Body Loathing

Hunger Games: The War Women Wage Against Their  Bodies

an article about body loathing

By Dr. Sam Von Reiche and Colleen Baker

Life has dealt womankind a full house of body-loathing cards—self hatred, self punishment, the compulsive search for penance, redemption and perfection. We sneer with disdain at our mirror reflections, and grab disgustedly at our un-toned stomachs. Dare we eat a forbidden bite of dessert or skip a workout at the gym?

Each and every day women wage the Battle of the Bulge for the perfectly slender and sculpted bodies they see in the fashion mags. And while they might even make headway every so often, they inevitably lose the war: because it is an unwinnable war, where female self worth hinges on the impossibility of physical perfection.

A survey by Glamour Magazine reveals that 97% of women are waging this brutal war against their bodies. Young women across the country were asked to track every negative thought they consciously had about themselves in a day. A total of 37% reported being appalled at how brutal their body self-talk actually was.

As the Talking Heads once mused “How did we get here?” How did women come to treat the temple of their bodies as though they were enemies? As Glamour points out, we have been bred to not like what we see from the very start.

From early on, girls are socialized to tie their female worth with physical beauty: the perfect face, perfect body and perfect look, as well as to ‘act like a lady’. Millions of messages influence girls not to embrace themselves as they are. As Glamour respondent Ann Kearney-Cooke, PhD. puts it, “Friends getting together and tearing themselves down is such a common thing that it’s hard to avoid.” It has become a bonding experience for girls to rip themselves apart. The movie Mean Girls is a great example of this horrendous ritual. In one compelling scene, the central group of beautiful teen girls, the Plastics, are looking in the mirror and pointing out their flaws. When they direct their attention to the imperfections of their newest member, she appears happily oblivious. Raised in Africa, she is comfortable with her body, and entirely naïve to their American body-loathing culture.

Intense media pressure for women to have perfect bodies encourages the rampant proliferation of eating disorders, exercise addictions, anxiety and depression. But gorgeous celebrities like Adele, Kate Winslet and Jessica Simpson who refuse to yield to unrelenting Hollywood pressure to be super thin serve as inspirations for us all. If more female celebs fought back, young girls would have an easier time embracing their own curves.

From the start, young girls need to be taught that being comfortable with themselves is more important than maintaining a certain size or looking like a model. Research has already begun to explore the promotion of self-love to young children. Dr. Jennifer O’Dea implemented the school based “Everybody’s Different” program for body image and self esteem. Dr. O’Dea’s research found that participating schools reported significant decreases in body-perfecting practices and overall body negativity.

A mandatory curriculum for grades as low as first or second promoting healthy body image and self esteem in both girls and boys would represent a giant step towards correcting this widespread problem. Little girls who truly like what they see in the mirror can in turn become healthy role models for future generations. One day American women everywhere will look in the mirror and smile.

Now that is an American Dream.

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