Let’s be real, the pressure has always been on for girls and women to look a certain way. Go back to any time period, and you will find that women are under pressure to look their absolute best (usually to find a husband—why doesn’t this surprise me?). It’s quite difficult to understand why things have turned out this way for us, and it’s even more perplexing to see it still happening today, despite living in an era of full-on “wokeness” and inclusivity.
So what’s the problem? Well, to put it simply, we are the problem. I know it’s not what you want to hear, but hear me out.
Back in the day, top models graced fashion magazine spreads and ad campaigns. Sure, it wasn’t as prominently thrown in my face as the current stream of fashion posts on social media I tend to spend hours looking at, but those pictures were there and worked their way into every female psyche.
Photoshop wizards weren’t helping either; in fact, they just made things worse for us by using technology to “perfect” our “flaws.” Then Dove released a brilliant short film showcasing the truth behind the fashion marketing industry. It was a revolutionary moment for the body positivity movement. It helped women to feel more confident about themselves and to not completely dismiss their own beauty. Dove recently launched a new campaign called the Dove Self-Esteem Project, and it found that “85% of girls were using retouching apps and image ‘filters’ by the age of 13.”
I believe we are living in a unique era where we have those who are still fighting the good fight, sharing their intimate stories with eating disorders and promoting body positivity on their socials. But then we have those who are obsessed with their looks and achieving perfection.
I find it difficult to see myself with a beauty-enhancing filter. It doesn’t feel like it’s me, it represents a beauty standard that I cannot relate to. I find it astonishing how some women go so far as to get plastic surgery to match their appearance in a filter. We’ve reached a point where a person’s own natural beauty is not enough for them.
Young girls are not the only ones who are easily manipulated to emulate these unrealistic beauty standards seen in social media filters; celebrities are drawn to it too. Take, for instance, businesswoman and reality-TV star Khloé Kardashian, who recently had a photo leaked of her beautiful untouched, unfiltered body, and had it removed from as many social media outlets as possible because it wasn’t “flattering in bad lighting or [didn’t] capture the body the way it is after working too hard to get it to this point.” Khloé went on to explain how “the pressure, constant ridicule and judgment my entire life to be perfect and to meet other’s standards of how I should look has been too much to bear.”
Going back to when I said we are the problem, I believe we have the power in the palm of our hand, quite literally. These body image issues now stem from the behemoth that is social media. Instagram is the place to share images: #outfitoftheday is a popular tag where everyone tries to get noticed by a mass of like-minded fashionistas as they share their look du jour. And what tends to get more views? Well, if you look a certain modelesque way, chances are you will gain more impressions and more likes. Who knows, you might become Insta-famous and earn some sweet coin with sponsored posts. I do acknowledge there are midsize and plus-sized influencers, but they do not have the same visibility as their thinner counterparts.
There’s pressure for influencers to look a certain way to maintain their following and their income as content creators. I have subscribed to so many YouTubers and lifestyle influencers and they all have a similar lifestyle. They all workout (almost every day, I might add) and they eat the healthiest, greenest, often plant-based meals to maintain that perfect camera-friendly figure.
But wait, there’s more! The advent of videos titled “what I eat in a day” and “I do [insert workout challenge] for a week” have exploded in popularity on YouTube. And with the pandemic leading to many of us gaining a few pounds, I don’t blame anyone for taking a look at these videos. I watch them myself because I find them to be a good motivator to get my butt moving. It’s a constant struggle to look our best, but also to feel our best. It’s not wrong to want to eat well or get a good workout in. Personally, I feel like I need to start exercising because my breathing has gotten worse (thank you, asthma!). At this point in my life, I don’t care too much about how I look. I want to focus on feeling good and being able to go up a flight of stairs or on a bike ride with my husband without constantly needing my inhaler. But a lot of girls and young women aren’t there yet. They are still trapped under the mental clutches of “BE PERFECT, #bodygoals,” so that physical and mental health have become an afterthought.
Outside of social media, there is an even more insidious influence at play: pro-ana groups. They are found on online forums, and they promote extreme weight loss through the most unhealthy means possible. Whatever you do, please stay away from these groups. Instagram has even blacklisted such popular pro-ana hashtags as #proana and #thinspiration.
We need to start focusing on feeling good through healthy habits (physical, nutritional and mental), rather than prioritizing looking good. We need to learn how to appreciate all the amazing things our body is already doing for us. We are alive, enjoying the miracle of life, but so many of us fail to see that because we are influenced by the unimportant goal to look like Kylie Jenner.
With all that said, I want you to stop starving yourself. Please eat normal, nutritionally-balanced meals, do regular fun exercises that you enjoy, and try limiting how much time you spend on social media. And if you are going to be on social media, try following young women who have a similar body to yours! You are in control of what imagery you see now. Use that power for your own benefit and watch how you’ll start thriving in life when you realize you can create your own #bodygoals. Be the influencer you wish you had in your life.
And finally, I leave you with some words of wisdom from Grammy award-winning musician and singer Lizzo. She has been working out consistently for years to achieve her ideal body goal. What goal might that be? “None of your business,” she says, and that’s absolutely right! What we strive to do for our own health shouldn’t depend on what other people think or say. Be your best self and treat your mind, body and soul with the respect it deserves.
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