Last week, I was practicing a method of evasion typical for most college students: procrastination. For me this usually means I wind up on some health or food related website in the process of avoiding writing a paper. That night, I ended up on Glamour’s website. I was drawn to the headline “Shocking Body-Image News: 97% of Women Will Be Cruel to Their Bodies Today.” Yikes.
After conducting a survey of 300 women (all, according to the website, of varying sizes), Glamour found that 97 percent of the 300 did not like what they saw when they looked in the mirror. They expressed this distaste via thoughts like: “You’re fat.” “Ooh, those jeans are a bit too tight. Not doing great things for your pudgy thighs.” “Ugh, I hate that band of fat that hangs over my jeans.” “I look fat.” These are the horrifying, damaging thoughts that 97 percent of those 300 women utter to themselves every day. How many of them would say those words to a friend? Worse still, this wasn’t just a onetime occurrence. On the contrary, most women thought negative thoughts about their body 13 times each day.
After reading the survey results, I wondered briefly whether I was one of the 97 percent. Then I laughed. Of course I am. Though I’m often a fan of my body, I’m not yet a member of the coveted 3 percent who are actually consistently kind to their bodies.
For the next few days, Glamour’s survey results bounced around in my head. I thought about them when I looked in the mirror as I got dressed. They were certainly on my mind when I read yet another shocking article about women and health a few days later. This one was on The New York Times Well blog, called “An Older Generation Falls Prey to Eating Disorders.” Apparently more and more older women are seeking treatment for eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. The typical individual seeking treatment for an eating disorder is a young woman. So what do the droves of older women seeking treatment reveal about our society? To me, they indicate that the pressure to be thin is pervasive no matter how old you are.
Perhaps naively, I hadn’t realized that this was the case. I always assumed that my occasional body image woes were a phase, something I lived through as a teenager and young woman and would then discard, easily and effortlessly, when I entered adulthood. But The New York Times article proved otherwise. There’s a very real possibility that I will still be bothered by my body when I’m 40 — that is, if I don’t take action now.
This all got me wondering: How can I start loving my body? Even as I write this it’s hard not to roll my eyes — it sounds very hippie-dippy. But it shouldn’t have to. Lately, I’ve realized that constructing your body image doesn’t have to be a passive activity. You don’t have to be as thin as the models in Vogue, nor do you have to feel bad about your body if you’re not that thin.
But it does take some effort to remember this. In our society, unless you’re very thin, it’s not really acceptable to love your body. Unless you’re a size two, some would have you think that you shouldn’t love your body — that you should only love it once you’ve whittled your frame down to a sample size. Even on Glamour’s website, where the results of this survey also include ways to work against negative body image, there’s a link to an article called “Exactly what to eat to lose weight.” Where does it stop?
I’m learning that body image is something that can be avoided — much like homework. All it takes is a little initial procrastination. I’ve learned to avoid fashion websites. I’ve let my subscription to Vogue run out. I’m trying to push away those negative thoughts: “Don’t think about that now,” I repeat to myself. Sometimes, it works: I shake my head vigorously, or tell myself to stop. Other times, the thought slips in anyway. So what have I been doing the past few days? Practicing another method of evasion. I just don’t think about it. When a thought comes to mind, I push it out and move on. Have I joined that 3 percent? Not yet. But I’m getting there.
Mary Demery can be reached at email@example.com.