The media is saturated with it. We just have to turn on the television, open a fashion or beauty magazine, log into Facebook, and what do we see? We see multiple images of women and men who are supposed to represent some sort of ‘ideal’. Each decade we encounter a different version of ‘ideal’. With ‘ideals’ ever-changing, how can anyone keep up? And, to be frank, why should they? Exposed to these messages, we might base a large part of our self-esteem, self-worth, and success upon matching up to these ‘ideals’ of body image. If we do not match up, there are ways to alter our physical self, almost as if we are a piece of clay that can be moulded to fit the current ‘ideal’.
Breasts too small for the current trend? We can have an enlargement. Too big for the trend of the next decade? We can simply have them reduced. If people cannot afford to do this, then they may feel the need to hide their natural shape. Or they may starve themselves to reduce their body size–often resulting in an eating disorder.There are various ways to change your face too. Have a nose job. Have a facelift. Get Botox shots.
Thanks to advances in medicine, it is possible to fend off ageing through cosmetic surgery, rather than by living a healthy lifestyle or using creams (if the creams even work!).
For those that struggle in these areas, whether a little or a lot, I propose the following questions: What if you accepted your features and body type as they are meant to be? What if part of self-actualisation is about being okay with being in the body you have? What if it is about choosing a healthy lifestyle, not eating fast food every mealtime, and not refusing to exercise when you are physically able to do so. What if you could see that your face and your body are uniquely designed, regardless of current ‘trends’? How might that affect the health of your physical self and your sense of yourself? What if you stopped comparing yourself with the images showing up in your Facebook stream, on TV, and in magazines? I ask myself these questions too.
I have compassion and concern for the younger generation and the standards of ‘beauty’ broadcast to them. “How do I look in others’ eyes?” That is so often the underlying message. TheTED talk I watched recently shows the power of these messages on young people of today, and how we all can be affected by these things. I know we can use media to give a counter-message, a positive one that will allow for a healthier sense of self to develop in relation to body image. Historically, physical ideals change and to chase a current physical ideal that we can’t achieve is unhealthy.
I have been facing my own issues regarding my physical self while writing this post. I recognised that I have issues regarding my facial features more strongly than I had previously thought. I knew there were some things about my face that I didn’t so much appreciate. I knew I wished I was more ‘attractive’ in some ways while also not wanting to change who I truly am. I noticed that I felt these concerns more strongly than ten years ago. Could this have something to do with reaching mid-life? I have begun reflecting on this.
Writing this post, I became quite emotional about how I look and about the dominant media images. I even began to wonder if I am ‘ugly’ (like the theme of the TED talk). I began picking out different features of my face that I didn’t appreciate. I realised this was not good for me, but how easy it can be to go down that path. No amount of remembering comments from the past or people telling me presently that I was attractive seemed to change this process. I needed to allow what I felt room to be felt and also to re-affirm that who I physically am is good enough. This person that is “me” is beautiful, and comparing myself to someone else or some fabricated ideal/image is not helpful.
Being my best self, with the face I have been given, will surely bring me more contentment and freedom than wishing I looked different. I set a goal for the coming weeks to stop myself each time I make a comparison. Rather, daily I will tell myself as I look in the mirror that I am designed as a beautiful work of unique art. And if people do not appreciate it, they can simply go to another gallery!