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Health / Safety

You're beautiful just the way you are

February 22, 2010

The week of Feb. 23-26, it's time to Celebrate Every Body! It's a time to depart from calorie-counting and dieting and to thank your body for all the wonderful things that it lets you do each and every day. "You are beautiful the way you are!" Now, there's a message you rarely, if ever see on T.V.!

Editor's Note: This guest column is by Helen F. Bowden, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist with the CSU Health Network. Originally published in the Rocky Mountain Collegian, Feb. 23, 2010.

Bombarded by unrealistic images

In today’s world of mass media and advertising, we are constantly bombarded by images of ultra-thin women like Angelina Jolie and men like Tobey Maguire who pack on pounds of muscles for movie roles.

“So what?” you may be thinking, “That’s life!” Well, unfortunately, there is a well-documented connection between T.V. and magazine consumption and body dissatisfaction/disturbed eating.

Many men and women gaze upon those bronze, muscled Adonises and skinny, unnaturally proportioned goddesses and naturally feel inadequate by comparison. Nowhere in a disclaimer is a list of all that’s involved in creating these seemingly “perfect” images:

  • suffering
  • starvation
  • hours of make-up
  • computer retouching

We are not only made to think that it’s easy, but that we should want to lose weight and become fitness gurus.

Advertisers want us to feel badly about our bodies

Why would the advertisers want us to feel badly about our bodies? So we’ll buy their products (of course!), which are lauded as “the” answer to our body image woes. That’s why Americans spend 30-50 billion dollars a year on weight loss products and 51 billion a year on cosmetics!

One study showed that people were spending $180 per pound lost! Considering that 90 percent of those who lose 25-plus pounds regain the weight that they lose (and usually more) within 2 years, I’d say that an awful lot of people are being scammed. The reason – the body has an internal weight that it strives to maintain (a set point), and your metabolism actually slows down when you diet in order to conserve energy, and stores up more fat to protect against future restrictive eating.

Health risks, time wasted

Dieting, especially yo-yo dieting and restrictive eating, is associated with hypertension, increased serum cholesterol, kidney and heart problems, gastrointestinal problems, and even death. Some research indicates that people who are on very low calorie diets have a death rate 40 times higher than the normal population!

But aside from the health risks, think about how much time you actually spend every day thinking or talking about calories, food, fat, weight, and exercise. That’s a lot of time each week wasted! And the inevitable outcome is feeling more inadequate and dissatisfied with your body.

Most women feel badly about their bodies

Unfortunately, most women do feel badly about their bodies - up to 2/3 of women feel dissatisfaction with some part of their bodies and 80-90 percent of dieters are women. This trend has sadly infiltrated our youth. Several researchers have found that about 70 percent of 10-year old girls are currently dieting!

What’s more, most women view their bodies unrealistically and believe that they are larger than they are. In fact, one study showed that 70 percent of young women in the U.S. and England thought that they were overweight even though they were within their normal weight range. Men aren’t immune to the media effect either. Three times as many men are dissatisfied with their appearance than they were in the 1970’s.

More and more men struggle

About 10-18 percent of those with eating disorders are men and more and more men are compulsively exercising, abusing supplements or steroids, and undergoing cosmetic surgery. Even the biceps, chests, and necks of many action figures have grown to unobtainable proportions over the past two decades.

So, what can you do about the larger cultural obsession with thinness? Well, for starters, believe in your power to make a difference. If you see an ad that negatively portrays men or women and perpetuates unrealistic body types, e-mail them! The company keeps incident reports of all e-mails they receive and if they get enough of them, they will change their ads. Also, don’t buy products that are sponsored by companies that use thin-ideal or sexist advertising. If there’s one motivator to big business, it’s money!

Participate in activities that make you feel good about yourself

Imagine what would happen if instead of all that wasted time obsessing over body image and food, you funneled all of that energy into discovering your talents, dreams, and unique qualities that make you special for who you are, not what you look like?

There are so many wonderful things inside you that have absolutely nothing to do with how you look, what you weigh, or what other people see on the outside. Are you an artist, writer, engineer, director, or healer at heart? Want to find out?

Invest time in exploring your strengths rather than your weaknesses. Give yourself permission to take care of yourself. Self-care does not equal selfish!

  • Take a leisure course on something that you’ve always wanted to try.
  • Make a list of all your great qualities that have nothing to do with appearance and remind yourself about them often.
  • Take up yoga or meditation.

In other words -- participate in activities that make you feel good about yourself and your body! When you find yourself or others talking about calories, fat, or weight, stop yourself, and refocus the conversation on something that is self-nurturing, not self-critical. And, if you find that you are becoming obsessed with food and exercise so much that it is interfering with your life and well-being, get help. Remember, you are so much more than a number on a scale!

Campus event

Feb. 24 - Flash Mob event

Contact: Helen F. Bowden
E-mail: Helen.Bowden@Colostate.EDU
Phone: (970) 491-6288