I have struggled with body appreciation for the majority of my life. Some of my most vivid childhood memories are comments that people made about my hair, eyebrows, and clothes that made me think that I needed to change my appearance.
I hit puberty earlier than the majority of my friends, and my body started changing when I was very young. It was difficult to accept my new, mature form.
Even when I was thoroughly dedicated to fitness, ate well, and in phenomenal shape, I was under the impression that I was still not thin or pretty enough. Now, after giving birth to two children, having struggled with postpartum depression and overcoming a number of medical issues, my self-esteem is low.
Unfortunately, I am not an anomaly.
According to dosomething.org, an organization that encourages and helps young people make social change in the world, approximately 91 percent of women are unhappy with their bodies. That is a terrifying and sad statistic. Magazines and websites teach us how to cover up all of our “flaws,” and women often resort to extreme dieting and surgeries in an attempt to get the “perfect” Hollywood body.
But it’s not just magazines and movies that teach us our bodies aren’t good enough. For many women, it starts at home. According to the Office of Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the following scenarios may contribute to weight concern for females:
- Having mothers concerned about their own weight
- Having mothers who are overly concerned about their daughters’ weight and looks
- Natural weight gain and other body changes during puberty
- Peer pressure to look a certain way
- Struggles with self-esteem
- Media images showing the ideal female body as thin
Curious about these statistics, I asked some of my female friends and family about their own thoughts and experiences. The variety of responses was fascinating and eye opening.
Heather, a middle school teacher, willingly pointed out her perceived flaws. “I am overweight and have lots of stretch marks. My cheeks are too round, my eyes are too small, and my nose wiggles on the end when I talk.” She mentioned that her father would often tell her that she was too skinny and her mother often commented negatively about certain features.
Although she has noted that her views toward her own body are mostly negative, Heather shared that her fiance, Mark, has started to help her view herself in a more positive manner. “Mark has helped a lot. He thinks I am beautiful and tells me all the time that I am perfect. It is hard for me to understand that – but I love that he thinks I am beautiful. [He] makes me less ashamed.” Heather thinks we can help women view themselves in a more positive light by teaching them to love themselves and their unique features.
Next, I asked one of my extended family members about her views regarding her body. “There were things I thought were positive and other things that caused some insecurities. Having acne and wearing glasses since before grade school made me an easy target to pick on and created insecurities and doubt, [so] if anyone did say I was pretty, I had a hard time believing it was true.”
When I asked how she thought we could positively influence society’s view of women, she suggested we should stop buying magazines that promote these trends. “Maybe the publishers would take a second look at what they are putting out there.”
Hannah, a mother of four and a music teacher, was adamant that her views of her own body are positive. She attributes that attitude to the support of her husband, family, and friends, regardless of her weight. She acknowledged that her mom, while well intended, was not always helpful with her comments on Hannah’s weight and eating habits.
“I think my Mom always meant to have a positive attitude toward my self-image, although it wasn’t always the best. There were times where she would notice my poor eating habits and suggest I eat healthier. We did Weight Watchers together when I was in the eighth grade, and I’m not sure that was a positive experience at a younger age.”
Hannah shared that her own mother struggled with her body image and weight, but that watching her mom’s journey helped her see that the perfect body is not what matters most. “[It] helped me to understand that beauty is not always outward.”
When I asked Hannah to share an experience that negatively affected her body image, she said that she was a victim of bullying in middle school. “Your peers can make or break you as an adolescent. That definitely took a toll on my self-perception.” But she noted that her faith has helped her positivity through it all, and she offered some advice for others.
“I think the biggest thing we can do is to love and respect others as we love ourselves. Those are the fundamentals of my Faith and a standard I truly try to live by.”
One in five women struggle with an eating disorder. The Office of Women’s Health says culture, stressful events, life changes, biology, and family health history are some of the frequent triggers for eating disorders.
When I spoke to one of my cousins, she opened up about her own experiences with an eating disorder. “As a child, I was always told I was so skinny and I just remember loving to hear that. As I got older, I hated my body. I had gained too much weight around middle school. Even when I did lose the weight, I still wanted to lose more and more. If I ate too much, I wanted to throw it all back up. Most of the time I would just over exercise to the point of almost passing out.”
She did share that having a daughter of her own was a turning point for her, as well as having a supportive husband who loves her regardless of her outward appearance.
The last woman I talked to was a longtime friend of my husband. She, unfortunately, did not grow up with positive reinforcement about her body. “I would say my mother definitely negatively affected my views. She’s pretty much always had negative views of her own body, and still does. My mom has outright told me that I’m fat or made comments about my stomach.”
When I asked her how she thinks we can positively influence change towards the unrealistic beauty standards to which society holds women, her response was thought provoking. “I think the way that we can influence change is to encourage people to be healthy. Healthy doesn’t necessarily have to be a body size or look, but rather how we treat our bodies. We never have to mention the way your body looks or anything like that, (but) rather encourage each other to be active and eat as healthy as we can.”
While some of the answers I received from these beautiful women were positive, it was saddening to hear their experiences. I couldn’t believe some of the comments that had been made. Even our own family members can be so cruel.
I am humbled and honored that so many women were willing to share their experiences, good or bad, regarding their self-image. These women are all mothers themselves, and know the importance of teaching our children to love themselves.
As a mom to three kids, two of whom are girls, I hope that I can start promoting a healthier environment in which they can grow. I’ve started to become more aware of my comments about myself. Instead of focusing on weight, I want to show them the importance of a healthy and balanced lifestyle.
I want to teach my girls that society is wrong. There is no perfect look and no perfect size. We are all born unique individuals, and we should embrace that rather than shaming each other for it.
Sources: dosomething.org, https://www.womenshealth.gov/body-image/kids/index.html,