We are not born disliking our bodies. We are innocent in our self-acceptance until we learn there is a “right” way to look. After that, we evaluate ourselves against whatever ideal we are taught because it is our nature to compare. If we are fortunate, we will grow up in a family that values inner qualities over appearance. Sometimes that can protect us from internalizing the broader culture’s narrow beauty ideal. But it’s difficult to stay immune to all the messages from everywhere else… the teasing from kids at school… the magazine covers with Photoshopped images… the TV commercials pushing their weight-loss products…
And some are not fortunate enough to grow up in families where beauty is recognized in a diversity of shapes, sizes and colors. For too many, the pain starts at home and family opens the first wounds, which are only deepened by peers and the media.
Seemingly from all corners, the message is clear: We aren’t good enough. Not T-H-I-N enough.
Because thin = good and we so reason, therefore, fat must = bad, right? Some will even directly say that it is.
I used to buy into all of it, like so many do. I hated my body long before I developed an eating disorder, and it laid the foundation for me to go down that path. I was so desperate to lose weight, to be accepted, to feel okay for once. I was so mad at myself for not being thin like my friends and the pretty girls I saw in the media.
Thankfully, now I’m recovered—from both my eating disorder and my body hatred. But I’m still angry. I’m angry that we live in a culture that works so dang hard to make us feel bad about ourselves. You can’t go a day without seeing advertisements for products related to weight loss, makeup, hair dye, eye creams, tummy-control pants, and on and on and on. If you don’t feel pretty, thin, or young enough, then they promise to change that if you’re willing to spend enough time and money.
And I mean lots of money. Beauty is a $532 billion industry and is expected to just keep growing. The problem is that every commercial you see isn’t simply trying to sell you something; first, it tries to convince you that you need what they’re selling. It plays on, sometimes even creates, insecurities. The subtle goal is for you to feel bad about yourself so that you’ll then want to buy something that will (supposedly) make you feel more confident.
While common sense likely tells us that we’re influenced by the media, it never hurts to have some research to back that up—which of course, it does. Indeed, research shows that media influence can lead children and adolescents to internalize ideals imposed by society, which also increases the probability that they will suffer from issues like body dysmorphia and eating disorders. Studies suggest this can start as young as six years old, if not even earlier. We’re talking Kindergarteners, maybe younger!
That makes me angry for every little girl that is harmed by these messages poured into her about her value and what she is supposed to be. I hope that like I have, you’ll learn to turn that anger and disgust that you direct at yourself for not being what you “should” be, and you’ll start getting angry at the diet and beauty cultures instead. Not because makeup is evil or dyeing your hair is inherently bad, but because being sold the idea that you can’t feel good about yourself without those things is wrong. Being told we have to be a certain BMI to be attractive and worthwhile is beyond shallow—it’s destructive and sick, and I will never stop fighting for a better world for my son and daughter.
If you’d like to talk about how to get break free from these destructive cultural messages and finally accept yourself as you are, please contact me about a teletherapy appointment or follow me on Instagram or Facebook.
I’m Cherie Miller, MS, LPC, founder of Food Freedom Therapy™. I offer counseling for chronic dieting as well eating disorder therapy for Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder, Orthorexia, ARFID, and other eating disorder issues. Contact me here or follow me on Instagram or Facebook.