Who could honestly say, with every ounce of truth they could muster, that they are comfortable with their body and would not want to change anything about themselves? Truth is very few people today, with all of the pressures and media influences that start at such a young age, can honestly say this about themselves. In this highly materialistic and media driven society that we live in today, body image seems to play a massive directional role in young people’s lives.
Now first, before we delve into all aspects of body image, we have to make sure that we are all on the same page. Body image is a personal reflection of how one looks, thinks, and sees themselves. Though girls are three times more likely than boys to have a negative body image, it is still common for males to have negative body image issues, According to the National Mental Health Information Center. BUT, and in contrast to popular beliefs, body image does not always have to fall under the negative scale. That is where self-esteem comes in. Self esteem is how much someone values themselves, so if they value themselves a lot then their body image will be more positive, and vice versa. Self esteem is very important because it dictates a lot of your social life and attitude towards the world. It is clear that a person who has a high self esteem will make friends more easily, enjoy life a lot more, and will be able to control their behavior on a better level.
There are many contributing factors that surround not only high school age students, but younger and older generations, in many points of our lives. I want all the girls for example to think about the dolls, especially Barbie dolls that they used to play with as a child. Barbie does everything! Doesn’t she? She’s a veterinarian, a doctor, a cheerleader, etc. Her occupations are always changing, but her outward appearance never does. She’s a model of perfection, a completely unrealistic model, but a model nonetheless. This shows that even from a young age the appearance and constant reminder of what “perfection” is is being shoved upon us.
Puberty is also a huge influential factor on negative body image and self esteem. We all know what it’s like, one day you’re completely normal, the next you smell, tame children’s hair becomes frizzy and uncontrollable, your voice cracks with every other word, and so many more horrors that come with the big “Change”. This change is hard and affects everyone differently. As growing, social beings, the want to be accepted is ingrained in all of us. This means that while this change is happening, the need to compare ourselves to our peers around us and models in magazines and actors will begin to take hold. Yet this is something that usually ends up hurting us rather than helping us. We put ourselves down for what we don’t have when we all need to realize that everyone is different. Everyone is unique. No two people are the same. Get it? So in light of that, it needs to be understood that you can’t compare yourself to the next person over because your bodies and gene’s are completely different. You may have started puberty early while the next she started later. Or he may have developed muscle sooner than you while you’re still trying to get rid of a layer of fat that your body has stored to prepare for a growth spurt. Whatever it is, remember it’s all part of the process of growing up.
The media that we are all exposed to today usually places some type of pressure on young people to look a certain way. It has been shown that it is usually in magazines that this is portrayed much. The size zero, super tall and beautiful model wearing the most elegant and “in” clothes. Or the impeccably muscular, chiseled man wearing nothing but white underwear with that gorgeous model draped all over him. We’ve all seen them and sometimes a lot of us, deep down inside, secretly want to be just like them. Surprisingly enough, it isn’t these types of fashion magazines who hold the most negative influence over teens who browse through them. Studies are beginning to show that it is actually fitness magazines that hold the most negative influences on readers. One study in particular was done by Renee Botta, titled “For Your Health? The Relationship Between Magazine Reading and Adolescents’ Body Image and Eating Disturbances”. Just as a quick side note, eating disturbances are not specifically eating disorders, but a wider concept of it. It can be an eating disorder, but can also be severe dissatisfaction with one’s body, overestimating body size, and constant thoughts about losing weight.
So now the question is: how are fitness magazines the antagonist when they’re supposed to do the opposite? It all comes down to the articles that are in the magazines itself. It’s those headlines like “3 Easy Tricks for Trimming Down Belly Fat” or “Swimsuite Ready Body in Just 15 Minutes”. Yet more so than the constant reminders of how easy it is to be perfect, they show various pictures of ultra thin and ultra toned models who are photoshopped to look even thinner. For men it’s the constant emphasis of gaining muscle mass and muscularity and even weight loss. Pair this with an insecure teenager and the social pressure to fit in and it can take a toll on how the teen feel about themselves. This study that Renee Botta did is a question of social comparison. The idea is that teenagers use the media to build up what their idea of beautiful is and how this turns into motivation to conform to that image that they piece together. What Botta did is took about 200 boys and 200 girls who were in high school and college and assessed their magazine reading habits and body masses. She broke down the magazines into three groups: sports, health/fitness, and fashion. Also she had them report how much attention they paid to the images in the magazines. Then she asked them how often they found themselves comparing themselves to the models, how satisfied they were with their body image, and whether or not the students had body image and eating disorders. Renee Botta ended up forming different hypotheses from the results she got back, but what she noticed was that it was the fitness magazines and health magazines that had the most negative effect on those who didn’t as much as read them, but look at the pictures. It even showed increases in bulimic behaviors, anorexic behaviors, and the increased drive to be thin.
There are ways though, to help improve a negative body image or self esteem. They may sound corny and dumb, but they can have a positive impact where they are needed. One way is by forming goals for yourself. It there is something that you want, and can change about yourself then get to it! You are the only one who has the power to change something about yourself such as losing weight or becoming more toned. Make a daily fitness plan and start eating nutritious foods. Track your progress and when you realize that you’ve met your goal it will not only have benefited yourself physically, but boosting your self esteem also by setting and meeting a certain goal. The greatest way to turn that frown upside down is by not always by changing your body, but changing the way that you view yourself. Having a positive outlook on life can have incredible results. This will in turn motivate what you do in your day to day lifestyle, but also make it healthier and happier.
Knowing what makes you happy is key when it comes to building a positive body image and self esteem. Having low self esteem and a negative body image can affect all aspects of your life, and it mostly starts at a low age. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that more than 5 million Americans each year are affected by eating disorders, 90% of these are women, and most eating disorders typically start during the teenage years but reports have shown that it could begin as early as 8 years old. Only you can control to what extent these media driven influences have on your life and how badly they will affect you. The most important thing is to realize that it all starts with changing how you feel about yourself and if you are going to change something about yourself or your life, make sure its done in the healthiest way possible.