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Thursday, 14 September 2000

The Skinny on Body Image

Written by  Sara Eisen

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(Written for Chics, Guys Welcome.)

All the advice that I've seen to teens regarding healthy body image (this site included, even some of my stuff) decries the media. The media that feeds us image after image of skinny until we hate ourselves for having fat molecules within five miles of us. We have to accept ourselves, this advice says, for who we are. We are not Pamela, not Jennifer, nor Kate, nor Heidi. We are real people with real curves and real muscles underneath. Celebrate your authentic sexy humanness!!/p>

OK. So who's partying?

After many a sermon like this that I have listened to or read, (not that there's anything WRONG with that, mind you), I do not see throngs of girls burning pictures of Calista Flockhart outside of Spa Lady.

We still want to look thin. Still want THE hair, THE skin, THE face. We know it's unrealistic. We know it's unhealthy. We know it's mostly pointless. But we try anyway. Instead of being happy with ourselves, we will squeeze and poke and diet and run and lift and curl until we somehow look something like someone who has been published or broadcast.

So, why?

One thing's for sure, it has very little to do with guys. Most men I know would prefer Salma Hayek over Kate Moss any day of the week. Full is good. "Perfect" is scary. Marilyn Monroe? Men say: Sexy. I look at her, and I think: If only she had had Oprah's cook. Throw men a curve any time. And do they notice most of the little stuff you pick apart in the mirror each morning? Survey says: Ix-nay.

It's bizarre, really. Here we have validation from the opposite sex, knowledge that the media is blitzing us with unhealthy images, and a network of fed-up women and people-with-a-mission telling us: Love yourself, healthy and full and natural.

And still, for most women, and for many girls as young as 9, the war with "lookism" still rages. It's almost reflexive these days.

Here's why I think: Self-hatred.

Women who are flat-chested get implants. Women with full breasts want to be flat. Women with wavy hair straighten it. Women with straight hair get perms. Blondes streak or darken, brunettes bleach or blacken. This is usually regardless of trends. Everyone wants to be anyone else but themselves. Calista? I'll bet she wants to be Pamela. Pamela? She took out her implants. Now she's starting to look...waifish.

I do not think that girls and women hate the way they look because of the media. I think the media plays off of our self-hatred, and feeds us the most images of the women that it's hardest to look like, so we have to buy more products. If everyone on TV was real looking, we wouldn't have to go so far or spend so much to achieve THE LOOK. They need to make it hard. And expensive.

But the thought "I'm not good enough" - that's already there. Otherwise, the media wouldn't make such a difference to us. We wouldn't care as much, wouldn't compare as much. And girls who grow up without too much media influence? From the unofficial polls I've taken - they are just as unhappy with the way they look, the way they are.

So here's the question: Why don't we think we are good enough? Why don't women like themselves?

Ah. Now there's a good, hard, nitty-gritty question.

And the answer is: I don't know.

I don't know why women pick on their faults, magnify them, while men, for example, tend to minimize their own flaws, gloss them over, or not notice them at all. Why women obsess about their pores and men don't know what pores are. Why women see Jennifer Aniston and feel like jumping off a bridge, and men don't have the same reaction when they see Dylan McDermott. (They might even think they look like him. Or better than him. Hah!)

When women achieve something, many of them say: I was lucky. Most men say: I'm Da Man. Women fail, most of them blame themselves. Men? It was a rough day, dude.

This is a puzzle to me. I'm sure the psycho-social theories abound; I say: Enigma.

I wish we'd give ourselves a break, though.

But I have no easy answers that are more than brain-deep. The guts of the thing elude me completely.

Last modified on Wednesday, 06 April 2011 20:07
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Sara Eisen

Sara Eisen

Sara is a journalist and editor.

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