Society Obligates Poor Body Image

3 years ago

Originally published on

I am living proof that being small does not save a person from criticizing their body or having ‘fat days.’ Almost every day, I follow the process I wrote about in Naked Salvation. Some days, it’s a struggle to find beauty in that mirror.

The reasoning is complex and far from logical. I notice if I am feeling down for any reason, I’ll treat my body poorly through my eating and fitness habits. Subconsciously, I’ll choose the exact worst times to look in that mirror or weight myself. It’s like I want to feel bad about myself. Then, a realization dawned on me this weekend. Yes, body image is largely connected to self-confidence and self-worth, but there’s more. Part of the reason I do this to myself, part of the reason many people (but especially women) do this to themselves, is because I feel obligated to hate my physical appearance.

It’s 2014, so I assume we’ve all seen Mean Girls by this point. Remember the scene where Regina, Gretchen, Karen are complaining about their reflections in the mirror while Cady looks on in wonder? Eventually, they all turn to her expectantly, wanting to know what she things is wrong with her.

While not so obvious, scenes like that one are happening every day. Perhaps we just want to assure a friend or acquaintance that we are not anymore perfect than they are or many we don’t want to sound proud or boastful by saying “I look damn sexy.” Either way, many of us, myself included, give in to the idea we have something to complain about. What happens after years of complaining about one’s legs, stomach or butt? Eventually, you honestly start to think that way. Those bad habits, whether they are picked up in high school or somewhere else, hold us to the idea that our bodies are flawed. Despite the fact that we are all different and beautiful in that uniqueness, we live in a world obsessed with perfection.

The problem is, no matter how close to perfection one becomes, they will never achieve that goal. In fact, I’d argue that perfection is a form of imperfection in and of itself.

Pretend for a moment that everything is perfect: your body, your job, your love life, your friendships, your house, your belongings. Life is literally perfect and you have every single thing you could possible want. What is left? What do you do every day? What are your future goals and aspirations? Can you have any once you’ve achieved perfection? I’m willing to bet life for one who have achieved complete perfection is rather boring and lonely. Is that really what we all want?

The body is a journey, too. We eat and play. We gaze at other humans with lust or disgust. All the while, whether we think about it or not, we are shaping our bodies into whatever we want. Nature will work against us from day one, changing our bodies so there is always something to work on. A person can always eat healthier or work out harder. The body is not a thing we finish, but a part of life’s journey.

Hate is not required to change our body. In fact, I bet love is what’s really required. In order to be the best we can be and take our body on a journey with more health than sickness, we must love our bodies. We must look at all our curves and uniqueness in the mirror and find love.

Unfortunately, society rarely promotes such thinking. How else would they sell their beauty products? I’m not saying people who wear makeup and worry about their ‘problem areas’ all hate their bodies, but some do. I hear friends complain about the color of their eye lashes, so they wear maschera. They go to the gym to get rid of their ‘fat ass.’ Rarely do I hear someone say, “I’m wearing eyeliner today to bring out my natural beauty” or “I’m going to the gym today because it always makes me feel fantastic.”

Commercials that sell these products don’t sell them based on the idea that a person is fine just the way they are. They are sold on the idea that, in order to achieve beauty, you must use their product, eat their food, or join their gym.

This photo, “Mearn Girls Poster” is copyright (c) 2014 Odenosuke and made available under anAttribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license

I try hard to eat healthy, exercise and treat my body well for reasons like “to feel good” and “to love my body.” My body deserves to be treated well, and that means keeping it as healthy as possible. That means looking in the mirror and loving who I am. Oddly enough, if I voice these reasons, people often seem confused.

“Look at you. Why would you need to go to the gym.”

“You’re so skinny. Eat another cookie.”

While it doesn’t happen as often anymore, I used to feel like people would actually seem angry at the idea I would go to the gym or swap out my side of fries for steamed vegetables. My friends in college became concerned I had an eating disorder because of my concern for health, made all the more ironic because they didn’t take notice whenI actually had an unhealthy relationship with food. My increased interest in nutrition was part of my recovery from excessive calorie counting and reduction.

Is it just that our view of health is just this twisted? What makes us think a skinny person shouldn’t be eating healthy or working out? What makes us feel obligated to criticize our bodies like that Mean Girls scene? Would it really seem boastful and rude to love your body?

Twitter: @tkrv12

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