In one of my communication classes, we have a lot of interesting discussions about gender differences and the effects of these differences on American society. In one of our conversations the other day, I watched the blame game play out: men vs. women arguing over whose fault it is that women feel pressured to meet an impossible physical appearance standard.
It’s no secret that these body image issues are particularly prevalent in college-age women. Eating disorders are frighteningly common among college students, and according to Brown University, “74.4% of the normal-weight women stated that they thought about their weight or appearance ‘all the time’ or ‘frequently.'”
But can we really say this is because men have unrealistic expectations of women, or conversely, that women pressure each other into looking a certain way?
As I watched my classmates go back and forth defending their own gender and condemning the other, I realized herein lies the problem. If all we ever do is declare that the fault belongs to someone else, then we ourselves will never change.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my short 20 years, it’s that you cannot change people who don’t want to change. The most you can do is work on improving yourself.
Of course, changing yourself isn’t much easier than changing someone else. In the past year, I have done a lot of work on self-improvement – not physically per se, but mentally. I used to be like many other women who look at 6-foot, stick thin models and flawless celebrities and felt the crushing self-criticism as I analyzed every difference, every thing I thought I lacked.
I’m 5’1″ and not stick-thin. I knew I couldn’t change my height, but I thought losing weight was the most important thing in the world. Slowly, I have been trying to change this mentality. I am trying to accept my body as unique and beautiful for what it is. It’s a simple enough concept, but an incredibly difficult process, and it’s easy to fall off track.
Here is the thing that fashion magazines don’t tell us: we’re all built differently; our bodies don’t do the same things. You and I could have the same diet and workout regime, and still look drastically different.
If you think about it, it’s sort of ridiculous that we should find one very specific body type beautiful when there is such a rainbow of body types out there. Why not embrace all the differences?
Everyone, including men, needs to try to join me in this process of changing our own thoughts. Don’t worry about anyone else right now; just concentrate on you. Start looking at your body differently, and when you feel those negative thoughts coming, remember that there are parts of you that other people are jealous of. Your beauty is different from everyone else’s, and that’s what makes you so incredible.
Remember to be realistic. You can beat yourself up endlessly for not having longer legs, but is that going to change anything? Stop fighting yourself, because the second you start working what you’ve got, you’ll become exponentially more beautiful.
It’s all much easier said than done, but the first step to improving society’s feelings toward female body image is reevaluating our own thoughts first. The next time you look at a female and start picking out what’s “wrong” with her, stop and ask why you’re doing that. Is there really anything wrong with her, or is that just what you’ve been made to think? Are you just jealous of things she has that you don’t?
And don’t forget to include your own body in this. Unless your “problem” is endangering your health, it’s not a “problem” at all.
Change how you think; it’s infectious – others will follow.