Minimizing the impacts of unrealistic body standards
In a country where young girls fear being fat more than nuclear war, cancer or losing their parents, something must be seriously wrong. According to Nicole Hawkins, Ph.D., one of those things is the media’s portrayal of the human body. As the director of clinical services at the Center for Change, an eating disorder treatment clinic in Orem, she sees the destructive effects of the media’s impossible distortions of faces and figures.
It’s easy to criticize the media for failing to present “real women.” It’s quite simple to look at the people encountered in everyday life and know that not everyone has bodies like Barbies. But, when hundreds of images of thin women can be seen every day without trying, it’s hard to not consider that ideal a reality.
“Realize that those images were made to look perfect … and are not a realistic standard of beauty,” Hawkins says. The average beauty magazine cover costs $60,000 to retouch and airbrush, representing about six months worth of work. Quite often, the bodies of even the world’s most beautiful women are considered beyond repair and replaced by those of slimmer models. Hawkins says that people should “educate themselves and know that the images are not real. When they are exposed, they can refute those images.”
She suggests that in order to minimize the impact of unrealistic media portrayals, fashion and beauty magazines should be avoided. Studies have found that after spending three minutes looking at a fashion magazine, 70 percent of teen girls feel depressed, guilty and shameful. In addition, girls who read these magazines are six times more likely to develop an eating disorder.
But when everything from business cards to billboards and textbooks to television peddle false standards of beauty, it’s near impossible not to be affected.
“It’s hard because those images are everywhere,” Hawkins says. To those who are feeling the pressure of being thin, she adds “I would encourage them to definitely talk to someone about it if they feel like it’s starting to impact their behaviors.”
By learning to not compare one’s body to both the media and to everyday people, including family and friends, it’s easier to feel better about oneself.
“Try to focus on working on liking yourself and realize your self-esteem is not contingent on [your] body,” Hawkins suggests. “Those two actually don’t go together.”