Body image: a society of dictators
The parents of Brandi Cash, a senior studying recreation therapy, came close to divorce after her father began doing steroids to “bulk up.”
“It was all about being the big guy with lots of money that drove the cool car and that looked big,” Cash said.
Lindsay Francis, a sophomore studying communication, started thinking she was overweight when a boy she was dating told her multiple times that she was fat.
“We went out to eat one time and we were just with my friends and he was like ‘are you sure you wanna eat that, fatty?'” Francis said. “If I’m being realistic [he] probably [called me fat about] 70 times, and towards the end I just broke down.”
At a young age men and women learn what society has dictated as “attractive” by watching television, looking at media, and listening to their peers and family.
“One of the big problems that contributes to a body-image-based problem would be comparison,” said BYU-Idaho counseling psychologist Dan Barnes. “And some people would go as far as to say that it’s all about comparison.”
Barnes said that comparison is an expression of a deeper problem. “[The problem] will vary a bit from person to person but it generally falls out into some pretty predictable categories … problems that are based in insecurity,” Barnes said.
Cash said that she thought her father’s obsession with bodybuilding could be rooted in his feeling of not having control. She said her father started bodybuilding when his two eldest children, she and her sister, started getting older.
“He just had this image he had to maintain for work,” Cash said. “He worked with a lot of younger guys who were all into that kind of thing, and he felt that he had to prove himself.”
In our society we are constantly surrounded by what the media and beauty industries dictate as “ideal beauty.”
“As children, we are encouraged to idealize Barbie dolls and G.I. Joes, figures with body proportions that are virtually impossible to attain,” according to the Body Project of Bradley University.
Francis’s unhealthy body image lead to body dysmorphic disorder, a disorder of “imagined ugliness,” according to Battling Our Bodies, a pamphlet by Dr. Nicole Hawkins. Her body dysmorphic disorder then led to bulimia, an eating disorder in which a person will binge and then purge their food.
“I just felt that I couldn’t have food in me, or anything, that I had to be hungry all the time to just be that skinny,” Francis said.
Cash says her father spends a considerable amount of time on diets and grooming and in the gym. “He’s really focused on trying to be as young looking as possible,” Cash said. “I don’t really know where that comes from or what made that happen, but I think once it becomes an obsession it’s just like any other addiction; you have to really work and fight against it, and really find what the root of it is.”
Experts agree that part of an unhealthy body image is the idea that people are constantly looking at you and judging you.
“He’s also very obsessed about Facebook too,” Cash said about her father. “I think it’s kinda all-encompassing, like it’s just this image. He just has this idea that people are watching him all the time — That [body building] is all of his identity — at least right now.”
Francis said that when she had body dysmorphic disorder she saw herself as obese.
“But really I was pretty skinny, I just wasn’t physically fit and I wasn’t seeing that,” Francis said. “And for like a year I always thought I had to be like anorexic or something to get skinny. And the media portrays that the best image is like anorexic skinny.”
The media is full of grossly photoshopped images, glamorizing action-figure men, and overly skinny, “heroin chic” women. Statistics say that the number of men and women with eating disorders and body dissatisfaction is on the rise. But there have been many in the industries, which have been cited as the cause of these problems, who are trying to fight the negative body image glamorized by their peers.
In 2006, the organizers of the Madrid fashion week made the controversial decision to ban ultra-skinny models from the catwalk. Advertisers for the personal care brand Dove launched the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty in 2004.
Barnes suggested eleven ways to learn to love one’s body.
First, don’t compare.
Second, focus on your accomplishments. Barnes said people need to understand that they are more than just their body and learn to appreciate other aspects of themselves.
Third, learn to take a compliment.
Fourth, work on self-talk.
“Many people are really really critical — abusive in their self talk … the language they use with themselves.” Barnes said. “That relationship with yourself is really the heart of self-esteem … so they need to improve their relationship.”
Fifth, regularly recite positive affirmations of self.
Sixth, learn to compliment others.
“That’s a big one because if everything’s a competition, then if you were to compliment somebody else, that could actually be a threat to you,” Barnes said.
Seventh, focus on the positives.
Eighth, stop fantasy thinking.
“What ends up happening is that whatever is seen as different or ideal gets distorted and becomes fantasizing,” Barnes said.
Barnes said that people will start fantasizing about their ideal image, and when they see that they don’t measure up, it can be damaging.
Ninth, the person needs to heal their relationship with food, if the person’s body image problem does involve food.
Tenth, body movement. The person needs to make sure he or she is doing things with his or her body, such as exercise or other activities.
Eleventh, find a support system. Jordan Christensen is a senior studying communications who is working on getting himself healthy. He lost about 50 pounds last year and is now working with his roommate to meet new fitness goals.
Christen said he has always tried to separate his body image from his personal and mental well-being. He said that although it’s not always easy he can’t let himself feel bad about who he is.
“I didn’t want my body to determine how I was feeling as a person,” Christensen said. “That doesn’t define me.”