Friday, 31 August 2012

The perfect body – part I

Summer is supposed to be a carefree time, but for some it’s a season of self-consciousness and inadequacy. The realisation we will need to shed some clothes can be particularly daunting.

Indeed, estimates reveal up to 90% of women in the UK experience body image anxiety and a worrying two-thirds of these would undergo surgery to rectify the problem. But it’s not just women who are unhappy with their bodies. Researchers at the University of the West of England found that four out of five men in the UK dislike their bodies and would trade a year of their life to achieve their ideal body shape/weight. But where does negative body image originate from?

Now more than ever, we are under immense pressure to conform to society’s ideals of the body beautiful. Historically, the ideal female body was voluptuous and full figured because it symbolised wealth and fertility. In the 1900s, however, this ideal changed as plumpness became associated with indulgence and lack of self-control and so the ideal body became thin and boyish for women and lean and muscular for men.

These ideals and ultimately, how we value ourselves are conveyed through the media. Images are usually unrealistic, unattainable (as they are often digitally enhanced), and are therefore damaging to our physical and psychological well-being. The media is more powerful than ever. The media often wants us to feel bad about ourselves so we buy products to fix this. The problem is the more we are exposed to it, the more we believe it reflects the real world.

Whereas we once aspired to have bodies like ‘real people’ we knew, we now grow up wanting to look like supermodels. This trend is reflected in the growing problem of eating disorders and body image dissatisfaction. Although the average woman’s weight has increased, around 1.1 million people in the UK are affected by eating disorders and compared to Miss America winners from the 1950s, at least 25% of present-day role models would be considered underweight.

For more information on negative body image, check out The Perfect Body - part 2

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