-so has finally lost her baby weight’ (or whatever equally banal weight-based discoveries we’re supposed to care about).  And interviewers are still staunchly determined to get the skinny (yes, pun intended) on an actress’s dieting habits over any other work she might be doing.

This is what we see in the media and are taught is important.  Sure, the moral of the story is always 'it’s what’s on the inside that counts.'  But that’s become a trite platitude, devoid of meaning - empty words.  What sticks in the brains of audiences is what people look like.  And I can say this because most of the time I feel like the biggest hypocrite when I champion the whole weight-doesn’t-matter argument, because let’s face it – my body image is always on my mind.

It’s about accepting bodies in their natural, healthy shapes.

On the other hand, there’s a lot of hype surrounding the phrase ‘real women have curves’ – I remember seeing a discussion on a post that railed against this idea because it tells skinny women that they aren’t real women unless they have a great bust and ass.  I agree that this attempt at a supportive phrase is severely lacking in that respect, but I also remember being distraught about my body and having skinny people tell me time and again, ‘Being thin isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  I’ve tried so hard to gain weight and I just can’t. I’d kill to have a little meat on my bones.’

From a very personal standpoint, from someone who’s been aware of everything she’s eaten for six years, who remembers particular times in her life based on how much she weighed/how she was eating, who wakes up every day trying to figure out what she can get away with wearing based on how confident she feels in her own skin, I’m going to argue that you're still treated differently if you have curves.  Regardless of how we feel about our own bodies, a skinny girl is not getting the same message about her appearance (as the ‘real woman with curves’) with images she sees at every turn telling her that theoretically she’s pretty, but in practice still not good enough.

When did we all start fighting to take up less space?

Some people will argue we’re taking steps forward with new appreciation for women with ‘curves.’  But again, this only applies to one body type.  I hear ‘it’s okay if you’ve got fat.  But only if it’s concentrated in your breasts and butt.’  If you take a step back, it’s such a strange concept.  If I say someone’s boobs look huge in that dress, we’ll probably high-five about it.  If I say someone’s stomach looks huge in that dress, then I would be an asshole.  What’s the difference though?  They’re all just body parts.  It’s not about accepting what’s larger.  It’s accepting bodies in their natural, healthy shapes.

I don’t think skinniness is innately more aesthetically pleasing.  But when we’re constantly bombarded by images that champion a certain look, of course nurture will trump nature, and those values become engrained - which is detrimental, seeing that the body type portrayed in advertising as the ideal is possessed naturally by only 5% of American females.  Why?  When Aerie came out with the unphotoshopped spreads I was astounded.  I was gleeful.  I was filled with admiration.  And then I was furious, because it shouldn’t be a big deal that we’re finally seeing unretouched images.  It should be normal.  When did we all start fighting to take up less space?

The reason I still feel like such a hypocrite on this issue is that while we have the information, nothing’s being done to change our media.  Of course so many people have issues with body image.  We’re striving for images that aren’t real.  But we know that, we’ve been told that.  So why are we still striving to change our bodies?  

All I can say is please – start with yourself.  Stop equating health, beauty, and happiness with being skinny.  Stop using fat as an insult (to others or to yourself).  Start asking why – why it’s so damn important to lose weight if you’re at a healthy place?  Why being of average build somehow means you’re not good enough?  Why should we ever put that type of stock in how we look?

Stop equating health and beauty and happiness with being skinny. Stop using fat as an insult (to others or to yourself).

 

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