A few years ago I read an article about body image that stated how women who live on the East and West coasts struggle much more with a negative body image than women who live in the central part of the country. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s interesting, right?
At the time, I speculated why this could be. My first thoughts were about the locations of the hearts of mass media: Los Angeles, New York City and Miami; cities that arguably set the trends for many a fashion trend and beauty standard-or at least the ones that seem to get the most press. We see curated images of the elite, digitally enhanced and their successes magnified, and we see them on a seemingly continuous loop. Each time we look at our electronic screens we are being reminded of what “worth” looks like and what it does.
Last summer I was in the Midwest. I can tell you that there is much more body diversity there than on TV, but no more than in any of the other 45 states I’ve visited. I did, however, notice a big difference in attitude.
I didn’t overhear any of the people I encountered at the zoo, in restaurants, and at historical sites talk about gluten-free food choices, cross-fit classes or “how fat they look,” nor did I see any posters or billboards about food, diet, weight, or exercise. That’s not to say it wasn’t happening, or that advertisements for weight management products don’t exist in the geographic center of the “lower 48”…but I can report that I distinctly noticed its absence. As I reflect on this now, I wonder…was there really less body-focused culture around me or had I just learned to tune it out?
The reality is there are places that create an environment that can leave us feeling as if we are soaking in body judgment – but it is possible to separate ourselves from that which makes us feel bad about ourselves.
So regardless of where you live, here are a few strategies to help you “tune out” body – focused messaging. I hope they help you enjoy all the cities and towns you find yourself in!
1. Focus on function over form.
What is your body helping you accomplish today? Place a higher value on whatever measure of strength, flexibility, and endurance you have over how your body looks and act accordingly.
2. Don’t compare your body to the body of others.
Bodies are highly unique, and the way you look is largely determined by genetics. To compare is to despair: it’s never fair! Images, especially those in print, are frequently digitally modified. They are—more often than not—unrealistic representations of real life, and are designed to create want and discomfort in the viewer. You are not obligated to participate in this!
3. Don’t body bash. When you talk about your body, practice kindness. Restraining yourself from making disparaging comments about your appearance or skills gives others permission to do the same.
4. Promote body diversity. Take action to remove elements in your environment that encourage dramatic weight change. Ads for diets and supplements, images celebrating a narrow beauty idea, and materials that vilify fat contribute to weight stigma. Strive to make space where all bodies are accepted and celebrated.
Our body image is built day by day; from blocks made from the messages we accept and validate as true-no matter where they come from. Sometimes we forget we have the power to decide what is true about ourselves. Let’s give ourselves the gift of seeing our bodies as whole and valuable, worthy of care and appreciation. This begins with tuning out messages that try to convince us otherwise. I hope that you are able to experience what I felt those three days while driving through the mid-west – empowered to move around in my experience of life without feeling the weight of judgment or expectation about what my body should do, look like, or how it should be nourished.
And it was awesome.
If you’re having a hard time tuning out the “noise” of today’s body – obsessed culture, please reach out to us. We are always here to help!
Stephanie Haines, M.Ed., CHES, is the prevention education specialist at Walden Center for Education and Research. Her role is to provide prevention education to school communities including students, teachers and administrators regarding eating disorders, body image and related topics. Before joining Walden, Stephanie was a senior health educator and prevention specialist at the nonprofit organization Freedom from Chemical Dependency (FCD) Educational Services in Newton, where she provided education to students in 50 countries about the prevention of alcohol, tobacco and drug abuse. Earlier in her career, she was a licensed occupational therapist in the Newport, N.H., school district. Stephanie earned her master’s degree from Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, where she served as a graduate assistant to Margaret Burckes-Miller, founder and director of the university’s Eating Disorders Institute. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Granite State College and an associate’s degree from New Hampshire Technical College.