– Alison Bowerman, staff
I can’t remember the first time I looked at a television show, a musician or a Barbie doll and thought, “If only I looked like her.” People don’t remember those things. I mean, why wouldn’t you want to look like Barbie? I do, however, remember the first time I looked in the mirror and thought, “If only I didn’t look like this.” I was in second grade and I was wearing a black velvet dress with pearl buttons down the chest. I looked in the mirror to admire my ensemble, and turned sideways to further evaluate my appearance. I was not happy with my gut. I recall poking at my stomach, pushing it in, pushing it out and playing with the rolls of fat as I slouched over. I was seven years old, and already I wasn’t good enough.
Next week is Eating Disorder Awareness Week. It is my hope not only to raise awareness about eating disorders, but also to raise awareness about what it is to be beautiful.
The film ‘MissRepresentation’ depicts the media’s role as a roadblock in women’s lives, hindering their self-confidence and achievements. Famous women such as Katie Couric, Condoleezza Rice, Rachel Maddow and Margaret Cho speak out about their own struggles and what they want this generation of young girls to know.
One of the main critiques of the media is the small population of women represented in commercials, television shows, magazines and movies in comparison to the diverse body types in the real world. The discrepancy is important because of the vast exposure our population has to media of all kinds.
According to ‘MissRepresentation’, kids spend 31 hours a week watching television, 17 hours listening to music, three hours watching movies, four hours reading magazines and ten hours online. In combination with the discrimination of any body type that isn’t thin and what society deems beautiful, it’s no wonder 53% of 13 year old girls are unhappy with their bodies. That number increases to 78% by age 17.
Advertisers aren’t just selling Mr. Clean, Kraft Dinner and Kleenex; they are selling standards of beauty. Women believe the only way to be loved and successful is to look like the women they see in magazines, TV shows, movies and advertisements. When did weight or size become a prerequisite for a happy life and contentment? The media may favor a certain skin colour, a certain hair colour, bust size, dress size and type of clothing. It is not, however, indiscriminate in its ability to make women feel badly about themselves. I want to see a woman that looks like me get the guy for once. I want to see my mother, my sister, my grandmother on the walls of the bus stop. I want my best childhood friend on the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine. These women embody real beauty that I admire, as opposed to digitally generated beauty which no one can call their own.
I am able to fully appreciate the beauty of the women around me as apposed to the women on paper or on my computer. I myself suffered from anorexia, and at my lowest weight my skeletal body still needed more work. My point is the cycle never ends. The media can always find something wrong with our bodies. At least one of the magazines in line at the grocery story has some story criticizing even the most successful women’s bodies. If these women we look up to aren’t perfect, how can any of us feel content with our bodies?
You may or may not know someone with an eating disorder, but you definitely know someone who has negative feelings about their body. Prevention is just as important as awareness when it comes to eating disorders. Negative body image and the media may not be the sole cause of an eating disorder, but no one can deny the comparisons made to women in magazines and other media forms are unhealthy. I have gained a lot through my journey to recovery from my eating disorder, and not just in regaining weight. The most important thing I gained was the ability to call my body ‘mine.’ Women need to stop seeing their bodies as external elements to be changed or perfected. I may not always be happy with my body, but at least I can call it mine.