How Smart People are Suckered Into Body Hatred
By Z Zoccolante
“As a woman you grow up with it,” a friend says, referring to the certain images of beauty plastered everywhere. “Eating disorders are an inherent possibility if you’re a woman.”
Being a female is akin to having a sixth sense, a knowingness and awareness that there’s a whisper of “skinny” in the air. On a conscious level we may think that we’re not affected by magazines, mannequins, billboards, or TV. We’re aware of their presence but are also taught that models are Photoshopped and have barely slid through puberty.
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Yet on a deeper, subconscious, cellular level, our atoms prickle.
Most of us, if asked, would consider ourselves smart, capable human beings. Most of us are intelligent and motivated.
Even as a shy loner in high school, who practically lived in the back of the library journaling, I still considered myself smart. At the very least, I thought for sure I was making my own decisions and that I was in the driver’s seat of my life.
Flash forward to a few weeks ago. While doing research for a psychology paper, I viewed images of models to pull for my Powerpoint presentation. As I clicked through Google, two images screamed at me pulling me into strange remnants of my past.
The first photo here, shows a young Kate Moss with hands against her sides, revealing her thin belly, and sporting a few upper ribs. My first reaction as an adult was, “Wow, that doesn’t look so healthy.” Then the flashback slammed into the side of my brain.
I’m sixteen with the bathroom door closed. There’s a mirror on the wall above the hamper at chest level. I back up into the middle of the small bathroom so as much of my torso is visible in the space between my underwear and training bra. I place my hands against the sides of my body, my boney elbows arching behind me like chicken wings.
I’m trying to look like her, like the image I saw in the magazine earlier that day, the image of Kate Moss with skinny torso and a few protruding ribs. I look back through my memory trying to will the image I saw of myself in the mirror, but I can’t recall it today. I do know that by the time I was stealing poses from magazines, I’d already begun my descent into anorexia.
I remember thinking that my ribs were too large compared to my body. I remember thinking I was unporportional and that I was a pathetic imitation of the beautiful photo.
Back before vision boards were popularized, I had a book of quotes and pictures. A few of the clear leaflet pages were devoted to pictures I’d torn out of magazines – tall, super thin girls, with catlike facial features.
In my class project research, I discover another photo of a runway model seen here. Today, normal me thinks, “What the hell. That’s not strong at all.” But this is another photo I had in my picture book, only this photo was a marker that said, “No skinnier than this.”
Unhealthy me in high school, gave myself a cutoff point that was clearly unhealthy in itself. Yet, back then I congratulated myself for having a clear and “healthy” stopping point.
Sixteen year old me told myself, “Any thinner than the girl in that picture and I’m too thin. Then I’ll be sick.”
Too bad that left pounds of wiggle room for dangerous and depressive neural pathways to cement.
You see, I once wanted to be a runway model. People came to watch those silent gods giving their ooohs and ahhhs. The walk commanded power. Without uttering a single word, the crowd applauded as though you were a rare and beautiful creature.
Today, I consider that idea such nonsense.
Today, my idea of beauty doesn’t include my complete silence.
I’d never considered myself as someone
who’d been deeply affected by our media.
But I was.
The time I wasted with eating disorders and hating myself cost me years of happiness and freedom. Although I’ve gotten my life completely back, many have not.
Whether you have a diagnosed eating issue or not, being a person in our culture means that you’re affected. Men and women are targeted. None of us get to escape this culture, but we can be responsible for striking our own match in the dark.
Parents: Keep open communication with your child about self-image, weight, or body issues. Encourage and assist your child to build a sense of worth and confidence that’s based on character, skills, and things that make their hearts happy. Be aware of what they’re idolizing. Notice changes in eating patterns or weight. If you feel that something is off, don’t ignore it. Enlist the help of a professional. As a parent it’s not your job to be your kids best friend: It’s your job to be a parent because you love your kid.
Teens: You’re not alone. Right now, life may be going the way you might like, but it will get better. Read this post, discover things that make you happy, and do them. If you have a secret that’s hurting you, find someone safe to talk to.
Men: It’s okay to ask for help or support when you need it. You don’t have to have the six-pack abs to be sexy. Confidence, respect, and humor will always be badass. Here’s an article I wrote especially for the men.
Women: Find a role model you admire for reasons that have nothing to do with their looks (most of my current role models are at least ten years older than me and are brilliant, fun, and witty). As women it’s so important that we deal with our own personal issues of beauty and body image because our kids, and the youth around us, watch us. They learn to treat themselves and others the way they see us treating ourselves.
Be the person to strike a match in the dark.