Body Image Overload: Prizing Health Over Beauty

Taking the pressure off “how do I look” and working on “how do I feel”.

Isn’t it strange that we compliment people on their looks and they say, “thank you,” as if they were singlehandedly responsible for choosing their eye color or their body type? Sure, we try to take care of ourselves and we make style choices but as far as beauty and what most of us consider “attractive,” that is a roll of the dice.

Humans have always been aesthetic creatures, but since the dawn of industrialization, beauty, especially as it relates to women, has become an obsession to the point where women are willing to endure intense pain and risk their health in order to fit a prescribed model.

It’s a new phenomenon that we now prize thin over fat, and a new condition called Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) affects about 1 in 50 people in this county. It’s a condition whereby the sufferer obsesses over their perceived flaws. It often goes hand in hand with eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia nervosa1.

 

At what point did we put looking good ahead of our health?

A huge part of this problem is advertising and with digital technology, the daily hammering we receive has only gotten worse. Young girls are especially vulnerable, but boys need just as much positive reinforcement when it comes to acceptance.

So what as parents should we do about it so that our children accept their bodies as natural and beautiful for their uniqueness rather than conformity? Here are a few pointers.

 

  1. Diversity exposure. Traveling is a fantastic way to jar kids outside of their aesthetic bubble. Seeing how other people look, dress, and what they view as attractive is a huge lesson in the subjective nature of beauty. The more you can get your kids out into the larger world, the more they will accept themselves.
  1. Emphasize health. When we take care of ourselves, we feel energized and confident, and that is the best beauty regiment ever. Encourage your kids to stay active and strong so they have a good relationship with their bodies from the inside, a confidence built on capability rather than looks alone.
  1. Normalize aging. We place too much emphasis on youth in our culture. One thing we need to point out to our girls in particular is that many of the “anti-aging” products and processes out there have a “wow” factor, but the results are temporary and the long-term health effects are substantial. For example, Botox and plastic surgery may make a woman in her 40s look younger, but by the time she is in her late 50s, she will be looking very unnatural. Show your daughter many examples of older women who didn’t go that route.
  1. Keep pretty fun. When it comes to the things we can control about the way we look, like a new hairstyle, or getting dressed up for a party, keep it fun! Don’t force your kids in a certain direction, let them own their style and enjoy working with what they have. There are clothes out there that will look great on any body type and it should be a happy complement, rather than a hair-pulling stressor.
  1. Remind them about Photoshop. Yes there are naturally stunning people out there in the world, but no one is without their flaws, and those flaws disappear with a tap of the cursor in this highly airbrushed world. Kids often don’t realize how manufactured these images are. There are some great online videos that will show the before and after affects – natural vs. edited.
  1. Remind them how love works. If you have teens, they are likely reaching that self-conscious and hyper-vigilant age where they want attention from peers and potentially boyfriends or girlfriends. We can really help our kids here by gently reminding them that it is the substance of out personalities that makes others love us, not the size, shape or color we are.

 

Above all, it’s really critical that our kids don’t hear us complaining about our bodies, that we model self-acceptance and healthy self-care, otherwise, who is going to show them what real beauty is all about? Really when we are dissatisfied with the shell, it means there is something deeper going on, and if we as parents recognize that, our children will need less superficial validation and value their inner qualities more.

 

 

 

References:

  1. https://bdd.iocdf.org/professionals/prevalence/

About Susie Almaneih

Susie Almaneih spent several years during her young adulthood teaching children dance at her church group, as well as other cultural-based activities. Susie now spends as much time as she can giving back to the families in her community. Over the years, this love for community has evolved into a deeper love for delivering positive and creative content and awareness to families of all ages.

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