By Arushi Kothari
“I’m too short”, “I’m too fat”, “I’m too hairy”. Does any of this sound familiar? Many of us look in the mirror and hate our bodies. Some, a small minority as research suggests are completely satisfied with it. The Austrian psychoanalyst Paul Schilder coined the term ‘body image’ which generally refers to a person’s feeling about the aesthetic and sexual attractiveness of his/her own body.
A Harvard Study published in 2000 revealed that 86% of teenage girls are either on a diet or feel that they should be on one. In America the dieting industry earns roughly 40 billion dollars per year. Psychology Today revealed that 56% women were dissatisfied with their overall appearance. What these statistics suggest is that in today’s world, many people, especially women are developing a poor body image.
As women see size 0 and 00 models with the so-called ‘perfect’ bodies being oohed and aahed by others (especially men), the conclusion that they draw is that they will never be liked or oohed at with their current body. This is a negative effect of observational learning; due to which women start comparing themselves with mostly airbrushed models in ads etc, thereby developing a poor self image. This affects male psyche as well. In a recent study, men after being shown pictures of thin supermodels tend to judge real women more harshly. This creates more pressure on the women to get that ‘perfect’ look.
In a longitudinal study, it was found that women reported body image dissatisfaction more often even though men placed greater significance on physical appearance. The dieting and cosmetic industry thrives on this fact. But what they don’t understand is that this world of achieving a ‘perfect’ body is based on a vicious cycle where it is very difficult to determine when to stop.
Society is also to be blamed for this yearning for perfection leading to a poor self image. Children watch their mothers spending hours at length in the gym, in the beauty salon, in front of the mirror. The result is that their mothers are complimented everywhere they go for her physical attributes. The conclusion that a young and impressionable child draws is that you have to look pretty to be appreciated. This is especially true for girls. Also the ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots portrayed by the media as ‘desirable’ and ‘undesirable’ respectively have a very deep impact on old and young alike.
A 2007 report by the American Psychological Association found that a culture-wide sexualization of girls (and women) was contributing to increased female anxiety associated with body image. Girls from an early age learn that it is absolutely imperative for them to meet those impossibly exacting standards of feminine beauty. And so start the questions, “Do you think I’m too fat?”, “Does this look boyish?”, “Am I looking pretty enough?”
This pressure to look ‘socially desirable’ is more on women as compared to men presumably because women are seen as a burden by many traditionalists; and hence need to be perfectly dolled up to get married or have any kind of meaningful relationship. Otherwise who would bother to look twice at a woman who looks exactly as nature intended her to be?
The perfect body is not one which is size 0; nor is it the one which graces the covers of most fashion magazines. The perfect body is one which has a happy and satisfied woman in it.