There is an increasing awareness of the messages projected by commercial advertising and the negative effects they exert on the self-image of viewers. Body image has become increasingly mixed up with self-esteem and consequently has promoted a range of disorders such as anorexia, low self-esteem and anxiety.
Commercial images, popularised mainly by the media, have set improbable goals such as everlasting youth and has ended up making a parody of beauty. So should we really care about how we compare to media standards of beauty?
This awareness of the negative impact of certain images has recently led to action by lay persons who felt that a London Underground ad by a company selling sports nutritional products was setting unrealistic goals. Critics of this ad believe that ads such as the one by Protein World are harmful to the self-image of viewers. You can read more about this action here.
And why are these images damaging? Surely, in this computer dominated age, we all know that ads are enhanced images, designed to sell products. The truth of the matter is that while we know that these pictures offer unrealistic comparisons, we still endorse them – we and sadly, those around us, accept them as if they were real.
Regrettably this has meant a dramatic increase in eating disorders, anxiety and depression. Some push themselves into dangerous sexual situations to validate their perception of their own attractiveness. Others opt out, withdrawing away from society and from activities that require them to ‘expose’ their bodies such as swimming or exercising.
Hence the negative cycle gradually closes in, locking away the person’s potential to fulfil herself or himself, to show one’s talents. to be acknowledged for one’s uniqueness and accepted with one’s vulnerabilities.
By the way, this phenomenon is by no means exclusive to females. KidsMalta.com reports that 1 in 10 young males are now affected by eating disorders and mental illness associated to negative body image.
But what exactly is it that makes a person 'beautiful'?Krista Sullivan, in her blog entry ‘What is Sexy?’ relates being attractive to being humane yet strong with an emphasis on authenticity and self-respect. Integrity is attractive, Krista maintains, while generosity and having a social conscience is the hallmark of a truly sexy human being. In other words, say what you mean and mean what you say. Beauty radiates from our character and behaviour towards ourselves and others and not merely from one’s exterior appearance.
Surely, you might be thinking, there is nothing wrong with wanting to look pretty or eye-catching. Not in the least. Self-care is at the basis of a healthy self-esteem. But there is quite a difference between treating yourself with respect and, on the other hand, letting your negative feelings about your body determine your thoughts about yourself. Clearly no body is perfect, unless it is photoshopped. At some time or other we all need to make adjustments to our life-style in order to become healthier both physically and psychologically.
In the words of Helen Keller, a beautiful is soul not famous for her looks but for her courage and wisdom, ‘be happy with what you have while working for what you want’.
Self-care and acknowledging our intrinsic worth is the subject tackled by Embodying Selves. This project is the brain child of Lou Ghirlando, a creative arts therapist in conjunction with the Theatre Studies Department at the University of Malta, as well as the Malta Arts Fund and the School for Performing Arts. This project highlights the connection between emotional well-being and how we choose to care for ourselves, with special focus on our relationship with food and nutrition. A dramatic performance will be developed as part of this research project with interventions from a British drama-therapist who works with persons with eating disorders. You can find more details about this valid project here.
So what to do? How do we become whole again? How do we draw away from this fragmented mess of comparisons to unreal images? How do we escape the realm of delusion and reinstate our authentic selves?
The approach advocated by Beauty Redefined is a simple three-step process of recognizing harmful images, redefining our body image in positive terms and finally, resisting damaging messages conveyed by commercial images. They point their fingers at the way these images objectify the human body and mislead viewers into thinking that thin is happy. Clearly happiness is far more complex than that.
The following are some pointers towards restoring one’s self-image.
- Firstly, find a safe space where you are comfortable to talk about your negative feelings about yourself – be it via counselling or with a trusted friend or relative.
- Secondly, find out what you excel at and what you love and admire about yourself.
- Express your individual style and carry yourself with confidence and pride.
- Be aware that when you compare yourself with others you are encouraging a negative self- image.
- If you need to make lifestyle changes make them pleasant – engage in exercise you enjoy, make time to prepare healthy delicious meals. In other words make the change an agreeable one.
- Above all, hang out with people who will nurture and support you. The company you choose can act as nourishment or as a drain to your energy so choose wisely.
Be well. Be whole. Be real. Be yourself.
Thanks for the inspiration to these sources: