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Are We How We Look?

A Newsweek article (4/6/09), “Tales of a Modern Diva,” made me sick to heart how women will ever shake societal pressure to be thin and beautiful. It describes how younger and younger girls are obsessively focused—moreover, being focused by the media and their parents—on their appearance. I’m not saying that men don’t have pressures to look good, too. They do, but nowhere near the burden that women feel.

The article quotes Susie Orbach (former therapist to Princess Diana!), author of ON EATING and FAT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE (which gave a generation of women—including me—permission to stop dieting and listen to their appetite). In her new book (which I’ve yet to read), BODIES, Orbach maintains that, “…good looks and peak fitness are no longer a biological gift but a ceaseless pursuit. And obsession at an early age fosters a belief that these are essential components of who we are (ital mine).” The article goes on to offer statistics from a 2004 study by the Dove Real Beauty campaign: 42% of first- to third-grade girls want to be thinner, while 81% of 10-year-olds are afraid of getting fat.” If you have weight issues, be glad you’re not a young girl today!

Depending on your age, you may or may not have been influenced by cultural pressure to be thin growing up, but whatever you encountered, it’s nothing like what’s happening nowadays. The pressure is relentless and women, fat and thin alike, need to see it for the dangerous fixation it is. Some of you may have felt the cultural push to slim down but, fortunately, received family messages that your body was fine as is. Others, sadly, got a double whammy from society and from well-intentioned parents and relatives.

The fiercer the pressure, especially if your weight and appearance were viewed negatively by your parents, the harder it will be to love your body now. Take a minute and reflect on the emphasis on thinness you faced growing up. At what age did you feel that your body wasn’t okay and compelled to slim down and start dieting? Did “be thinner” messages come from outside or inside of your family or both? How did you react? Remember, a sense of body defectiveness is at the root of the problem, not being fat. This sense of wrongness doesn’t go away even when you’re thin.

That something is wrong with you for being overweight is not fact but belief. I don’t care that your parents loved you less for being fat or that you got teased by school chums. That was their view of how you should look. Being emotionally healthy means making your own choices about what you believe. Fight back and choose to love your body.