In 1982 Karen Carpenter shocked the world by dying of a disease that most people had never heard of. Anorexia Nervosa. In the ensuing years, rates of anorexia skyrocketed with more and more girls and even boys literally starving themselves because of a warped body image and other psychological disorders.
Fast forward to 2016 and the western world has decided it’s had enough. Celebrities like Adele and Jennifer Lawrence are speaking out about body image and doing their part to turn the tide of what the western world views as desirable. Many people feel that we are moving in the right direction. There are even guidelines being passed to regulate how thin a model is allowed to be, and that an agency has to use a certain number of plus sized models.
Unfortunately, in the country with the worst obesity epidemic in the world, millions of dangerously overweight girls are being applauded for their weight and are being told that they don’t need to get healthy because their bodies are beautiful just the way they are. As though weather or not we are beautiful is the one and only deciding factor about how seriously we should take our health.
While the spirit behind the movement means well, it is failing to address the root of the issue. Namely that in our society a woman’s most important job is to look good. The “big is beautiful” movement merely moves the target. Now overweight girls can achieve the oh so important goal of being beautiful too.
What we are failing to talk about as a society is that fat or thin, the physical and mental health of our young girls is in a deplorable state and telling them that they are fine because they are beautiful is still the wrong message! Here are three things that it is more important for young women to be told:
1.) You are capable. Even in our day and age, women are spoken down to, less is expected of them secularly and in real life situations, and they are still conditioned to believe that jobs involving leadership, technical thinking, and the making of big decisions, are jobs for men. When little boys are given toys that encourage their curiosity, engineering skills, and creativity, they are being trained for such positions in society. When girls are given fashion dolls, makeup, and dress-up clothes, they too are being trained for their future roles in society. By and large children will live up to the expectations set for them and believe what they are being told about how they contribute to society. It’s high time we change the message.
2.) Your body is amazing and it deserves to be loved. With so much emphasis on the appearance of our bodies, women easily forget everything that their body does for them. From climbing mountains to fine intricate fingerwork. A body can be strong and powerful, but also delicate and precise. It digests our foods, houses our brains, and enables us to have all kinds of pleasurable experiences. When we treat our bodies with gratitude and respect we are neither starving them into submission or filling them with toxic garbage. A well treated body will treat us well and as a side point, it will even look good.
3.) Develop compassion for others. One of the side effects of an appearance focused society is that we tend to become very selfish. Caring about what others think doesn’t mean caring about what they think about you. It means paying attention to other people’s feelings, insecurities and struggles, and being a force for good in their lives. When we support and care for each other it takes the emphasis off our own problems and makes us feel good about ourselves. People who put other people’s needs ahead of their own are happier and more successful. On the flip side, people who feel supported, loved, and emotionally cared for will in turn be happier and will treat others with kindness. Happy people don’t have eating disorders, and girls who love and support each other aren’t judging each-others bodies.
It’s a monumental task to sway the thought patterns of the masses. It’s an easy task though to help our own daughters, grand-daughters, nieces, students, and selves to develop a healthy view of them/ourselves. Tell the little girl in your life not that she is so cute, but that she is so clever. Not that her dress is beautiful but that you’re proud of how hard she worked to get dressed all by herself. Praise effort, hard work, and kindness and those are the qualities that you will encourage to grow. On the flip side, our society will continue to foster insecurity, lack of character, and self-centeredness if we don’t stop praising appearance.