Glamour breathlessly announced findings in its survey on body image and I’m not sure what there is to be stunned about – women are bombarded 24/7 with images of idealized bodies that don’t reflect the reality of the average woman’s size, shape, fitness level (or color for that matter):
Read these words: “You are a fat, worthless pig.” “You’re too thin. No man is ever going to want you.” “Ugly. Big. Gross.” Horrifying comments on some awful website? The rant of an abusive, controlling boyfriend? No; shockingly, these are the actual words young women are saying to themselves on any typical day. For some, such thoughts are fleeting, but for others, this dialogue plays on a constant, punishing loop, according to a new exclusive Glamour survey of more than 300 women of all sizes. Our research found that, on average, women have 13 negative body thoughts daily-nearly one for every waking hour. And a disturbing number of women confess to having 35, 50 or even 100 hateful thoughts about their own shapes each day.
…”That is a lot, yet I’m not totally surprised,” says Ann Kearney-Cooke, Ph.D., a Cincinnati psychologist who specializes in body image and helped Glamour design the survey. “It’s become such an accepted norm to put yourself down that if someone says she likes her body, she’s the odd woman out. I was in a group discussion recently, and when one woman said, ‘I actually feel OK about the way I look,’ another woman scrunched up her face and said, ‘I have never in my whole life heard anyone say that-and I’m not sure I even believe you.’ That’s how pervasive this negative body talk is. It’s actually more acceptable to insult your body than to praise it.”
And we seem to be well aware of how hard we are on ourselves. Nearly 63 percent of Glamour’s survey respondents said they had roughly the same number of negative thoughts as they expected. But few realized how venomous those thoughts were until they were down on paper. So how has this become OK?
Our unattainable cultural beauty ideals, our celebrity worship-those all play a part, says Kearney-Cooke. But another big reason is that we’ve actually trained ourselves to be this way. “Neuroscience has shown that whatever you focus on shapes your brain. If you’re constantly thinking negative thoughts about your body, that neural pathway becomes stronger-and those thoughts become habitual,” she explains. “Imagine a concert pianist. Her brain would have stronger neural pathways that support musicality and dexterity than someone who hadn’t spent her life practicing.”
OK, so it’s our broken brains that we’ve trained to cycle in these self-loathing thoughts. You can read the rest of the article for more; I was just dropping this in as a topic. I’m sure that the level of harsh self-evaluation, particularly when it comes to gay men, may be disproportionally high, given all the hardbodies you see in magazines directed at that demo. Some of the actual comments by survey participants are truly vile:
“Fat-ass. Lazy bitch. I hate my thighs. I hate my stomach. I hate my arms.”
“Your stomach is fat. That is why you are alone.”
“I can’t imagine anyone wanting to have sex with this.”
“Huge legs, fat stomach, not pretty enough to attract anyone, ugly in comparison to others.”
“I look disgusting with my cottage cheese legs and stretch-mark hips. Nasty. No one would want to touch me.”
I’m racking my brain to think about how often I do this each day. I’ve inherited my mom’s side of the family when it comes to over-ample boobage and I’ve accepted “the girls” for what they are. My legs are short and muscular, I’ve accepted those. Honestly, I only think about where I express self-criticism is when getting dressed, usually on the problem areas for my apple-shape – abdomen, arms. I don’t carry it in my hips.
The hysterectomy, which causes “swelly belly” for some women, makes it uncomfortable to wear jeans (and it does for me), so it sort of exacerbated my issues on that front.
My operation also made me realize why a lot of women in midlife choose the often fashionista-decried “mommy jeans” that sit just above your natural waist, or those with elasticized backs (or now, jeggings) – many have had reproductive issues — hysterectomies, cancer, even multiple caesareans that make wearing low-slung tight jeans a thing of the past. Yet women who choose some level of comfort out of necessity are made to feel undesireable or the butt of jokes as a fashion outlier.
Anyway, from my POV I know I can be stylish and not a size 0, and choose things that flatter. Now whether anyone laughs at me or considers me “less-than” in terms of attractiveness – I can’t change what someone who doesn’t even know me thinks about whether I qualify for their personal beauty standard. But you do really have to figure out how to deal with your own internal critic first.
It seems like step 1 for some women would be to throw out all of the magazines idolizing the unrealistic standard.
Q of the day: So how often do you have self-critical thoughts about your body/body image?
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