I remember being maybe 6 years old and sitting at home on the floor with my legs stretched out in front of me. I was looking at my legs and thinking they were cute and perfect. Not in a conceited way – I just loved my body. I also remember staring close into the mirror at my eyes and marveling at the little lines and different colors in the iris, and watching my pupils dilate and contract. I was amazed at my body. It didn’t really occur to me to care how I looked to anyone else.
But by the time I was 13 I was wearing makeup, plucking my eyebrows, shaving my legs, coloring my hair, dressing to highlight my curves, and exercising to try to get that right body shape. What had caused this change? At that age, all of my peers had become aware of the opposite sex and were starting to have boyfriends. Many were even having sex. Everyone was trying to be more attractive than the others. I felt like I had to compete with other girls to attract a boyfriend. I had to look like the women in the music videos if any boy was ever going to like me. Whoever didn’t meet the standard when it came to beauty and fashion was falling behind socially. I sure didn’t want that to be me! If I was unsuccessful at attracting a boyfriend with high social status I would surely be unsuccessful in life. I felt that society imposed this standard and it was reinforced by everyone around me, even the adults. Maybe they thought I was too young to have a boyfriend at the time, but the adults around me still encouraged me to look more attractive and grown-up.
If it isn’t hard enough already, the standard for beauty keeps being raised. We artificially enhance beauty ever-increasingly. It has now become impossible to keep up with the best of them without multiple surgeries and spending the bulk of your time and money focused on your appearance. Not only is this impractical, it is also unhealthy and a waste of our life. Do we feel different about ourselves because of this impractical standard of beauty?
A 2003 study found that exposure to a few fashion models could have a significant effect on body image ideals. College students were separated into two equal groups. One group was shown images of thin models while the other group was shown images of plus-size models. They were then asked to choose the ideal body size for women.
Perception of the body image ideal was thinner for those who saw thin models in comparison to those who saw plus-size models. In both the thin and plus-models conditions, women’s ratings of the ideal was thinner than men’s ratings.
According to a 2008 body survey in the UK magazine Fabulous, women claim their ideal body size is a US size 6. When asked, the men said they thought the ideal female body size should be a US size 10.
It was found in an earlier college study that young women systematically overestimate men’s preference for a thin female ideal, whereas young men overestimate women’s preference for a heavier and muscular male ideal. Also, most people sought a significantly thinner ideal than their current weight, no matter their age.
A study in 2000 found that with the media constantly reinforcing idealized norms of attractiveness and thinness, repeated comparison with these norms obviously explains the formation of distorted self-ideals. But what was interesting was not everyone was equally vulnerable to the internalization of these norms. It was proven that many women are able to either simply reject it, or take a more multidimensional view of the self, in which the ideal body image is assigned less importance.
It’s time for all women to take that more multidimensional view. Why are we women so hard on ourselves when it comes to body image? We’ve established that we’re harder on ourselves than we need to be to attract men. This is because we’re comparing ourselves to the images we see in the media. Let’s stop worrying so much about looks, and start living! After all, the bulk of our appearance is dictated by genetics and can’t be changed. Why worry about what we can’t change? Let’s get back to that self-love that is based upon the wonder and natural beauty of the body, and not on what men or others might think of us.