Every year, on the 8th of March, the world makes time to acknowledge and celebrate what women aspire to, struggle toward and amazingly achieve every single day of their lives. The 2017 theme for International Women’s Day is #BEBOLDFORCHANGE. This theme resonates with women from all walks of life. It is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.
Women face countless challenges every single day but the one I would like to focus on today is a universal challenge that cuts across ethnicities, communities and age groups: Body image – the immense pressure on women to only look a certain, so called, “acceptable way.” Body image is how we see ourselves in a mirror or picture ourselves in our mind.
Body image is a major factor in self-esteem and towards feeling confident and bold! It is not just the way you look but is also the way you think and feel about yourself as a person. The effects of body image on self-esteem can be especially powerful during the teenage years, setting unrealistic and impractical standards.
There are certainly some very direct messages associated with body weight in the media. Celebrities, fashion models and show hosts are often seen as role models, especially by teenagers. These concerns about appearance have existed since time immemorial as have measures to titivate ourselves. However, what has changed today is how media and social media produce unattainable, filtered imagery especially focused at women that drives home the message of inadequacy and the need for improvement.
Eating disorders are often, though not always and not directly, related to negative body image. We feel the pressure to change ourselves, to diet away our natural curves, exercise compulsively and use cosmetic enhancements to feel acceptable.
In the 21st century, beauty surpasses the demand to be intelligent, witty, charming, accomplished or athletic. And it is a rigidly conforming beautiful – Barbie doll perfect, straight hair, perfect skin, hourglass figure, chiclet teeth, there is no room for diversity here.
While young women are striving to attain perfection, older women are desperate to reverse the clock at any cost! This has led to unprecedented increase in appearance misperception disorders including eating disorders, depression, loss of self-esteem and social avoidance behaviours etc.
According to the Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report, a staggering 89 per cent of Australian women are opting to cancel plans, job interviews or other important engagements simply because of how they look.
Despite the alarming statistics, there is a push by women to break the concept of beauty norms. More than 70 percent of women want the media to portray a more diverse range of physical appearance, age, race, shape and size in advertising and marketing.
Therefore, ‘need of the hour’ is to empower each other – increasing body-confidence education, driving meaningful conversations around the pressures women and girls face, and advocate for change in media depictions.
Let us stop judging ourselves and others on the merits of conforming beauty ideals and to start building a sisterhood of positive body image and self-esteem. Let us remind ourselves, every woman is uniquely beautiful (genetically) and let’s celebrate that uniqueness together on this special day.
Indeed, the time has come to be bold and be the change we want to see in the world!
|Tips for cultivating a positive body image
1. The next time we meet a friend, let’s not start with a compliment on how thin or pretty they look.
2. We should watch what we say in front of our young children. Saying things like “Am I looking fat in this? Do my hips look huge?” etc. reinforce stereotypes and poor body image.
3. Let us not treat food like it’s our enemy and go on fad diets or excessive indulgence.
4. Food is a necessity and a pleasure & must be treated with respect and moderation.
5. Let us not view models or actresses as icons or instruments of objectification, but instead respect and discuss their talent as women making a mark in their field.
6. Let us discuss and perpetuate role models in fields not related to glamour or media. It is a slow process but a rewarding one!
7. Think of your body as the vehicle to your dreams. Honour it. Respect it. Fuel it!
About the Author
Dr. Aparna Santhanam (MD, DNB) is a well-known dermatologist, cosmetologist, and hair and wellness expert working in the field of beauty, health and wellness for more than fifteen years. She is a practicing dermatologist, strategic consultant, wellness expert, a writer, and noted speaker apart from being actively involved in social development and women’s issues. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org