Saturday, April 30, 2011

How to Promote Healthy Body Image

I'll admit, though I'm a skinny girl who has received compliments about her body proportions since age 10, I too have struggled (and still do, in some sense) with negative body image. I find that this is one area where society speaks double. We promote unhealthy consumption and sedentary lifestyles, yet we expect women to remain skinny while also possessing "tits and ass." I've done some thinking and found my own ways that people in society can promote a positive body image, especially for girls.

1. Promote healthy eating for EVERYONE! No matter your body shape or metabolism, sugar, trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, and overly processed foods hurt everyone. Eating healthy and drinking plenty of water don't only help shed unwanted pounds, they give you energy and remove toxins.

2. Healthy eating includes proportions. Eat when you're hungry, stop when you feel satisfied (not necessarily full). Chew each bite thoroughly, this actually helps with digestion. And, if you're so worried about waste, take your food with you or stick it in your fridge. And, for the love of all that is good, stop encouraging your skinny relatives to gorge themselves. I still struggle with overeating because I heard enough of that growing up.

3. Don't compare sisters' looks to each other. Yes, some girls are born with incredibly stunning features. Maybe their sisters aren't as much, but still can be beautiful in their own right. It's no fun to have family members, friends, and strangers compare your height, face shape, hair thickness, and cup size as if you were at a meat market. Plus, it encourages sisters to be jealous and harbor resentment to each other. Fastest way to destroy self-confidence and familial relationships.

4. Encourage exercise, especially weight training. Not only will this give us our shape, weight training also builds and maintains bone density. As women, we're susceptible to conditions such as osteoporosis, which weight training can easily prevent. However, don't neglect cardio and flexibility training. These are just as necessary to maintain endurance, increase energy, and prevent injuries. Plus, physical strength encourages self-confidence and a positive feeling about one's body.

5. Helpful advice about clothes and styles that would flatter can be nice. However, don't overdo it and don't push the shopping thing. Let us figure out what we'd like to wear and how we'd like to do it. Emphasize proper hygiene, appropriate outfits for various venues (in our preferred styles) and the importance of taking care of our nicer things. Don't push materialism or needing to be "in style."

6. For all the romantic partners (male and female): do your best to keep your eyes faithful. Yes, there are attractive people and you notice. Noticing isn't bad, it's when you keep your eyes on the other person and are virtually ignoring your partner that it can be dangerous. Also, tell her how lovely she is, especially when she's tired or feeling insecure. Trust me, we NEVER tire of hearing that.

7. For friends: affirm each other's looks as well as our other qualities. You don't have to overdo it, but when one of us makes an effort to look good, say so!

8. Never say "you look nice." That makes it sound like we put in effort but can never be gorgeous.

9. I hate hearing, "you look good, have you lost weight?" That's because the semesters I did hear it, I was under serious stress and not eating properly. STOP ENCOURAGING UNHEALTHY BEHAVIORS!

10. Don't make any comments about weight. At all.

11. Don't tell me to show off or cover up, based on what you do or don't want to see. Some of us wear whatever we want because we feel like it. Also, for those that do cover, maybe religion dictates we do and we make the choice (yes, our choice) to be faithful to that. Or maybe we don't need to show off our cleavage to feel good. Or, maybe we're sexual assault survivors and we feel more protected when we cover. But don't tell me I need to show off to get a man. That's bullshit.

12. Stop encouraging post-partum women to lose it as quickly as possible! Not healthy for her, not for the baby, especially if Mom is breastfeeding.

13. Breastfeeding isn't dirty, so stop treating it as such. If the Vatican deems it OK to have pictures of Mary nursing Jesus (with fully exposed breast) and if people in countries with higher modesty standards don't care, we shouldn't. Breasts aren't sexual any more than legs are and people can be attracted to just about anything. So stop with the lies already.

14. Fight negative body image in the media. Write to companies that use womens' bodies in advertising to stop. Buy products from companies that don't do it as much.

15. Fight for kids' rights to healthy food, ample recess time, and gym class. It's not that more kids necessarily have ADD/ADHD, it's that we're making kids adjust to lifestyles that aren't healthy for their bodies or ability to learn. If your school board threatens to cut recess or gym due to a need for the kids to take meaningless tests, fight it! And, while we're at it, fight for hunger policies that encourage healthy eating in poor communities.

As you can see, healthy body image is tied to health, relationships (romantic, familial and friendly), and social justice. Women are not objects you must divide and conquer. We're people. It's time we were treated as such and it's time we treated ourselves and each other in the same light.

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