Body Image & Body Dissatisfaction
What do you see when you look in the mirror? Do you feel good about your appearance or do you say negative things to yourself about your looks and weight?
Many people struggle with their feelings about their bodies. Our culture bombards us on a daily basis with images of the “ideal” woman or man. From the time we were little kids, we’ve been raised with Barbie and Ken, and as we grew older the media ideals were solidified through magazines, television, and movies. No one can escape seeing our cultural ideal all around us, and for many of us that leads to an inevitable comparison of our own bodies to air brushed perfection. If you don’t meet the media ideal (and 97% of us don’t), the result can be body image dissatisfaction which has real consequences in our lives.
Advertisers are very smart, and the general effect of advertising is making you feel like you are not good enough. Their job is to sell products, and to make you believe that you need them. If you felt beautiful, why would you need firming cream? Advertising typically makes you feel badly about yourself, then offers a product to remedy that. Often it can be so subtle you don’t even notice it happening. Thankfully some advertisers are realizing the extensive damage that has been done, and are charting a different course. The people at Dove have done a wonderful job of showcasing “real beauty” and exposing us to images of real women. Sadly, they are more the exception than the rule (cue the Victoria’s Secret Angels).
To add insult to injury, the diet and weight loss industry (at my last check – a $66 billion dollar powerhouse) spends countless advertising dollars telling you that you are not ok, but that by spending your money on their diets and products you can attain the ideal.
The reality is – diets inevitably fail. No doubt while you’re on a diet you can lose weight, but it is not realistic to never have pizza again, and at some point you just can’t maintain that level of restriction. Diets drive a wedge between us and our natural, mindful eating styles. Many of us are trapped in the diet cycle and the fallout can be difficult – feeling ashamed, feeling that we’ve failed, and often gaining weight back as a result (often more than we started with). Then the diet industry steps in to hand us a solution – another diet! After these artificial attempts to control our weight, we often lose a sense of what our natural weight really is.
So What Can We Do?
One of my true passions in life is helping women and men reconnect with their bodies and truly love and appreciate them. When I started my doctoral program back in 1996, I began researching body image dissatisfaction. I wrote my dissertation on culture and body dissatisfaction, and presented my research and prevention work at multiple conferences (American Psychological Association National Convention, Conference of the Institute for Research and Education on Women and Gender, Counseling Centers of New York Conference).
During my pre-doctoral internship at Duke University, I trained under an eating disorder specialist and co-developed a “Healthy Body Perception Training” class which I have taught multiple times at different Universities. At Colgate University, I advised the Body Image Network group, and now I help women and men in individual therapy.
Healing the relationship you have with your appearance and taking back ownership over your eating and movement can free you from the cultural insanity we are confronted with every day. Imagine you could take all the time you’ve spent criticizing yourself or looking outwards for a fix to some perceived flaw – and apply that to something you really care about. Imagine how much free time you’d have if you weren’t spending so much of it feeling badly about yourself. Imagine holding your head high and engaging in activities you want to do – without worrying what people think about your appearance or weight. Therapy for body image dissatisfaction can help you reach these goals.