Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Maintaining a healthy body image


This topic is so complex that it's hard to even get started when talking about body image and keeping healthy body weights.  We hear a lot these days about overweight children and the psychological impact being overweight can have on them, especially in puberty, and especially when they begin to measure themselves against the unhealthy body images that are held up as a kind of measure - very thin models in fashion magazines and on runways.  The flack that design houses of all kinds have gotten in the past few years has prompted a few to declare that they will cut back on photo-shopping images or start using runway models with health body-weights.  Still, we as a society seem to have trouble keeping a balanced image of what bodies should be like; not too heavy, not too thin, a proper height-to-weight ratio.  And when people start comparing body weight out of context with how tall they are, or how much of their bodies are made up of muscle versus fats (muscle is heavier), the chances of losing perspective on healthiness are greater.

I have been working with someone who appears very much to have an eating disorder, and it's hard for me to understand how something could get into someone's mind to the point that they begin to do damage to themselves.  Everyone has their share of body-gripes.  Recently, when trying to find a few skirts to add to my wardrobe (in light of getting a new job where the dress code is very professional), I started to get disheartened when the skirts that were apparently in my size (and I don't try to kid myself about my size, I'm an honest 8 - 10 depending on the store or designer) would slip on over my thighs and hips but refuse to zip up over my butt.  I'm a girl who has curves, and I like them, and Drew also likes them and I like that, but when things don't fit right a little voice always peeps up, whispering "This size used to fit you just fine... maybe you've had one too many poutine and beers my friend."  I damn that voice to hell, and keep my confidence about my body up by remembering how much I like it and what it can do.  This body has a brown belt in Tae Kwon Do, it can kick someone who is 6'5" in the jaw, it is a strong swimmer and a fast runner, and it can fill out a pair of jeans like that's it's job.  I should put that on my resumé.

I realise, however, that society's voice is a lot stronger than some people's self-confidence.  The girl I work with seems to be an example of that.  And who can blame her, or even say that she has made unhealthy choices, when the images from the fashion industry promote stick-thin bodies?  I came across this blog posting today, which prompted me to write this post.  When I looked at the first few photos I thought "wow, what a beautiful face!"  Then, as I started to scroll further down I noticed that this beautiful face is balanced atop a skeleton-like body.  Take a good look at the model's legs, and even her arms and chest where you can see them.  She is so thin that, like my coworker, I wonder how she is able to walk properly, and assume that she can not really run very well.

Unhealthy body image isn't some kind of rare problem that a few people have - it's rampant in our society, and meeting a person who feels good about their body more often than not is hard to do.  While plenty of attention is being paid to childhood obesity and helping kids make healthier choices, I start to hope that attention will be paid equally to the other side of the healthy-body problem, so that more people can feel really good about themselves and strong, healthy bodies become our proper standard of beauty.

4 comments:

  1. My plan is to spend the next year walking around saying, "Hello. Nice to meet you. My name is Elaine, and I fill out a pair of jeans like it's my job."

    Your post brings up an important topic of discussion. It makes me think of two things that complicate the picture of (a) an eating disorder, and/or (b) body image.

    Firstly, from what I've read eating disorders can also arise not just from body image concerns (though that might be sometimes mixed in to the overall picture too) but also from a need to have control over something. Interestingly enough, it turns out that some people handle feeling out of control of their lives by finding something they can control--their weight, or their food intake/outtake. I have a couple of friends that have told me that they used to be bulimic but that instead of throwing up they would take laxatives. As a result, they would actually EAT more or less normally, but then their body would flush out the food through their bum. This of course avoids the problems that arise with stomach acids coming back over the teeth and mouth too regularly, but it leads to all kinds of other horrible problems in the body's organs, not to mention psychological troubles. In both cases they said that they'd developed their eating disorders as a kind of stress response. Both also had lived their younger lives in psychologically abusive households and when they couldn't do anything to change their outside world, they started intentionally messing with their inside world--the one thing they could choose what to do with. I've known other people too that alter their food intake in response to stress--cases that might not be arising out of childhood abuse (I don't know) but do now come up as a way to feel in control of something. Such cases are still hugely problematic in terms of health of the body, but they less obviously come from just body image concerns. I believe there are studies on these kinds of eating disorder triggers, but I couldn't reference any right now.

    The other thing that complicates this whole discussion is that some people really do simply lose weight with stress, or have a hard time keeping weight on. That their body "naturally" stays pretty skinny, even as thin as the girl in the blog post you reference. This in no way undermines the very sad reality of unhealthy body image issues as you're discussing, and many people that appear that thin are that way because they're not eating properly, as you say here. Those are a very real concern and I think your points about how our society encourages such troubles is really important to bring out. It is the case though too that some people have body image issues in the other direction--that they're thinner than they'd like to be and have difficulty being otherwise. Or, the case that some people, body image issues or not, simply end up looking rather thin and might be eating pretty healthy in the midst of it. I've known people that eat rather voraciously and stay rail thin anyway, and then get hassled about whether they eat enough even when they clearly do.

    ReplyDelete
  2. My plan is to spend the next year walking around saying, "Hello. Nice to meet you. My name is Elaine, and I fill out a pair of jeans like it's my job."

    Your post brings up an important topic of discussion. It makes me think of two things that complicate the picture of (a) an eating disorder, and/or (b) body image.

    Firstly, from what I've read eating disorders can also arise not just from body image concerns (though that might be sometimes mixed in to the overall picture too) but also from a need to have control over something. Interestingly enough, it turns out that some people handle feeling out of control of their lives by finding something they can control--their weight, or their food intake/outtake. I have a couple of friends that have told me that they used to be bulimic but that instead of throwing up they would take laxatives. As a result, they would actually EAT more or less normally, but then their body would flush out the food through their bum. This of course avoids the problems that arise with stomach acids coming back over the teeth and mouth too regularly, but it leads to all kinds of other horrible problems in the body's organs, not to mention psychological troubles. In both cases they said that they'd developed their eating disorders as a kind of stress response. Both also had lived their younger lives in psychologically abusive households and when they couldn't do anything to change their outside world, they started intentionally messing with their inside world--the one thing they could choose what to do with. I've known other people too that alter their food intake in response to stress--cases that might not be arising out of childhood abuse (I don't know) but do now come up as a way to feel in control of something. Such cases are still hugely problematic in terms of health of the body, but they less obviously come from just body image concerns. I believe there are studies on these kinds of eating disorder triggers, but I couldn't reference any right now.

    ReplyDelete
  3. The other thing that complicates this whole discussion is that some people really do simply lose weight with stress, or have a hard time keeping weight on. That their body "naturally" stays pretty skinny, even as thin as the girl in the blog post you reference. This in no way undermines the very sad reality of unhealthy body image issues as you're discussing, and many people that appear that thin are that way because they're not eating properly, as you say here. Those are a very real concern and I think your points about how our society encourages such troubles is really important to bring out. It is the case though too that some people have body image issues in the other direction--that they're thinner than they'd like to be and have difficulty being otherwise. Or, the case that some people, body image issues or not, simply end up looking rather thin and might be eating pretty healthy in the midst of it. I've known people that eat rather voraciously and stay rail thin anyway, and then get hassled about whether they eat enough even when they clearly do.

    ReplyDelete
  4. All that being said--let's all be healthy and live fantastic, enthusiastic lives!

    ReplyDelete