Body Confidence and Self-Image
I'm sure that nearly all of us, at some point in our lives, have experienced feelings of low self esteem and a lack of confidence in our bodies. We look at others and feel jealous of their eyes, their skin, their hair, their height, their figure or any other feature of them, while looking at ourselves and constantly finding flaws and imperfections.
Meanwhile, society constantly bombards us with size zero models, who have flawless skin, glittering eyes, shiny, healthy hair, huge boobs, tiny waists and long, thin legs. Even plus-sized models are only a UK size 12 in most cases, although the average size is a 14-16. From a very young age, children are led to believe that this image is something to aspire to, and anything less is imperfect. In magazines, advertising, television and all other forms of media, children recieve exposure to these images as society plasters them everywhere.
Children are very aware of their bodies from an early age, therefore the prominence of these images in our lives also begins to have an early impact. At the age of 2, most humans are able to recognise themselves in a mirror, and begin to dislike features of what they see a few years later. A number of surveys in America, Sweden and Japan have shown that children as young as 6 are unhappy with their body and have begun dieting to change the way they look.
The onset of puberty in adolescence only makes things worse. A survey by Harvard University showed that up to two thirds of underweight 12-year-old girls have attempted to lose further weight and believed themselves to be fat. Others were unhappy with other features of their body, such as their skin, hair, height and breast size. By the age of 18, the study showed that 7 out of 10 girls will have dieted multiple times, and eight out of ten will be extremely dissatisfied with their overall appearance.
Unsurprisingly, people are judged on their appearance. Research has shown that people who are more physically attractive are more popular socially, are more likely to get jobs and earn higher salaries and even more likely to be found guilty in a court of law. Beauty also seems to have an imapct on the moral virtue of a person; the good fairy is always beautiful, the wicked stepmother is always ugly.
A number of factors can have an effect on how people view their bodies. Those teased about a particular feature of their appearance are much more likely to be consciously aware of that flaw, and their body image may even have become permanently distorted. A childhood deprived of physical affection and a low number of romantic and sexual relationships also may be a cause, or contributing factor to, a negative body image.
However, other lifestyle factors may contribute to a more positive image. Lesbian women, or those in lesbian relationships, are more likely to have a high self-esteem than women in straight relationships. Women who exercise more are also likely to have a good self image, despite their body shapes.
Throughout history, the emphasis on body image has caused people to take drastic measures in an attempt to reach perfection. During the middle ages, lead was used to achieve the desireable pale complexion and Belladonna, a deadly poison, was used to add sparkle to eyes, causing blindness in nearly all cases, and death in others. In the 19th century, women wore corsets to draw in their waists, yet also crushing their digestive system and causing breathing problems.
Today, there is another solution: plastic surgery. More and more women are going under the knife in order to make drastic changes to their bodies. 36% of women said that they would seriously consider plastic surgery to improve the way they look. Liposuction, 'tummy tucks', breast enhancement or reduction and a multitude of facial surgeries, amongst others, are used by women and men to change their appearance, despite the risk of complications.
Dissatisfaction with appearance may also lead to mental health issues. Besides developing eating disorders, such as anorexia and bullimia, a lack of self-esteem may contribute to depression, self-harm and anxiety disorders due to insecurity about weight, body shape and other features.
I, myself, look in the mirror frequently, telling myself that I'm too thin, that my nose is too big, that my thighs look out-of-proportion, that my skin is too red, that I have too many spots and, most of all, that my scars look awful. I feel that the scars on my legs, arms and face define my appearance and, therefore, who I am and how others view me. For me, that is my biggest concern, whereas others may be concerned with their weight, or hair, or face shape, or height, or any other feature of their body.
I believe that it is society and the ideals it presents that causes women to view their bodies negatively, and it will only be when all shapes and sizes are represented that people will be accepting of their own, and others', appearance. While writing this article, I saw an advert on TV that I feel should be mentioned. It was for Prada's new perfume, and features a woman with beautiful hair and skin and a lovely figure, wearing a black lace slip, acting provocatively for the camera with the perfume bottle at the front of the image. However, on closer look, I saw that the model had a noticable gap between her front teeth, but despite that, was still very attractive. it is positive steps like these, presenting flawed models in a positive light, that will eventually lead to acceptance of every woman's shape, size and appearence and, in turn, women who feel comfortable and confident about their bodies.
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