The diet and beauty industries have led women to believe there’s always a physical attribute that is in need of a fix. Let’s get to know these so-called beauty norms, and why it’s in our power to change the perception of inadequacy.
For centuries, women have been bombarded with messages from the diet and beauty industries that there are always things they could fix about their body. From hair, to skin, to size and shape – women often feel the pressure to alter their bodies to conform to whatever set of beauty standards is popular at a given time.
Throughout all the shifts in beauty ideals over the years, the underlying message remains the same: a woman’s value is contingent on physical “attractiveness.”
How does the diet and beauty industry contribute to the harmful tape that often plays in a woman’s mind? It’s easy to see how by simply perusing the airbrushed images and the typical headlines on popular women’s magazines:
- “8 Habits You Need to Stop If You Want to Lose 10 Pounds”
- “6 Exercises that Will Burn a Ridiculous Amount of Fat”
- “Easy Workout Routine to Banish Cellulite”
- “Sexy In 20 Minutes: Flat Belly, Tight Butt, Slender Thighs”
- “5 Tips for Gym Proof Hair”
- “How to Get Smooth Skin Everywhere”
- “10 Celebrity Secrets for Getting Rid of Stretch Marks”
- “Say Goodbye to Wrinkles with The Latest Hollywood Skin Routine”
These types of messages perpetuate the idea that a woman’s very normal, human attributes are wrong and unacceptable.
They can send a woman down a path of constant body dissatisfaction as they try to live up to the bar that society sets for what is “beautiful”, “powerful”, and “worthy.” Women find themselves loathing the vessel that is carrying them as it shifts, morphs, and changes throughout puberty, adulthood, childbirth, illnesses, accidents, menopause, and aging.
As women, we have all felt, heard, seen, and experienced this uncontrollable urge to “fix” our bodies and to control its outward appearance like it is some sort of ornament. One of the key ways to overcome body dissatisfaction is to practice reframing thoughts and utilizing positive affirmations.
By changing our thoughts, we can create new pathways in our mind that bring us to a higher ground.
A ground that allows us to be our truest selves and to allow more brain space for the more important stuff in life, such as making memories, expressing creativity, chasing career goals, and spreading love to those around us. Bullying thoughts about ourselves do not serve our well-being and do not motivate us to make meaningful, positive changes in our lives. Here are a few exercises you can practice in cultivating acceptance and love for yourself when the most common body image concerns arise in your mind:
Cultural messaging tells us that thinness equates to healthiness, beauty, and all things good. On the other hand, if you are deemed “too thin,” you can receive just as much stigma and stereotypes. What needs to be emphasized here, however, is that whatever size or shape your body is, it does not define your worth.
Make a list of all the positive and interesting things about yourself outside of your physical appearance. Whenever you have a negative thought about your body’s size, recall things from this list. You can also practice a positive affirmation such as, “My value is not defined by my size.”
CELLULITE AND STRETCH MARKS
Cellulite and stretch marks are a “disease” in our culture, however, it is a completely normal occurrence that affects nearly 90% of women at some point during their life. It is like having freckles, hair, or dimples on your cheeks, yet the beauty and diet industry sells products to help “cure” it.
When you see cellulite on your body, instead of thinking harmful thoughts such as “disgusting” or “gross,” ask yourself what you are really needing and feeling at that moment. When you have stretch marks from pregnancy, remind yourself that your body has gone through a miraculous process of giving life and needed to accommodate your beautiful baby. Sometimes, our negative thoughts are a cover-up for something deeper, such as dissatisfaction in other areas of life. Try saying a mantra to yourself, such as: “My body is an incredible vessel that houses my unique soul.”
‘EAT CLEAN’ OR ‘DETOX’
The diet industry sells detoxes and “eating clean” as if our bodies are just filled to the brim with toxic sludge. This could not be further from the truth. Our bodies are designed to “detox” for us without the help from any special foods, teas, supplements, or programs. Detoxes or cleanses often deprive your body of important nutrients and do much more harm than good.
Ask yourself, what would be more helpful to “detox” from in your life? Social media accounts that make you feel bad about your body? Clutter in your closet or clothes that no longer fit? Next time you feel the need to embark on a “cleanse” remind yourself that your body is amazing and does not deserve punishment for what you have eaten.
Re-training your brain to love and accept your body takes practice and time, just as with learning anything new.
It can take months, even years, to shake off all the dust accumulated from diet culture. Despite all the new knowledge and practice, you still may have days where you can’t help but have an icky thought pop up.
The important thing is what you decide to do with this thought. Do you let it bully you and bring you down? Or do you face it head on and tell it to get lost?
You don’t have time to waste hating the incredible creation that carries you through life.
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Lindsay Sparks, RDN is a Registered Dietitian based in Springfield, MO. In her private practice, she focuses on empowering others to embrace their bodies and live a life well-nourished. Through food, health at every size, and intuitive eating principles, she helps others cultivate meaningful, happy lives. Learn more about Lindsay at Feed Your Spark.