When we think about how disordered eating is being challenged in media, we often think about all the work that is going into campaigns, ads and popular television. They are targeting women and girls to help make them understand how magazines and television are not showing us the whole picture.
For me, the first thing that comes to mind is the “Dove Campaign for Real Beauty.” One of the areas Dove focussed on was putting together a series of videos that many of us have seen watching television or surfing online. There is one called “Amy” where a young boy rides his bike to Amy’s house to call on her. She doesn’t answer and he sits outside looking defeated and sad. The caption at the end reads “Amy can name 12 things wrong with her appearance. He can’t name one. Sent to you by someone who thinks you’re beautiful.” This video is trying to tell women and girls that they are beautiful to other people and to discourage them from nitpicking about the way they look, based on what they compare themselves to around them and in the media. How many women and girls have done this? Probably every woman you have ever known.
Another video from the Dove campaign shows a little girl’s face, with music in the background getting you ready for something big by saying, “Here it comes, here it comes, here it comes.” With every additional “here it comes” more intense than the last, the video then intensely bombards the viewer with images of women and girls in underwear, bikinis, sexy videos, sexy perfume and cosmetics — ads that tell them how to be more beautiful, lighter, tighter, thinner, softer, younger, firmer, etc. at an extremely fast pace. It displays how women are forever dieting, eating too little, making themselves throw up and getting plastic surgery to “enhance” their looks. At the end it goes back to the little girl and states, “Talk to your daughter before the beauty industry does.” The video is called “Onslaught” and the caption reads “Think unrealistic ads don’t affect young girls? Think again.”
Disordered eating is our issue. It has gone on too long, and we have felt inadequate for too long. The “beauty” industry prevails while we suffer. We are your mom, your sister, your aunt, your grandma, your daughter, your cousin, your partner, your friend. We are sitting next to you drinking only diet soda at the movies, secretly wishing we were eating popcorn and a Coffee Crisp. We are choosing our sub without mayonnaise at Subway, already hating our decision and wishing that we were having a Whopper at Burger King. We are screaming inside our heads when we walk down the streets of Corydon, seeing others who look so great all around us.
I was 25-years-old before I learned about having a positive self-image. As much of an advocate I was for my friends and my daughter, this was not the case for me. I was part of a focus group that looked at having a healthy body image with an exercise component. For the first time, I was exposed to a workshop where a facilitator came in from the Women’s Health Clinic to present issues on weight preoccupation. I remember being blown away by her facts, as well as thinking, “What does she have to worry about? She’s stunning. She doesn’t understand my struggles.” The truth was that I was in the best shape of my life at this point. When I look back at pictures, it saddens me to think how horribly I felt about my body — how self loathing I was. This had to change, and it did.
Now I work and volunteer for organizations that promote a healthy body image, that promote self care, that promote loving yourself just the way you are. If not only for me, it had to change for my daughter. But first I had to start with myself and how she witnesses me treating myself. The best I could do was educate myself so this would be passed down to her.
I have brought my daughter up to love and adore her body. She sees how my body has expanded over the years and how I have embraced it. So what if I have to buy new jeans, shirts and sweaters every year — this way I’m always in style! As long as they make clothes that fit my size, I don’t have a problem! She witnesses how I react to insults to bigger bodies in the media and on television. She witnesses how I react to my mom and other family members’ remarks about my ever-expanding body — how I laugh it off, sit on their lap, pull up my shirt and shove it in their face. What’s a woman to do? It’s their issue, not mine. And they’re definitely not going to make it my daughter’s issue.
So to see if I have given my 13-year-old the right messages over the years about body image, I asked her what she thought about the topic. She stated, “Girls are a lot more self-conscious about their looks because of what the media is telling them.” When I asked her what we can do about it she stated, “Realize that everyone is their own person and has their own body type and they’re beautiful no matter what. Don’t judge others because of what they look like. Realize that the media alters physical appearance and that it’s impossible to meet their standards. Try not to think about how you look to others.”
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Then why is it so difficult? What are we going to do about it? What are you going to do about it?