Body Image – Be Not Ashamed To Be Yourself
‘Mirror mirror on the wall…’ doesn’t seem like a fairy tale anymore, does it? The witch obsessed with being the fairest of all somehow seems to have transcended generations and time to find her way into our humble homes.
As more and more people are haunted by how perfect they do not look versus how ideally they should, it won’t be long before we all are trapped in glass shadows.
And so Rapunzel looks into the mirror to make sure her hair is silky and straight. Cinderella obsesses with her ankles and thigh gap as Snow White bothers day and night to have smooth glowing fair skin. Rip Van Winkle goes into hyper mode trying to get rid of those wrinkles and Red Riding Hood has sleepless nights trying to get her fashion sense in place. These are real people. They are our friends, neighbours, family and our circles on Facebook and Instagram. They are also, if not today, but at some point you and me!
We the people who live in fairy tales wanting unrealistic images of our body flaunted for the world to see. We make up the larger society who are the champions of what apparently matters more than anything else- called Body Image.
What is Body Image?
The way an individual sees or perceives his or her body is termed as body image. A body image can be both positive and negative.
When a person is comfortable with their body and thinks of it in the same way as others, it refers to a positive body image.
On the other hand, a negative body image is when the individual is constantly unhappy with his or her body or features. This is more enhanced when the negativity stems for perceived imperfections either in the face or body which in reality are very minimal or sometimes even non-existent.
Acne, hair thinning, scars, wrinkles, shape, and size of facial features, facial symmetry are some areas of the head and face that concern those with negative body image. Similarly, other body parts, such as the hips, thighs, abdomen, breasts, buttocks, etc. are also scrutinized with perceived defects.
The Shunned and Shamed
There is a thin line that differentiates a casual want of trying to get the perfect body and face to be obsessed about it because it directly relates to shame and social phobia.
Body shaming and bullying only exemplify the plight of a negative body image where no one thinks twice before passing comment or making fun of others for their appearance.
Imagine the plight of an overweight person who has to attend a social gathering where he/she is sure to encounter a jibe about their ‘fatness’! Or the horrors of a teenager with acne to go to a party where her peers look like fairies sans the wings.
Add to all this the complete lack of social acceptance in the form of commercials that keep popping on our phones and laptops about how to lose weight not because it might affect your health, but because you may not seem important or cool. What about the creams that work magic on acne?
Of course, without them, one cannot attend the party because a pimple that measures less than millimetres will somehow overshadow the whole vibrating personality that is you!
Spending hours in front of the mirror, looking for constant approval, criticizing the body are some symptoms of negative body image. Sufferers experience high social anxiety and are scared of rejection. The sadness that one feels on having a flawed body type can lead to low confidence and low self-esteem.
Severe cases of negative body images are medically termed as BDD or Body Dysmorphic Disorder. This can lead to mental illness, depression, as well as, recourse to unnecessary avenues, such as cosmetic surgeries, crash diets or binge eating leading to anorexia or bulimia.
Bullying and Eating Disorders
The standards hence set are too high and superficial and those who cannot adhere to them find themselves trapped, shamed and many a time bullied. Sam Smith one of the best songwriters of today has openly spoken about how he was bullied as a child for having breasts at the age of 11. Being overweight
There are many ways to break the shackles of negative body image. Various therapies, such as mirror exposure therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, and dance and movement therapy can help. For eating disorders, one can consult authentic dieticians and try alternate food habits.
Fortunately, many activists and forums are also helping those who suffer from negative body images.
Social movements, such as Iweigh, #LessIsMore, Dark is Beautiful and the Dove campaign for real beauty are some of the many positive movements that are standing up to body shaming and encouraging people to love and accept themselves and their bodies.
The fashion industry is also steadily bringing in changes by including plus size models in ramp walks and brands.
The bullying can be in the form of practical jokes, snide remarks or hapless word association while addressing, such as ‘hey fatso’, or ‘hi skinny bones.’ Yet, the effect that they make on the mind and emotions of the sufferer can be shattering.
Very often food and eating habits become the first and most important escape route. Either it leads to following random diets, over-exercising or on the other hand to get rid of the guilt and stress, excessive eating. The cycle just seems to go round and round until broken by help.
The Treatments Nike, Forever 21 and Premme are introducing plus-size creations.
International stars such as Miley Cyrus, Sam Smith, Jameela Jamil to more closely at home Vidya Balan, Sonakshi Sinha, Parineeti Chopra and Anant Ambani are only a few of those in the limelight who have been under the gaze of body shaming. They have altered, rediscovered or finally shut the negativity by standing up and owning their bodies. Yet, it is just not the celebrities that face the dilemmas of body image.
Is there smoke without fire?
People with a positive body image usually cannot understand the depth of discomfort, anxiety, and stress that those with a negative image of their body suffer from. Unfortunately, this gap in understanding worsens when negative body imaging becomes severe.
Fueled by the media that portrays and paints stunning pictures of models, actors, and celebrities on a larger than life canvas, we know and have read of many people who have opted for body alterations.
The internet, tabloids and gossip magazines are all flooded with who has had a nose job or breast job. Alas, these are the people that hundreds adore and look up to. The age-old prescriptions of beauty, where only girls with a certain conformed beauty are more eligible for marriage, or where fat, chubby or dwarfed are only clowns and comedians have added fuel to the ongoing fire.
The fact is that due to major changes in lifestyle, diet and physical exercising along with drastic changes in the environment are also causes for how and why the body and physical self has changed over the years. Not to say that everyone in erstwhile times adhered to a size zero but ‘dadima ke nuske’ worked because there was no adulteration or easy access to cosmetics or canned food.
Today times have changed and the constant scrutiny into our daily lives is exposed through social media. The celebrity cult culture of endorsing those very same perceived notions of body and beauty do not help either.
Who is the fairest of all?
The one who acknowledges human relations and emotions above body image is, of course, the fairest of all.
The beauty of the mind and soul is what matters. The feelings of compassion, honesty, and courage rise above whether your features are sharp or your forehead too large.
Talent, skill and hard work are what define your image, your true character. It is belittling to cover your persona and personality under the garb of hatred for your body. If you accept yourself, which you must, because you are truly beautiful, only then can others see your magnificence as well.
And let me with an example elucidate just what I mean.
I have this friend who was good at studies and had a knack of understanding academics well. However, she got married at a young age and today has two kids. Post pregnancy she gained a lot of weight and was feeling pretty down. In fact, every time we met, the one topic that would come up for discussion was how bad she felt about her weight gain and how she was constantly checking it to know if she had crossed into the obese category. But after trying a few things like walking, exercising and dieting, she realized she was really not getting anywhere. What did she do next? She took up a teaching job and on the side prepares homemade cosmetics to hone her skills and become independent. Today when I meet her, we talk about her business and her experiences at school. She is a lot happier and confident because she trusted her abilities rather than her body image to make a mark for herself, her family and her children.
Kudos to such inspirations, because it is people like her who are breaking the mirror on the wall.