“Advertising for many commercial goods functions by cultivating our body insecurity or hatred in order to sell products. If we all believed we were attractive as we are, for example, we would have little need for most commercial beauty products. Women in particular are taught that their self-worth is determined by how well they match the cultural standard of beauty. Most of us therefore feel inadequate and that we can never measure up. And it seems as if advertisers have recently realized that they were so busy exploiting women’s insecurities, they’d forgotten half the population. So now they’re doing their best to make men feel equally horrible about themselves. Buying into these images doesn’t benefit anyone but the advertisers”.
– Linda Bacon & Lucy Aphramor, “Body Respect”.
A few years ago, when I was facilitating a workshop on emotion-driven overeating, I was talking about not buying into “the cultural standard of beauty” that Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor describe. One of the participants became quite angry and said something like “it’s all very well to say that but this is how the world works”.
Her point was that the pressure – especially on women, but increasingly on men – to be thin and attractive is real and, essentially, we have no choice but to conform. I understand her frustration. I get it. I agree the pressure is very, very real.
But I don’t agree we have to conform.
Not conforming doesn’t mean you give up on yourself – in fact, quite the opposite.
It means you stop beating up your body and begin to appreciate all that it does for you. It means you’re more attuned to its needs. It means you’re more likely to invest in your health and well-being. It means you want to do the very best for your body because you believe it’s of value.
After all, what we value and appreciate we want to look after.
Not conforming to the pressures placed upon us is, therefore, an act of empowerment and self-care.
Personally, it helps me to remember this when my body-shaming inner bully is dripping poison in my ear about how I don’t look “right” or “good enough”. It wants me to loathe my body because it doesn’t measure up.
I remind myself I have a choice.
I choose deliberately and consciously not to conform.
How about you?
Click here to read a great article about the history of the “ideal woman” by Jaqueline Howard of CNN. It includes a really wonderful animation by Anna Ginsburg which depicts the ideals imposed on women’s bodies through the ages. It’s only just over 2½ minutes long and well-worth viewing.
Additional questions for this month’s eatonomy group on Saturday 29th June can now be found on the News page.