What would you do to feel beautiful?
Body image is a sensitive subject no matter where you are in the world, but after watching National Geographic’s television program “Taboo,” I gained some harsh perspective on the extremes people will reach to fulfill their desires to feel beautiful.
From neck stretching in Thailand to breast ironing in Cameroon to silicone implants for both men and women in America, body image has people of the world taking extreme measures to change their appearances in a dramatic way.
While watching the program, I learned about women in Thailand who stretch their necks with heavy metal rings so their shoulders drop and their necks to lengthen. The bruising and discomfort caused by this practice is no match for the feelings of inadequacy these women experience without it.
In Cameroon, if a girl matures early, her breasts are ironed away with scorching hot, wooden sticks, because it is believed that her early puberty will turn her focus toward worldly possessions rather than her studies.
In other parts of the world, such as China and Russia, both males and females are having their legs surgically lengthened to make them just a bit taller. The procedure involves breaking the patient’s legs in multiple spots in order to allow the bone to heal in an elongated fashion. This procedure robs a life of months with its intense, painful recovery period – all for just a couple of inches.
We cringe at these images, but are they any different from elective plastic surgery, excessive exercise or purposefully starving ourselves?
In American society, we are showered with images of thin people looking happy, shiny, sexy and rich. On the other hand, with 2/3 of Americans being overweight or obese, we are encountered with stereotypical notions that these people are lazy, don’t care about their bodies, and likely uneducated. In addition, we learn at a very young age that eating too much makes you fat, yet were rewarded with treats like fast food or desserts for good behavior. It’s nobody’s fault; it’s everyone’s fault. The emotional turmoil caused by these messages has the potential to result in a body image disorder, whether it’s an eating disorder such as Anorexia Nervosa or Binge Eating Disorder, or daily “I hate my body” thoughts. Is it really a surprise then that we live in a culture that desperately fears fat yet experiences it more than any other society?
These are the trends that fill me with passion for a change.
Our relationship with food is crying out for repair. Our relationship with ourselves is in serious need of examination. And our relationship with societal messages must be judged and considered. Food, as simple as it may seem, is also actually a “taboo” in our society. It is loved and cherished, yet feared and loathed. It is viewed as a friend, and also a foe. It is a major source of anxiety for millions of people in America, but it’s the only source of life as we know it.
It is not our job to obsess over our pants size or our hair or our every calorie eaten. It is not our duty to agonize over a missed
day of exercise or a dessert that was irresistible. It’s true that popular media has a substantial influence on us, but only we can make the change. We can’t sit around and wait for magazine covers to magically transform into realistic images, and we can’t go to bed one night expecting to wake up to an ideal world the next morning. What we can do is redefine beauty. We can choose to live in a world where beauty is naturally occurring, and where it doesn’t need to be stretched, burned, stuffed or put on a diet. There is no one actually holding us back from feeling beautiful; it is ourselves. It’s time to let go of faulty notions about perfection; to throw away those stupid magazines; to pick up a mirror and face the beautiful reality in front of you. And once we learn to love ourselves, we will inspire others to accept themselves. Positive energy isn’t exactly in abundance in this unrelenting world, so it is up to us to create it or seek it out and appreciate it!
Be well, and enjoy the day.
Stephanie is a passionate body image activist and a founder of Guiltless, a blog that inspires people to love and appreciate their bodies and repair their relationships with food. Read more about redefining beauty at www.iamguiltless.com, and follow Stephanie on twitter at www.twitter.com/FoodForRealBlog.