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