In our country, beauty often equals success. Superstars such as Kate Winslet, Brad Pitt and Scarlet Johanssen are revered for their talent, but also for their looks. Supermodels grace the covers of “Sports Illustrated,” the Victoria’s Secret catalogue and “Vogue,” and their images are often airbrushed to perfection. The pressure to be gorgeous in America is intense; our popular culture is based almost completely around high profile media interests, and stars shell out huge amounts of money to look good.
So what does that mean to the regular people in our country? Do these images, people and media messages influence how we perceive ourselves? According to the Our Bodies Ourselves Health Resource Center, constant exposure to media messages on thin, beautiful people – mainly women – can effect our minds. One such effect is an altered sense of reality about what is normal and what is beautiful. This effect is especially powerful on girls and young women. An altered sense of normality can lead to a decrease in positive self image and, in some extreme cases, can partially lead to an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.
So what can we do, other than turn off our televisions, stop buying, reading or looking at magazines, and more or less separate ourselves from the rest of American society as we know it? We can learn to love ourselves for who we are. A positive self-image strengthens the psyche and makes you less susceptible to negative feelings that arise from seeing a beautiful 110-pound, 5’9” model on a newsstand in the grocery store.
Even if you struggle to appreciate yourself for who you are, sit down and think hard about one thing you can do well that not everyone else can. If you know how to dance, fly a plane, paint, write, invent, cook, tell jokes or program a computer, you are special. There is something about you that helps you stand out from the crowd, so think about it. If you start to feel down about yourself or your appearance, stop and think: “I can brighten anyone’s day with one smile” or “I am really talented at (insert your personal talent here) and know that not everyone can do what I do.”
If your physical appearance sometimes gets you down, start focusing on what you love about your body. Sure, many of us would love to lose a little weight around our middles, but lamenting that fact is not going to help. Feeling better about your appearance overall will give you the confidence you need to lose extra weight. Perhaps you have beautiful eyes that other people often compliment. Do you love your legs, hair, lips or chest? Figure it out, and when you start feeling down about another body part, remember that you have at least one feature that others admire.
Some Americans also have to deal with the loss – or lack – of a typical feature. Imagine that you were in a car accident and had to be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of your life. These concepts here apply to everyone. No one is perfect in any way, and it is important to accept and to love our flaws.
When people talk to you, they are hearing your voice, seeing your expression and interpreting your non-verbal cues. The physical things that so concern you everyday are not as noticeable as you might think. Try to remember that the person with whom you are talking has at least one thing about him or her that she is hoping you won’t notice. It goes back to picturing everyone in his or her underwear when you’re giving a big speech. By remembering that everyone suffers from some amount of body image issue, you can again be on an equal level with others. This removes the power from your insecurities, and you can begin to accept yourself for who you are.
Finally, take care of yourself. Loving yourself does wonders for your health. Avoid smoking, excessive drinking and drug use. Try to eat your fruits and vegetables and get a little bit of physical activity in every day. When you take care of your physical body, your mind gets healthier, too. Plus, taking care of yourself will help you feel better about your body, and so will help you combat your negative self-image.
While some negative thoughts seem to stick around and constantly affect how you feel, fight through them and find a spark of joy. You are special and beautiful, so don’t forget it.