At the risk of being bold, I am here to say that it is not the media’s fault that young women have body image issues. It’s our fault.
Us, as their mothers, their teachers, their older sisters, their cousins, their whatever- we are teaching them to diet and exercise themselves half to death. We are they reason they are chasing the collar bones, the jutting hips, and the often impossible to attain thigh gap.
I know that the messages in the media are powerful and consistent, but I think that young women are intelligent and critical. I don’t think they’ve been brainwashed by the covers of fashion magazines and the gaunt bodies of child star-gone wrong celebrities. I think it’s us.
My mother, who is by no means overweight, has been on a diet for nearly all of my life. She taped pictures of her head onto supermodel bodies and put them on the refrigerator door as a form of rather rudimentary “thinspiration”. Susan Powder, Richard Simmons, and Dr. Atkins were like live-in life coaches who stood, arms-folded, and oversaw every meticulously measured and portioned meal.
I need to be clear- growing, up, my mom never told me that I was fat or needed to go on a diet or start an exercise regimen to lose weight. But I still got the message that to be a women meant to be trying to be thinner. And this message came from just about every grown woman I remember interacting with as a child- my aunts, my grandmothers, my mom’s friends, my friends’ moms, and even my teachers. It wasn’t runway models who taught me about womanhood, it was the women who loved and nurtured me every day of my life that taught me about womanhood. They taught be that women should be kind, hospitable, intelligent, hard-working, creative, loved. But should they be happy? Only if the scale said it was okay that day.
So no, I don’t think it’s the media’s fault. I think it was their fault. And now, I think it’s my fault.
The young women and girls I know all know that I am trying to lose weight. They hear me talk about my “scale victories” and see me jot down calorie counts. But what is worst is that I am teaching them that I am happy when i am losing weight and that I am failing when I am not losing weight. They hear me get irritated with myself when I ate “way over my limit” or I haven’t been to the gym “in like 3 days”.
I need to stop. I don’t know if I owe it to myself, but I owe it to them. I can’t let them believe that my happiness, and therefore their happiness, is supposed to depend on whether or not our “fat clothes” currently fit.
I like to work out, and, to be honest, I like losing weight. There is everything right with being concerned for our health and taking pride in our bodies. But there is everything wrong with our wrapping our BMI around our pant size and calling that our identity.
So next time we are quick to point the finger at the wicked media for tearing down our girls, let’s think about how we’ve been, and how we can stop being, an enthusiastic accomplice in the message of body hate.
For more on taking a step back from the body image finger-pointing, check out this post by Moment’s in My Head: Why would anyone want to look like Barbie? She’s so fake!