Body Image: Seeing Beyond the Mirror

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According to Psychology Today, “body image is the mental representation an individual creates of themselves, but it may or may not bear any relation to how one actually appears.” This can be a positive or a negative perception people have concerning not only themselves but others as well. The way we perceive our bodies is and has been a scary and sensitive issue for a long time, and this problem started to boom in more recent decades world-wide as greater importance was focused on the perfect body obtained from fad dieting, diet pills, and fitness programs with public television and social media being the most prevalent avenues. Before any fitness gurus starts tripping, I love to move and exercise, and I know that maintaining some form of exercise is important for your physical and mental health, but sometimes people will go to intense levels that are completely unhealthy and just downright maddening to achieve certain beauty goals. I’m just trying to shed some light on the ideals we all have had in our minds about the way our body is supposed to look to be desirable and accepted, and I’m going to start with a little bit of history on the matter.

In ancient Egypt, the perfect woman was expected to be a tall, slender figure with narrow shoulders, and a tall waist, but in ancient Greece everything was more about the male body focused on lean, tall, and muscular with wide shoulders. If these men and women didn’t look like this, they were treated unfairly. Sound familiar? The royal women of ancient Egypt also used golden tweezers to pull their hair out making themselves bald because they desired super straight hair, and apparently most of these women depicted in Egyptian hieroglyphs were wearing wigs. When the Italian Renaissance hit, a woman’s appearance reflected her husband’s status, and these women were supposed to possess full hips and large breasts. A man’s status in Italy during this era was based on his wife’s appearance, you’ve got to be kidding me. The amount of pressure on both parties, just ridiculous. And oh, how the Victorian era just destroyed women’s insides from extreme waist cinching because corsets were all the rave. They can be used without issues, and the results from waist cinching can aid in toning your tummy, but these women actually rearranged their organs by wearing them all day every day, which caused quite a number of health issues such as distorted spines, fractured ribs, collapsed lungs, and gastrointestinal problems… just to name a few. This was all done just to achieve a tiny waist with wider hips and breasts to be of a desirable appearance. I’m a woman who wears corsets from time to time because I like them, but to go to those levels of severity, no thank you. By the way, women weren’t the only ones wearing corsets during this time, men did too. Again, severe medical traumas ensued. Now, I bring you the “roaring twenties”. I love this decade; everyone was rebelling against the system, having fun, the music, the dancing, and the speakeasies alone are enough to love this decade, but here again we have more ridiculous body type expectations. Women would go on absurdly harsh diets, and they used what was a certain type of brassiere to flatten their breasts all so they could achieve a boyish figure. You are woman! You have breasts be they small or be they large, and unless they’re a painful or a medical problem, leave them be. Next, we come to the “golden age of Hollywood” and with that came the hourglass figure every woman wanted to obtain, and every man seemed to desire. Women would wear what appeared to me quite uncomfortably tight clothing solely to emphasize their figures portraying the “coke bottle” figure. And from my understanding, those whose body type didn’t match this were again left out and considered less of a woman of importance. By the way, men I haven’t forgotten about you, how could I, but I will get to you in just a hot minute. Where was I? That’s right… The idea of the perfect woman continues to change as we move into the 1960’s and forward. Just as it was in the 1920’s, super skinny became the new “hot”. Women wanted to be thin and petite with small breasts, flat tummies, and long limbs, and at this time an intense increase of anorexia in both women and men began. Next comes the lovely jazzercise 80’s filled with actresses and supermodels pumping out exercise videos left and right, which led to more constantly being developed since then. But I must give it to all the fitness aficionados, many of them got it going on. I remember being told that women having what is considered a bubble butt was a bad thing in the 80’s, and I believe that the supermodel look was even coined at one point in the 90’s as “heroin chic”. That’s just disgusting, and the amount of pressure put on people to go to deteriorating means to accomplish a certain look so you’re included in the so-called love club, yea, you can have it.

The skinny thing hasn’t stopped since then, and in the mid 90’s, I was in junior high, and I remember being called fat quite often when I wasn’t. These comments that were said to me tore me up inside, and I allowed them to get me down to a level that started a deep self-hatred of my body, which caused me to not be able to see my own beauty. During a time, I should have been focusing on my music, writing, playing outside with friends, sleepovers, and crushes; I was stuck in front of a mirror instead constantly picking my face, body, and hair apart. This is just an example of how twisted, one-way ideas planted in our minds can cause issues for ourselves. Now to the men. I see you and I love you. There has always been more speak of women and the body image problems they go through because it used to be talked about more than it is now. Speaking from my own experience, I grew up around men that were taught and taught their sons that crying isn’t what men do, “we don’t talk about those things”, and “just be a man about it.” This fact affected men to a point where they couldn’t talk about things considered of a personal and sensitive nature, and in some cases, it drove guys to harsh extremes that ended up getting them and or others hurt. Guys, I’ve known for a long time that you go through your own body image troubles because I have a brother that has spoken to me of such things, but I did not know the true extent of what you went and are going through until I did my research. Ladies, in case you didn’t know, men do struggle with their looks, and they also develop eating disorders just like women do. Men have an actual harder time reaching out for help because of the tough stereotype crap that’s pushed on them, and because these beauty issues are still considered by most as just women’s troubles. And while women are mostly stuck on becoming or being skinny, men are encouraged to become more muscular and obtain a thing called the “T chest”. I have never even heard of that term until I did my research. According to a study I read, the ideas pushed onto men say they are supposed to be tall, like over 6ft, muscular with six to eight pack abs, and broad shouldered. As a woman, I confess that I am attracted to tall, muscular men, but not solely, I find all men and women beautiful. Also, ladies, it isn’t as easy for guys to lose weight and gain muscle as we thought, well, at least I thought this. Turns out they’re just like us in this way too, it’s just that some have an easier time achieving their body improvement goals than others. Over the past week I have read several articles where men have spoken out about the fact that they too have gotten liposuction because diet and/or exercise wasn’t working for them. I had no clue and felt so narrow-minded to not have considered the fact men have went through such a rough time with this, that they’ve had these procedures done just to feel better about themselves. I have known a couple of men that have undergone gastric bypass surgery for what I thought was only because of health reasons but learned quite quickly they also had trouble with the man they were seeing in the mirror. The more I read, the more my heart went out to you guys. And I know from guys informing me of this over the years, that they even grew up thinking and still believe that the girl or guy they had or have their eyes on would never want them because the object of their attention was so beautiful while they considered themselves ugly, fat, undesirable, or all of the above. Men, I am here to say you are all sexy beasts and I absolutely love you however you want to look or be in this world.

I, like many others, have wasted an enormous amount of energy degrading ourselves because we didn’t fit into the perfect image of what beauty is supposed to look like. Everyone has their own body type, traits and preferences: tall, short, skinny, athletic, muscular, non-muscular, pear shaped, straight lined, V shaped; dark, medium, and light skinned, freckled, scarred, blemish free, tattooed, pierced; bald, long, short, buzzed, and multicolored hair, etc. … The point is, we are all unique in many ways and to not respect that is to not love yourself. Allowing yourself and others to make you feel like less of a person because you do not fit into the world’s mainstream views of being beautiful can cause irreparable damage to your body and create several psychological disorders. I went through 25 years of having a deep self-hatred of how I looked. In my eyes, I was ugly because I didn’t fit the beauty standards that were presented to me as I was growing up. I didn’t end up with anorexia or bulimia like several people I know, but it did trigger what is called an impulse control disorder within me that has taken many years to let go of. What I’ve said here is just some of things concerning the issues surrounding body image and beauty standards, because I only know what I know about this mess. If you are one of the many people who have dealt or deal with this problem and you want your voice to be heard; you have a safe place here with me to voice it. What have you experienced in your life that deals with a beauty standard you felt you just couldn’t match up to? Did you ever stay away from others because you felt you weren’t good looking enough to be around them? Did you ever not tell someone you were into them because you thought they were out of your league? Have you ever hidden behind bulky clothing due to hateful thoughts about the way your body seemed? Did you ever beat yourself up thinking the way you looked wasn’t good enough? Talk to me. Inform me of the things I don’t know that concerns aspects of this issue so we can all get it out there and kill this rotten idea that has sat with so many of us for too damned long.

I love all of you!!!

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