“Drop pounds and lose inches”, “Cheat, drink and still shrink”, “Change one thing and shrink a dress size” are the oft-repeated bold headlines on the covers of glossy magazines catering largely to women. Research shows that approximately 91% percent of Western women are unhappy with their bodies. In today’s world of media blitz, we are all subjected to the same airbrushed glamorized images of super thin models over and over.

The trouble begins when our own body image appears grotesquely distorted while looking into the mirror.  A mere hundred pound petite Asian woman thinks she can afford to lose a few pounds. Young impressionable girls are often swayed by potentially dangerous dieting trends. One such example is the cotton ball diet reportedly followed by fashion models which involves dipping four or five cotton balls in orange juice or gelatin and ingesting it in order to feel full.  Extreme dieting, exercise compulsion, laxative abuse, and bulimia have all been associated with negative body image. Being thin is associated with hard work and self-discipline whereas being fat is associated with laziness and lacking in willpower. This size prejudice is widely reinforced by media, family and social groups. “Fat” is no longer a description of body characteristic—it is an indication of moral character.

Let us look back over the past millennium and see how women’s ideal body shape has changed.  In Indian classics, women were depicted as large hipped, narrow-waisted and in possession of large globular breasts.  Plumpness in women was sought after and an elephantine gait was considered the epitome of grace and beauty. In ancient Greece, Aristotle called the female form ‘a deformed male”.  In male-centric Greece, the focus was on the perfect male physique. There was no such pressure on women. Overall full figured women were considered to be beautiful.  In patriarchal Chinese society, sought after court beauties had flawless porcelain skin and graceful lotus feet walk. In Renaissance Italy, pale skin, high forehead and a rounded body were the ideals of beauty. In Rubens’s paintings a protruding belly is often seen through layers of clothing, suggesting the attractiveness of a well -fed woman. In the Victorian era, with the advent of whalebone corsets, waists were clinched and women achieved the hourglass figure at the expense of limited physical movements. Frequent fainting spells often resulted from artificial constriction of the ribcage in women’s apparel.

If we look back over the past 100 years, we will find that the ideal body image has changed every few decades. The 1920s were the era of flappers and freedom for women. The androgynous, slim shape and bobbed flattened hair was preferred. Flappers rarely wore corsets downplaying breasts or hips.  By the 1950s this ideal was replaced by the well-rounded proportions of the Hollywood stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot and Sophia Loren.  Along with the sexual revolution the 1960s brought a new beauty ideal in the skinnier Twiggy Lawson. This beauty ideal did not hold constant in the next few decades. Twiggy was replaced by Jane Fonda’s more athletic body type. Suddenly exercise and fitness craze had hit the Western world. In the new millennium, leggy models with big breasts and toned bodies hold sway.

Such body proportions are impossible to achieve by the average women bombarded by images of glamour.  Often women try to manipulate the one factor they can exercise some control upon namely diet. Dieting for many women have become a lifelong second carrier. However, the best kept secret of the 50-billion dollar a year diet industry is that most diets do not seem to work in the long run.  Many women use exercise as one more tool in their arsenal for achieving weight loss. It is not surprising that women in staggering numbers turn to the surgeon’s knife in order to achieve the desired shape. 

Cosmetic surgery is no longer restricted to the rich and privileged. Breast augmentation or gluteal implants give women a more rounded shape in those body parts but have no benefit other than cosmetic enhancement. Less common are procedures such as tight lacing which can achieve a Jessica Rabbit like waist at the cost of considerable discomfort. Women with flabby abdomens or postpartum abdominal protrusions often fail to achieve a flat stomach by diet and exercise alone.  As a result many resort to liposuction to remove excess abdominal fat.  The less invasive tummy tuck is also popular with women seeking abdominal flattening. Needless to say all surgical procedures come with inherent risks from general anesthesia, infections, bleeding or nerve injury. Why do women voluntarily undertake such risks? The answer lies in their poor body image and the desire for instant solutions. The more a woman obsesses about her body, the more extreme weight loss control actions she will take.  

The role of appearance and perceived romantic success is an important issue. Women often wish to change their body shape in order to gain acceptance from their partners. Another reason for obsessing about body shapes is to divert her focus from other challenges in everyday life.

Some prominent news anchors and celebrities have started speaking out against negative stereotyping of women who are perceived as overweight. One of the greatest gifts women can give themselves is to accept themselves unconditionally. Women need to nourish themselves with accomplishments and positive relationships and make every attempt to disengage from destructive body image obsessions.



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