Don't worry about weight, focus on healthy self-image

From lead actresses in movies to extravagant magazine spreads, the stereotypical definition of “beautiful” has been drastically altered, placing huge emphasis on being thin.

More often than we’d like, today’s youth may go to great lengths to reach their acceptable maximum weight. This drive to be thin often prompts dangerous behavior — eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating have become nearly regular occurrences.

“Fifty percent of teenage girls and 30 percent of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives to control their weight,” according to Eating Disorder Hope, an organization dedicated to supporting those suffering with eating disorders.

Body image and self-esteem go hand-in-hand, as individuals look to their appearance for confidence. However, so many feel their appearance is lackluster based on a ludicrous image of “average size” created by the media.

“Twenty percent of teens are either ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ happy with their body image (and) over half of all teens (52 percent) feel that the media pressures them to change their body image,” according to a national survey by StageofLife.com, a website for teens and college students.

This vision of beauty has been adopted nationwide and is prominent in daily life. Men, women and children of nearly all ages, from pre-teen to adulthood, constantly compare their appearance to that of the societal expectation. Ultimately, most share a common goal: being thin.

"Women in my family have been shrinking for decades," said poet Lily Myers in her slam poem, “Shrinking Women.”

Her performance discusses the pressure women feel to conform to the predetermined definition of attractive: “Nights I hear her creep down to eat plain yogurt in the dark, a fugitive stealing calories to which she does not feel entitled.”

However, being small, I know it's not all that it's cracked up to be.

“You know, you’d look a lot prettier if you weren’t so thin,” someone once told me as I was casually minding my own business one afternoon.

The public tends to make snap assumptions about the lifestyles of those around them based on their figure. In a quick glance, individuals in society are categorized as overweight or undernourished — both insinuating poor personal care.

Because of this, people will inevitably tell jokes poking fun at one’s body, whether large or small. This behavior is hurtful and extremely demoralizing. While some individuals may actually follow a healthy lifestyle, they are labeled otherwise.

Unfortunately, many haven’t developed the understanding that body types are simply built differently.

The war with positive body image is a tough battle to win. Individuals should not simply look to change themselves, but rather create a wide range of acceptance. By respecting the body types that surround us rather than ridiculing those who fail to meet any arbitrary expectation, the definition of what we ought to look like will be overtaken by the reality.

Weight is an ever-changing personal factor that should be dealt with and handled on a private, individual level. If our society put less emphasis on the media’s convoluted definition of “acceptable” weight, there would be no average size and no one image to which we constantly compare ourselves.

Reach the columnist at rsmouse@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @beccasmouse


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