We don’t have to very look far to find a focus on appearance.
In fact, we don’t have to go looking at all; the messages are hard to avoid.
The headlines at the grocery check-out and on our computer screens scream: “Lose 10 Pounds in Two Weeks” and “A Sexier You in the New Year!”
Take a look at a graphic that accompanied an article on the MSN homepage about top diets:
So what’s the problem? Look again.
If the tape measure is accurate, this woman would have approximately a 20 inch waist – 3-4 inches smaller than the standard waist measurement for a size 0. Hardly an attainable, or even desirable, goal for most women.
Yet it sends a subtle message that says, “This is the standard and you don’t measure up.”
The impact of such influences on body image can start early…and can last a lifetime.
“Body image is the subjective sense we have of our appearance and our body. Unlike what others see when they look at us, our body image is often different from the objective size and shape of our body… Women in the general population report more negative attitudes about their physical appearance than do men. Sadly, negative body image often begins when girls are young and extends far into adulthood. For some women it lasts their entire lives.“ (National Centre for Eating Disorders)
There are many factors that influence body image including socio-cultural influences/media, family and friends, and personal choices. Before we discuss how to combat body image issues and address the real underlying problem, it is important to identify influences that can distort our thinking in this area.
The Influence of Culture
In previous posts, I referenced statistics regarding the impact media can have body image; these influences are not limited to print and film sources.
You have probably heard the statistics about Barbie – that if she were human, her measurements would be approximately 38-18-34. Whether or not playing with disproportionate dolls has any lasting negative influence on girls is debatable, but the impact from seemingly innocent sources can be overtly influential even from very young ages.
The doll also came with a book entitled “How to Lose Weight” and inside this book it gave the advice: “Don’t eat.” A harmless toy? Perhaps, but the intended message seems clear.
Interestingly, the matching Ken doll also came with slumber party accessories, but his were milk and cookies sending a very different message.
Statistics have shown that social media can have an influence on body image as well. Teens were united in voicing concern that utilizing social media such as Facebook and Instagram reinforced cultural norms of beauty and objectified females. A 2012 survey found that 41 percent of 18 to 24-year-old women retouch their own photos before posting them to social media sites. With the widespread personal use of Photoshop and image-editing, young women may find themselves “competing” with unrealistic images of their peers online.
This powerful video from Spain clearly illustrates how the images we view may have been manipulated. No translation necessary to understand the message.
Watch: “Photoshop in Real Time”
It is important that we remember that media images and messages are deliberately constructed and are NOT reflections of reality. Advertisements and other media have been carefully crafted with an intent to send a very specific message and/or to convince you to buy or support a specific product or service. We must be aware that the world is trying to impact us at every turn!
The Influence of Family
- According to research by two Texas A&M professors: “media influences on behavior and self-perception often over-emphasize the media’s influence. While the media may play a role in how we react to the world around us, peers and family have a more immediate influence on our everyday lives.”
- According to a survey conducted by the Girl Scout Research Institute: 5 in 10 girls believe their family influences the way they feel about their bodies. In fact, family was found to be more influential than the media. Only 1 in 3 believed that media influenced their body image.
So what does that mean? Simply put, the family plays a major role in the development of perceptions in this area. Parents and siblings have an influence – positively or negatively – by action or inaction. Parents, we must be careful to set a good example in this area and to be careful with our words. Do your words help build your children’s character or are you harming them?
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” – Ephesians 4:29
Moms, I want to address you specifically here: What messages are you sending? Where is your focus? Do you complain about your looks? Do you place too much attention on clothes, make-up, weight, hair? What are you conveying to your family? Are you more concerned with outward appearance than inward character? The inclination of your heart in this area will have a major influence on your children. If you struggle, you must work to resolve that and be careful not to pass the same wrong focus on to your children.
Dads, I don’t want to minimize your role because it is significant. You may not personally feel the weight of this issue as intensely as women do, but you need to be aware of it and recognize that your influence and affirmation can do much to combat it. Your daughters (and wives) are vulnerable to harmful messages. Purpose yourself to speak truth into their lives be an encouragement to them daily. They have many conflicting voices vying for their attention; make sure your voice is heard above the din that can so easily lead them astray.
The Influence of Friends
- Although the media has commonly been targeted for its role in promoting body image issues among adolescent girls, research suggests that another factor may be more influential in the development of poor physical self-image: A girl’s group of friends
- A study showed that members of friendship cliques do share body image attitudes. Perceptions of friends’ behavior and comparison with friends were important predictors of body dissatisfaction and dieting.
Yes, one’s peer group has an influence and this is not limited to teenagers! Do you spend time with others who are very image-conscious? That will likely have an impact on you unless you are very aware and deliberately focused on keeping your priorities straight. Obviously, children and teens are especially susceptible to the influences of their friends. It is essential that parents know who their children’s friends are and help to guide them toward relationships that will be beneficial and not harmful.
“Do not be deceived: Bad company ruins good morals.” – 1 Corinthians 15:33
“Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” – Proverbs 13:20
While outside factors can certainly have an influence, ultimately body image issues start within our own hearts when we have the wrong focus and believe in lies.
“Women strive to shape their lives after that which popular culture tells them is beautiful, and Christian women are no exception. When we are preoccupied with physical attractiveness, we assert that the world’s standards of beauty matter more than God’s and we begin to reflect the values of a world that Jesus said we are not a part of even though we remain in it.” – Regina Franklin, Who Calls Me Beautiful?
Being dissatisfied with our bodies is really not a physical issue; it shows discontentment in our hearts.
It implies a mistrust in God’s provision and calls into question the wisdom of the Creator.
But this is nothing new; it is a struggle that began long ago…