Let’s face it…it’s not easy being a woman in a beauty-obsessed society. We are aware, usually from an early age, of the high standards our society places on physical beauty. We’re also painfully aware that women’s weight is a major aspect of what constitutes beauty in our society. In America, being thin often means being beautiful. Being heavy means just the opposite.
Nobody had to tell us that women’s weight is an important issue, that it is the measure society uses to define our beauty and often our worth as women. They didn’t have to. We were surrounded by our society’s ideal of beauty every time we turned on the television or flipped open a magazine. Stunningly beautiful women with perfect figures were everywhere, making us want to look just like them.
Later, after trying SO hard to lose down to a size zero — yes, there really is such a size — we wonder where we went wrong. Why can’t we look just like those models and actresses and singers and reality TV “stars” we see every day? What did we do wrong?
In a word…NOTHING.
It’s not on us. It’s on THEM.
It is time to stop beating yourself up. The only thing you did wrong is believing that society’s emphasis on women’s weight defines your beauty and who you truly are. And you’re not the only one who feels this way. Many studies show that media portrayals of women’s weight negatively impact women’s body image and their self-esteem.
They show that, when young girls and women are shown pictures of super-thin, breathtakingly beautiful women, it influences their opinions of the ideal body. They feel their own bodies lacking, and often feel the desire to lose weight after viewing such images.
Women’s Weight Concerns Cause Poor Body Image
And here are some of the results of the media’s emphasis on unrealistic and unattainable images of beauty and thinness.
Only 24% of women in the U.S. feel confident about their bodies. (Source: The Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report)
97% of women admit to having at least one negative thought about their bodies per day. (Source: 2011 Glamour magazine survey)
More than 90% of women are unhappy with their body size, attempting diets to attain their ideal body shape. (Source: DoSomething.org)
Women’s Weight Wasn’t Always This Much of a Concern
Women’s weight wasn’t always this much of a concern. Different eras held different opinions of the ideal woman’s body. For instance, in the ‘50s and ‘60s, iconic sex symbol Marilyn Monroe was quite voluptuous. Nevertheless, society has always expected women to fit a certain ideal.
In the 1920s, the flapper era arrived, and women were expected women to have a rectangular, boyish body shape. (If women didn’t naturally have this body shape — and few did — they wore undergarments to flatten their chest, hips, and butt.) Before that, in the 1800s, women wore corsets to emphasize their curves.
Today, when it comes to women’s weight, thin has never been more “in.” The media, it seems, has a fixation with making women as physically small as possible.
Women’s Role Models: Impossible to Imitate?
Just look at all your role models. Actresses. Models. Singers. Makeup perfectly applied. Not a hair out of place. These celebrities spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on personal trainers, cosmetic surgeons, and specialized chefs. It shouldn’t be a surprise they look so perfect, so beautiful.
But look closer. Carefully applied makeup covers dark circles under their eyes. Their flowing designer gowns conceal bones. Many of these “stars” are underweight and unhealthy. They are not as “perfect” as they look. Typically, their photographic images are airbrushed to perfection, or altered by computers. Professional makeup artists also work overtime to give them that alluring air. But their beauty — that thing you’ve been trying to imitate — doesn’t exist. It is a manufactured beauty, but one that has damaged so many women. Creating a false image of beauty and then selling it as real, sends an unhealthy message to women.
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Women’s Weight Concerns and Body Image
The media’s focus on women’s weight and appearance — that is, unrealistically thin and beautiful — cause a poor body image for so many women. Studies show women who have negative body images can suffer from many serious problems. Here are just a few of them.
The most obvious outcome of the media’s unrealistic portrayal of the ideal women’s weight is low self-esteem, and this is not a harmless problem.
You may not think about it much, but low self-esteem can negatively affect every area of your life. It affects the way you think about yourself, as well as the way you think about others and the way you respond to situations. It can lead to mental health disorders, such as depression or anxiety.
If you have low self-esteem, you may be attracted to abusive partners because their behavior towards you mirrors how you feel about yourself. Or, you may not reach your full career potential because you don’t feel you’re good enough.
Low self-esteem can also lead you to self-destructive behaviors. For instance, drug abuse, promiscuity, abusiveness towards others, or suicide attempts are common symptoms of low self-esteem.
Probably one of the biggest symptoms of unrealistic media portrayals of women’s weight and beauty is the epidemic of eating disorders, which are mental illnesses characterized by disturbed eating habits.
According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, upwards of 30 million people in the U.S. suffer from an eating disorder. There are several types of eating disorders. The most common types are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.
Anorexia nervosa: Characterized by an extreme fear of gaining weight or being overweight. Symptoms include starvation and over-exercising to maintain a dangerously thin weight. Anorexics typically have a distorted body image and think they look fat even when they appear sickly thin.
Bulimia nervosa: Characterized by frequent episodes of binge eating following by frantic efforts to “purge” the calories just consumed. These purges can include forced vomiting, using laxatives, and over exercising. Unlike anorexics, those with bulimia typically maintain a normal weight, so it is difficult to tell by their appearance that they have an eating disorder.
Binge eating disorder: Characterized by recurrent periods of eating large quantities of food very quickly. Those with binge eating disorder feel they cannot control their behavior during the binge. They often feel guilty and ashamed of their behavior. It is similar to bulimia nervosa, but unlike bulimia, those with binge eating disorder do not regularly purge the calories they just consumed.
Media portrayals of women’s weight are not the sole cause of eating disorders. Studies show up to 80% of the risk for anorexia and bulimia is genetic. However, these media portrayals and societal expectations of proper women’s weight can trigger an eating disorder in women who are already genetically at risk for this mental illness.
How Women’s Weight Concerns Lead to Weight Issues
The media’s portrayal of women’s weight also leads women to damage their bodies with unhealthy nutritional and dietary practices. If you’re a healthy size 10 and your idol is an impossibly small size 2, what can you do to look like her? When women have a negative body image — particularly if they don’t like their body shape — they typically go on a diet.
Women’s weight concerns, then, can cause excessive dieting and crash dieting. These unhealthy dietary practices don’t work and only lead to yo-yo dieting. That’s because significantly cutting calories lowers setpoint weight, making your problem worse in the long run.
A Lower Setpoint Weight Makes Women’s Weight Concerns Worse
The setpoint weight is the amount of stored fat your body thinks you need based on continual signals sent and received from your hormones, brain, and gut. If you eat more calories than your body needs, it will increase the calories it burns to keep you near your setpoint weight. If you eat fewer calories than you need, your body will burn fewer calories.
Notice how this description doesn’t resemble the well-known calorie-deficit theory of weight loss? That’s because the calorie-deficit theory that most people have been following since the 1960s is wrong. The body is not like a scale. It is more like a thermostat, regulating your calorie intake and output around your setpoint weight.
If the system is working properly, it will never let you become too thin or too heavy. But when the system breaks down, the hormones cannot send and receive proper signals. They don’t know how much fat you need, so they give you more fat.
If you’re not happy with your setpoint weight and want to be thinner, you can go on a crash diet, just like you probably have done many times. But whenever you do that, your body thinks you’re starving. It throws an emergency switch, signaling hormones to make you hungry and cold and weak. It will try everything to make you eat more food, but if you continue to crash diet, it will slow your metabolism.
When you finally go off the diet and start eating normally again, you’ll probably gain all the weight back plus an additional few pounds. And as if that’s not bad enough…every crash diet raises your setpoint weight a little more. All this focus on women’s weight makes you diet, but dieting just makes any weight problem worse. It’s self-defeating and frustrating.
A Better Way to See Yourself: You are Beautiful Just the Way You Are
There is a better way. You don’t have to let the media’s or society’s focus on women’s weight affect your self-esteem. You are beautiful just the way you are. Remember, only a small percentage of women can naturally be a size 3, 4, or 5. And would you really want to be that size, anyway?
Isn’t being healthy, well-muscled, and happy a much better goal? After all, when you’re healthy, you’ll feel better, look better, and perform better. When you feel good about yourself, you will also naturally shed excess weight. (If you feel ashamed of your body, it causes stress which triggers a release of cortisol. Cortisol causes weight gain and prevents you from losing weight.)
How to End Women’s Weight Concerns
So, here are a few totally SANE ways to end women’s weight concerns and feel good about yourself.
Eat SANE Foods
SANE foods concentrate on whole foods that have been scientifically proven to lower your setpoint weight. Here are the 4 SANE Food groups:
Non-starchy vegetables: 10+ servings per day. The fiber creates bulk in your stomach, filling you up quickly and keeping you full for a long time. This prevents blood sugar surges and overeating.
Nutrient-dense proteins: 3-5 servings per day, 30-55 grams per meal. Protein also fills you up fast and keeps you full longer because it signals short- and long-term satiety hormones. Increasing your intake of protein also triggers muscle protein synthesis, helping to build lean muscle tissue. The more lean muscle you have, the more calories you burn!
Whole-food fats: 3-6 servings per day. Whole-food fats are also very filling, and contrary to popular belief, there has never been a study proving that eating fat causes weight gain. In fact, when you replace starchy carbs and sugars with whole-food fats, your body will start burning fat as its preferred fuel source.
Low-fructose fruits: 0-3 servings per day. You can also feel free to enjoy a serving of low-fructose as an occasional snack.
Perform Eccentric Exercises
Studies show eccentric exercises to have an amazingly positive metabolic effect. Eccentric exercises focus on the downward part of the exercise. For instance, if you’re performing squats, the squatting motion is the eccentric part of the exercise. You’ll simply squat slowly for 10 seconds, and repeat 6 times. Because eccentric exercises activate all your muscle fibers, you can only perform them 10-20 minutes once per week.
Get Enough Sleep/Destress Regularly
Not getting enough sleep and chronic stress both cause increased levels of cortisol in the blood. Cortisol causes weight gain, especially in the stomach area. To keep cortisol levels low, try to get 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night, and make an effort to relax regularly. Some great ways to de-stress include meditation, yoga, walking, and petting your dog.
When it comes to women’s weight concerns, it’s better to be SANE.
Next Step: End Women’s Weight Concerns with SANE
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