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Posted by Parvathi Sajiv

If you google “How to lose weight”, you would come across a sea of articles mostly backed by so-called “science”. There is a growing search for losing weight as quickly as possible which has also inspired influencers to come up with their crash diets and workouts. Google searches for health aren’t nearly similar to the crash diets and workouts for losing weight and reducing fat.

Why do people want to lose weight and fat more than being healthy?

Just because a person is fat doesn’t mean the person isn’t healthy. The validity of BMI or Body-Mass Index scores has been thwarted by NBA players themselves, and one wouldn’t be seen arguing about their health conditions. The role of genetics is about 40 – 80 percent of your body composition. Honestly, we have more control over the clothes we want to wear compared to changing our body structure. (Unless you take the route of liposuctions, and surgery, i.e. artificial means)

Historically body image has undergone transitions. During the Italian renaissance, the body size was related to wealth and the more ample and full her bosoms and hips were, the more they were linked to prosperity. As the World War era arose, women were seen sporting androgynous looks with hairstyles that were short and brassieres that helped achieve a flattened chest.

Which brings me to an important point. Why do we take the painful route of surgery or push ourselves to take a 30-day cleanse challenge or a shred challenge?

The answer is quite simple – to look a certain way.

Every person has the freedom to want to look a certain way. But we must remember that we are constantly influenced by content around us. We seek role models and ideas from these sources. But when the media caters to people who look a certain way, the others may feel left out. It is a natural desire to want to feel socially accepted and thus begin, another deep cleanse challenge or a fitness madness.

This is unhealthy. Not just in terms of physical fitness but also for our mental health.

Another reason is when children grow up consuming content that depicts a certain kind of body and labels it “attractive”, they seek out partners who look the way people did on glamourous screens. This often leaves people disappointed and frustrated. After all, it takes hours of threading, makeup, hair work and painful waxing to look the way people do look on screens.

What determines the quality of attractiveness?

As mentioned above, the content we consume, ideologies we grew up with and role models; all become crucial factors in determining our standards of attractiveness. This is why the media should shift to honest representation. If one looks at the movies and the actors and actresses being cast, one can note a pattern. Small waists, preferably more of lighter colour and toned thighs that look unreal. Magazines also take the liberty of airbrushing these models to make them look the way they do. The representation of the diverse spectrum of people feels unheard and it is time we change that.

Body Image As A Cultural Construct

Historically body image has undergone transitions. During the Italian renaissance, the body size was related to wealth and the more ample and full women’s bosoms and hips were, the more they were linked to prosperity. As the World War era arose, women were seen sporting androgynous looks with hairstyles that were short and brassieres that helped achieve a flattened chest.

Furthermore, body image is essentially cultural. We do not have to look a certain way to be accepted. The narrative demands change. The Hollywood industry with their diet supplements and hardcore training, is the same industry which earlier hailed Marilyn Monroe for her beauty. Marilyn Monroe is known to have taken eight gain supplements to achieve a certain level of “attractiveness.” The same industry also bullies celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, and Gal Gadot, for even the tiniest change in their bodies.

Also read: Video: Dolls, Beauty Standards and Body Image Issues

While we talk about representation in the media, the present-day scenario is indeed quite saddening. Media has still been split on the binary gender and fails to account for the other members of the vast spectrum. Studies suggest that transgender people tend to experience distress resulting from the gender dysphoria. This coupled by body image can lead to body dissatisfaction amongst them. Stereotyping gender concerns can also lead to people being dissatisfied with their own body and this is valid across the entire spectrum.

Body image is a phenomenon that is part of the entire gender spectrum. Men too have suffered a long war against body image. The expectation to be the ideal man with abs and muscles have resulted in men having mental anxiety and resorting to steroids. Often it becomes the single most important factor in a person’s overall self-image. So much importance on body image has been given that it has become synonymous to self-image. This coupled with the callous use of the term healthy concerning weight adds to the burden of living constantly with body dissatisfaction.

Every person has the freedom to want to look a certain way. But we must remember that we are constantly influenced by content around us. We seek role models and ideas from these sources. But when the media caters to people who look a certain way, the others may feel left out. It is a natural desire to want to feel socially accepted and thus begin, another deep cleanse challenge or a fitness madness.

When the focus is shifted from being healthy to having to conform to a certain type of body image, there is bound to be a rise in anxiety as well as dissatisfaction. This stress leads to an increase in weight and other health issues and one can’t help but find themselves in this continuous loop. Being healthy implies taking care of your body and ensuring that one eats nutritious food. Being healthy also means to practise mindfulness and indulge in activities that provide for better mental health.

Also read: Loving Our Bodies Won’t Solve Body Image Issues. Here’s Why.

To quote from the BBC series Sherlock, “Beauty is a construct based entirely on childhood impressions, influences and role models.

Other References

  1. Body image in transgender young people: Findings from a qualitative, community based study. 
  2. Indian Journal of Health and Wellbeing 
  3. Body Image and Body Shaming By Meghan Green, Ronald D. Lankford, Jr.
  4. Indian Journal of Community Medicine: Official Publication of Indian Association of Preventive & Social Medicine

Parvathi is a journalism student and a feminist in progress. She loves understanding cultural evolution, big data and writing parodies. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter.

Featured Image Source: Feminism In India

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