On body image and beauty

How do you picture yourself? In your mind’s eye, how do you look? Does what you envision match what you see in the mirror?

My husband is a sociologist (pursuing his PhD), and a lot of things that his classmates talk about includes how people see themselves and others. A lot of the world’s problems – and solutions – have their start in that little issue of perception. Today I’m ranting about body image.

I have learned that approximately one third of adults in the USA misclassify their own weight. (That is, given the categories of “underweight”, “correct weight” and “overweight”, their perception of themselves does not match the category their BMI actually puts them in.) A THIRD. That is a lot of people. And that’s only considering what the people actually say about themselves. How they feel can be even further separated from the truth. (This is the study I am paraphrasing:  Self Perception Of Weight Appropriateness in the US.)

And I have learned there is such a thing as “phantom fat”. It is sometimes experienced by people who have lost large amounts of weight. They may know that according to the scale, they are now an appropriate weight. They can state out loud that they are an appropriate weight. But they don’t feel that way. In their mind’s eye they are still overweight. They still are concerned with fitting into chairs. When shown clothing, they think the larger sizes will fit their body, instead of the smaller sizes that actually fit. The fat they have lost still sticks around in their memory and in their perception of their looks. (Here’s the story: “Phantom Fat” can linger after weight loss.)

Personally, I have the opposite issue. When I was several years younger, I was a lean size 6 and looooved my collection of short skirts. I took ballroom dancing lessons and got to wear those outrageous dancing costumes at the competitions. And in my mind’s eye, I still look that way. But that was 8 years and several clothing sizes ago. I now wear the same clothing size as the average American women, but because of the image I have of myself in my mind’s eye I still look the way I did then. I can tell you my weight and size and the fact I am in a doctor’s opinion, “overweight”. But none of that changes how I view myself or how I feel about myself. I feel, and therefore act, sexy, confident, and sure of myself. This is in spite of the fashion industry trying to convince me I need control panels in my jeans and push up pads in my bras.

There have been a lot of things in the news lately about body image and beauty. I like very few of them. Here are two of the more notable losers:

Ralph Lauren hires first Plus Size model. When you read that headline, what size of woman do you think she is? Maybe a woman who wears plus-size clothes? (Which is a horrible term on its own, but I’ll complain about it another day.) Nope! She’s a size 12, the size that half the USA adult female population is larger than. That is NOT “plus size”. That’s AVERAGE size. Of course she’s larger than most models. But she is not larger than most women. This is a very good example of the disconnect that exists between the fashion industry and the American public. Calling a woman “plus size” when she does not wear plus sized clothing is a misnomer that will affect every person who looks at photos of her and connects her with that term.  Here’s a link to an article with good statistics and good photos of the woman:  http://ohnotheydidnt.livejournal.com/72708166.html

Skinny Disney Characters. Seriously??? We’re skinnying down children’s cartoon characters now? It’s not Disney itself doing it, it’s a clothing manufacturer. I dislike the idea of it, but I hate this sentence the most: “The standard Minnie Mouse will not look so good in a Lanvin dress”. It was said by the manufacturer’s creative designer. And he has it completely backwards. It is the Lanvin dress that would not look good on Minnie Mouse. It is clothing that is supposed to look good on the wearer, not the other way around. It is clothing, its design and its fit, that should be criticized, not the person. And the sooner clothing manufacturers realize that, the better. Here is the article with the best (worst?) photos I could find: http://blog.zap2it.com/pop2it/2012/08/skinny-disney-characters-minnie-mouse-daisy-duck-and-goofy-go-high-fashion.html 

It’s difficult to counter so many messages telling us that we are not tall enough, skinny enough, or pretty enough. Even men have to wrestle with these issues. Even my husband has had struggles with how he believes people perceive him. (And he’s gorgeous, by the way.) A small snippet of his struggle is listed in the first half of this post: Marathon Training Day 11: In the gym with younger, stronger, faster people.

But I am going to end this post on a good, happy note. Not everyone falls victim to the fashion and beauty and weight loss industries telling them there is something wrong that they need to fix. Some stand out from the crowd and empower others to do the same. Lada Gaga is one example. Her response to those viewers who criticized her recent weight gain is refreshing. http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/25/showbiz/lady-gaga-body/index.html

Here is one such video, with no apparant connection to stars or fashion icons. I definately encourage you to watch it. I’d love if this video and ones like it were shown in every classroom in the USA, every year. If only we could reach children and teach them they are beautiful before anything infringes on their ability to believe it. And amazingly, it includes a series of photographs of beautiful women that, for once, leave the viewer feeling as beautiful as they are.  It’s title: On Real Beauty: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOz0DHoMsq8

Don’t let others put you in a box with any unsatisfying label on it. Ever. You are beautiful. You are handsome. No matter what.

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