Body Image Issues in America the Beautiful

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How often do you worry about your looks? Your clothes? Your hair? Your body shape? Your weight? I could go on and on, as these are the factors women and men feel pressure about every day regarding their looks. Although some groups may experience this pressure more than others, it is always in the faces of all Americans via magazines, television, movies, social media, etc. In America, beauty and body image has become of high importance, which has led to more concerning issues.

By: Angelica Beker, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

Over the decades, the “standard” of what is beautiful has been ever so changing. From voluptuous figures, to stick thin figures, to a mix of both, it is hard to keep up with the ever changing look of the time. In my work with women and teen girls specifically, I often ask, “What does it mean to be pretty?” Answers I have received include: thin, toned, tan, white teeth, blond hair, flowy hair, tall, large chest, large behind, etc.

Let’s piece out some of the factors that contribute to this mind set and other factors that contribute to body image issues in America.

1) Social media and magazines:

Especially amongst the teenage population, these images are displayed everywhere in places such as Instagram, magazines, Facebook, blogs, Twitter, and other social media outlets. The reality is: most of us cannot achieve this particular “look” and this is something I like to discuss with clients often. With social media, it is important to remember that it is a place to put “the best face forward”. Images can be doctored, photoshopped, and filtered in order to look their best. Pictures can even be taken from certain angles, with certain lighting, and other factors that can alter the image to look even better. With teenagers, it is important to remind them of these things and the fact that their bodies are still growing and maturing and many of the looks that they want to achieve are developmentally impossible at their ages.

2) Dieting: This is an enormous category:

A few things to keep in mind. Dieting can be harmful to the body. Dieting has a also become an enormous industry in America. But, what is “right”? With all the books and information out there, mixed messages are being sent to people about how to eat. Dieting can be especially harmful to teenagers due to the fact that they are still growing and need more nutrition than the average adult. Not to get too much into dieting and eating healthy, as a therapist, my concern is how extreme dieting and excessive attention to food can lead to more harmful issues. The rising cases of anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, and orthorexia (obsession to “eat clean”) is alarming. With eating disorders can come depression, anxiety, self-harm, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other detrimental concerns. The growing obsession with body image is leading to much larger issues amongst the American population.

3) Messages and pressure from others around us:

We often hear someone say, “You could stand to lose a little weight.” Or, “I would be prettier if you dropped a few pounds.” These messages can be heard by others and internalized as well. It automatically puts negative body image thoughts in other people’s minds. This negative talk and self-talk can lead to lowered self-esteem and self-confidence. In my work, this is something I come across often. People can be SO hard on themselves and the more they tell themselves these messages, the more they begin to believe them, in turn hurting themselves more. Many individuals can list negative aspects about themselves versus positive aspects. Being aware of what we say, either to ourselves or others, is important. Especially when we discuss these concerns are teenagers and adolescents, as these are negative messages they are directly learning.

Luckily, there are people and companies in America who are trying to turn around the negative issue of body image concerns.

Dove, Special K, and other American companies have started campaigns that revolve around positive body image – appreciating your body for how it is and how it was made. We all have something that bothers us about our bodies. We all have some sort of body image issue. But being aware of that is important as well as trying to remember that there is no “standard” or “perfect body”. Every individual is unique and beautiful in their own way. It is also crucial to remember that we should not forget our personalities and the wonderful qualities that come with that are also important. Beauty is not just on the outside.