There’s no escaping them. The waiflike models adorning magazine covers in the supermarket checkout lines, touting quick weight-loss promises and telling you how to trim inches off your belly in four weeks. Promises, promises. And we soak it up. We buy the magazines, we scoop up the products on the infomercials, we go for the weight-loss miracles. To the tune of $46 billion per year.
But, according to Ann Pardo, Director of Life Management at Canyon Ranch in Tucson, it’s not working too well. In spite of – or because of – the preponderance of weight-loss articles, products and books, women still hate their bodies. Body image, Pardo contends, is an issue for 100 percent of the female guests who visit the Ranch. “Most of us detest our bodies.”
Even as women have made enormous progress in careers and self-discovery, our attitudes have become distorted, affecting how we view and feel about our bodies. Not all of this is due to societal pressure, explains Pardo. Some of our penchant for thinness is actually due to how our brains are wired. The primitive portion of our brains is designed for survival. Comparing ourselves to other women is impossible not to do, as we are sizing each other up constantly to see who is the better mate. This comes into play today, when women unconsciously compare themselves to the images they see in magazines and on-screen.
This becomes a soul-killing exercise, according to Pardo, as we can never measure up. Encountering these images repeatedly, like almost of all of us do, will eventually affect even the strongest of us and can result in depression.
Pardo conducts workshops at the Ranch to help guests realign their relationships to themselves and their bodies. According to her, we use many tactics in dealing with our body image, all of which distance us from a reality-based, healthy attitude rooted in acceptance. See if you can recognize yourself in some – or all – of these:
- Black or White thinking – I’m either fat or thin, no in-between
- Blaming – I eat when you make me sad
- Labeling – I’m fat
- Should-ist thinking – I should eat less; I shouldn’t have eaten that
- Emotional – I have no self-control; I’ll never measure up
- Minimizing – I really don’t care what I look like
- Catastrophizing – There’s nothing worse than me being five pounds overweight
- Maximizing – I’m so much larger than everyone else
- Dwelling on the negatives – I’ll never lose weight
- Overgeneralizing – I’m overweight today, so I will be forever
The media exacerbates our distorted relationship to our bodies, according to
Karen Koffler, M.D., Medical Director in Canyon Ranch Miami Beach. “People go to great lengths to invest in their appearance. This adds another level of pressure,” she says. Her solution? “Get rid of our TVs – it portrays false humans.” She takes care to remind us that “No magazine covers are untouched.”
The tragedy, according to Koffler, is that so much of our vital force goes to maintaining an image, instead of focusing other areas. “Down the road, will you be happy that you spent so much time creating an image that’s not your own? This society worships youth – not because they’re the keepers of wisdom, but because they look good. We might do well to ask this question: Who’s driving this ship? Who’s allowing women to feel bad about their bodies? Why should a woman feel bad and look like something she’s not?”
States of grace
It’s clear that finding a solution to the disconnect with our bodies is an inside job. Pardo advises women who are carrying excess weight to pay attention to what’s good in the world, let their love show and accept the love that’s offered. “We have to dig deeper and establish networks of grace,” she adds.
“You have to do the hard-core work of loving yourself.” Pardo stresses. “It’s such a waste of time to focus on weight. Decide where you want to put your energy. Can you devote time to living in your body, just as it is today?”
Koffler would like to see more images of older women who are respected and robust. “Our focus should be about seeing the beauty in all women. That’s what I’m about changing.”
So Long, Barbie – Tools to Building a Healthy Body Image
- Listen to your body. Eat when you are hungry.
- Be realistic about the size you are likely to be based on your genetic and environmental history.
- Exercise regularly in an enjoyable way, regardless of size.
- Expect periodic changes in weight and shape.
- Practice self-acceptance and self-forgiveness – be gentle with yourself.
- Ask for support and encouragement from friends and family when life is stressful.
- Decide how you wish to spend your energy – pursuing the “perfect body” or enjoying family, friends, school and, most importantly, life.