I grew up in a house that never had a scale. It just wasn’t something my parents found necessary, and until I hit puberty, I never questioned it. I was an active child, I played outside when the weather allowed it and enjoyed dolls and movies when I had to be inside. After I hit puberty, my body changed. I didn’t really understand it, but I accepted it and went on with my life. All the girls in my class were starting to talk about bras and periods, so it was only natural I did too. It wasn’t until high school that I became very aware of my weight, my acne, and other “flaws”. Compared to many young girls, however, I was a late bloomer in this respect.
I still live my life without a scale. When I’m at the doctor’s office, I turn my head away and hum a tune to myself, just in case the nurse says the dreaded number out loud. My struggle with positive body image has been a rocky one, sure, but it is nothing compared to that of some of my peers. Horror stories of comments from parents, ballet instructors, teachers, friends have scarred the way some young women view themselves, even to the point that some women do very detrimental things to their health to attain that “ideal” look.
At what point to do we say, as women, that enough’s enough?
The media is to blame, at least partially, for the ideas planted in the minds of young girls from very, very young ages. And although strides have been taken to move in the right direction, decades of work in the wrong one cannot be undone with a few curvy actresses and a couple of campaigns to reassure women that “every size is beautiful”. Cellulite is a word that was coined in the 1920’s, however it wasn’t until it appeared in Vogue in the 1960’s that it became a concern for American women. Vogue has also recently pledged that it will not have girls under 16 or that “appear to have an eating disorder” featured in their magazines. This can be considered a step in the right direction, but we cannot let this be the only change that is made. In the last couple of years, curvy women have been gracing our TV screens more and more. Women like Mindy Kaling, Lena Dunham, and Christina Hendricks have proven that a woman of average weight can be funny and wonderful.
Recent studies have shown that girls start expressing concerns about their weight as early as 6, and that these concerns never truly subside. As a society, can we stand by that? A global survey shows that 2/3 of women feel as though the media has set unrealistic standards of beauty, and yet not much is being done to change the media. Researcher have found that “fat talk”, or the ways women express concern for their looks and their body to others, is becomingan expected norm among women.
“Over half of the females studied between ages eighteen and twenty-five would prefer to be run over by a truck than to be fat, and two-thirds would choose to be mean or stupid rather than fat.” (Gaesser, Glenn A., PhD. Big Fat Lies: The truth about your weight and your health. Gurze Books, 2001.)
Having graduated high school in the last few years, I know that at least some schools are attempting to cover the topic of positive body image, however they are going at it in a way that is having little to no effect. Developmentally, teenagers often seek risks due to the combined effects of their belief that “nothing bad could happen to me” and their brains finding more pleasure in such risky activity. This has always been used to draw a conclusion about teen pregnancy, but could one also assume that their may be a connection between this thrill seeking, feelings of invincibility, and eating disorders? Schools throw out statistic about eating disorders and show movie clips about girls in rehabilitation warning against what happens if dieting goes too far, and yet no real changes in the statistics have been marked. From my own experience, I can say that girls usually think that they can binge and purge without ever having an eating disorder; that they can “control” it and that there’s no way they would get to the point that they lost control over what they were doing.
Eating disorders aren’t wild animals to be tamed. There is no switch to flip to just stop having an eating disorder. So our young girls are getting sicker, and our models are getting thinner. It can feel like there is no real end in sight to the demon that has crawled into the minds of our youth.
Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign has been one of the more recognizable strides in attempting to break down the “thin ideal” by using curvier, more “real” women as their models. Yes, Dove has done some very intriguing and smart things with this campaign, however it’s not enough. One marketing campaign by a soap company is not enough break barriers and radically change the thoughts of billions of men and women (although I’ll admit that seeing the Real Beauty campaign next to the VS Love Your Body ad was startling and effective, in and of itself.) The positive reaction to the campaign is the most important aspect to take note of and should have already ignited a major change in marketing, and yet, very few changes have been noted just yet.
Every change is a positive one, however, and it seems as though little by little, more people have started to take notice. Vogue Italia’s June 2011 cover feature three plus size models. It’s not been the last magazine since to do so, yet a majority of print media embracing curvy models has been on European covers, not American ones. Why this is, I’m not sure. Are American women going to be less receptive to images showing a more “average” female figure? It doesn’t seem like that would be the case.
Are more “voluptuous” women on TV and in the media the key to ending what has become a plague in our nation? No, I don’t think so. It’s acted as an excellent stepping off point though, and gradually, we should hopefully see a shift in the attitudes of people worldwide in regards to size. Americans are dying to be thin in a world where millions are dying of starvation. It’s time we stop allowing this to be what is “normal” and start demanding a change for our friends, our sisters, our wives, and our daughters. No single number can define what is beautiful. Drill that into the minds of everyone around you, and maybe eventually we can see an end to “fat talk” and a rise to loving exactly who you are.