Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Rethinking Body Image Amid Negative Messages

In an age where obesity is increasing in the US and some are even labeling it an epidemic, there is no question that everyday we are subjected to messages about our bodies. Whether it be through TV, radio, magazines or online, everyday we’re seeing infomercials for diet pills or workout programs or unbelievably airbrushed thin models in magazines. These are all sending us the message that our bodies should only be a certain way, and if they aren’t, you are somehow less of a person.

One woman, Ragen Chastain, decided to keep track of exactly how many messages about her body she got every day. Here are her results.

• Messages stating that it is impossible to be healthy at my weight: 217

• Messages stating that my weight makes me unattractive: 123

• Messages stating that I am lazy and don't exercise/don't exercise enough, lack will power, or am not "in control": 311

• Messages stating that I need to reach a specific BMI to be healthy: 36

• Messages stating that I am a drain on the health care system: 116

• Messages stating that I have poor eating habits: 84

• Messages suggesting that I should be "repulsed by my weight" [used those words specifically]: 19

• Messages calling me a derisive name: 152

• Messages saying something positive about people with large bodies: 3

• Messages that specifically shouted down those 3 positive comments: 231 (these are included in the categories above so they are not added into the total below)

Let's review:

• Total messages about my body: 1061

• Total negative messages: 1058 Total positive messages: 3

• About 353 negative message for each positive message.

If we extrapolate, I have been receiving:

7406 negative messages about my body each week

31,740 negative messages about my body each month

386,170 negative messages about my body each year

With all these negative messages, it’s no wonder that women (and men) have some serious self esteem issues. Surprisingly however, Chastain says that all of these messages make her “want to appreciate my body in a way that makes me want to take good care of it.” How is this possible? Chastain says that although her BMI labels her as “super obese” she is perfectly healthy. She is a plus-sized professional dancer who exercises more than 20 hours a week and her medical tests consistently come back perfect.

I think that Ragen Chastain has a really great perspective on this issue as she says,

“…I notice that I spend a lot of time addressing some of the 386,170 messages. While I think that it's important to expose what's going on , I also feel that a better use of a lot of my time from now on is adding to the 3 positive comments. Showing that there is another option – that you can opt out of a culture where people make assumptions and judgments and try to make you feel bad about yourself so that they can feel superior (or at least better about themselves), or convince you that buying what they are selling will make you love yourself. We are all intrinsically amazing – and we all deserve to love and cherish ourselves and our bodies and be respected by others – just as we are, right this second.”

Wouldn’t it be great if we all felt this way about our bodies? I hope that Ragen Chastain can serve as a role model for us in our thoughts about our bodies. As she says in her blog profile, “I am confident that health is based on what our bodies can do, not how they are shaped, and that we are all free to stop buying into the idea that our size determines our abilities or our success.”

This information was taken from Chastain’s blog post 386,170 Unhelpful Things which was reprinted on Jezebel. Ragen Chastain’s blog can be found here.

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