Body Image and Magazines:

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Sleek, skinny models staring at you on the pages of beauty and fashion magazines can play a starring role in how you feel about your body.  True or false?  Body image, magazines, and depression are somehow intertwined.  True or false?  You can improve your feelings about your body by limiting the time spent looking at beauty and fashion magazines.  True or false?

I’ve just pored over some of the scholarly research on this subject, and many researchers’ findings are that:

  • The American “ideal body type” for a woman has decreased significantly in weight since the 1940’s, with a drastic decrease after 1979.

Marilyn Monroe

                              TwiggyTwiggy

  • The measurements of the “ideal body type” have become much more straight.  A flatter bust and larger waist is much more prevalent than it was decades ago, with the most drastic shift after 1979.
  • We are flooded with these images.  Most Americans will see over 250,000 ads depicting the “ideal body type” by the age of seventeen.
  • Most researchers see a profound relationship between the degree of dissatisfaction with one’s body and the amount of time spent looking at beauty and fashion magazines.  However, some researchers don’t see a difference unless the person had a negative body image to begin with.

In the studies I read, I saw a variable which may have a significant impact but which was not measured.  I think it confounds the results.  That is, we are unable to measure the saturation with such media before the experiments.  So the researchers are assuming that it all would level out.  Obviously this type of research would be exceptionally difficult to conduct.

Some studies suggest that after women look at beauty and fashion magazines for ten minutes, they feel somewhat depressed.  Saturating ourselves with ultra-thin model images takes a toll on how we feel about ourselves.  Or do you disagree?

Body Image and Research: Stop Obsessing!

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How much time do women and teen girls obsess about body image?  “The average woman spends about an hour a day contemplating her size, her calorie intake, and her exercise regimen starting at the age of twelve.” (Research compiled by Courtney E. Martin for her book, Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters:  How the Quest for Perfection Is Harming Young Women.)

Although I’ve worked with women for several years, an hour seemed hard to believe.   I’m sure I‘m not even close. So I’m trying to catch myself each time I think about body image, even for a millisecond.  At first I couldn’t catch myself.  But that evening I attended a meeting of about 100 people.  Many of us had pulled our chairs back about a foot to listen to the speaker more comfortably.  I caught myself comparing my thighs to the woman beside me, which surprised me.  It was very subtle but I have to admit that’s where my mind went.  Hmmm….interesting.

Right now I’m in the lobby of a restaurant waiting for a friend, who called to say she would be late. A woman walked in and I noticed myself subtly sizing up her legs.  Since I was seated next to the door, I saw each person walk in.  Another young woman arrived with a man who was about 5’2”.  It must be hard to be a short man. I hardly even noticed the woman.  Next, a pretty blonde woman walked in, and I saw her belly hanging over the top of her jeans.  As people walked toward their tables, I felt my eyes scanning their bodies from head to foot.  Another part of my brain was actively trying to decide what to eat for lunch, and whether I would indulge, deprive myself, or order something in between.

Am I unconsciously comparing myself to these people? If I was my therapist, I would take the conversation deeper to find out what this was about.  But since I live in a culture where people view 250,000 ads before the age of seventeen, I know what it’s about.  Most of the ads scream, “Beauty is almost everything, and to be thin, flawless, and young is beautiful.”  We are bombarded by a tsunami of such messages, and our natural instinct is to obsess about bodies, food, and working out (for some).  I reminded myself that thankfully, God is concerned much more about my heart than my body.  I will practice the stop sign technique from the last blog entry I wrote because it works well, and will continue to re-focus on positive thoughts.

“Man looks at outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.”  I Samuel 16:7