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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


Looking In The Mirror, What Do You See?

Flipping through  a Victoria’s Secret catalog, your attention may have been drawn to the sleek, svelte shapes of its featured female models. Their male counterparts can be located in any ads from Tommy Hilfiger, Hollister and American Eagle to name a few, all sporting dauntingly defined abs and that odd sullen expression.

Today, these models are considered paragons of physical perfection—the fact that they are digitally airbrushed is disregarded—and are predominant tools for advertising and entertainment. Consequently, society is currently inundated with images of flawless forms and faces due to an ever-increasing exposure to the media.  With so much prominence, it is not surprising that the general public is pressured to meet unrealistic standards of attractiveness.

The unkind truth is that this is near impossible,  unless you have a really, really good genetic makeup or a fondness for plastic surgery. Accordingly, this unattainable physical form makes the human mind a perfect habitat for pesky body image issues.  As if we don’t already have enough to be insecure about.

A person’s body image does not refer solely to the shape of their body, but also to all the features that constitute their overall appearance. Dissatisfaction with any of these features is what could be called, a body image issue.

Most individuals are subject to momentary bouts of discontent about their bodies. Some have a few facets of their appearance that they are constantly unhappy about. However, body image issues can be detrimental and even precipitate the onset of certain disorders.

We have all had to sit through those videos about eating disorders in high school health class. Provided they were paying attention in class, today’s youth are  generally well-informed about conditions such as anorexia and bulimia. These disorders tend to stem from extreme anxiety over one’s physical appearance. This tends to be accompanied by the individual perceiving an unrealistic magnification of his or her own physical imperfections.

The term psychologists like to use for this is body dysmorphic disorder. According to the journal, “Psychological Medicine”, it is  estimated that approximately 136 million  people worldwide suffer from this impairment.

Isn’t it consoling to find out that you are not alone in your private obsessions over how you have too many freckles, how your calves are too thick or how your unibrow is too bushy? All this information is great, and being aware of the dangers that await escalated body image issues definitely helps. However, awareness is not prevention, nor can it heal the problems that are already present.

What aids the development of a healthy body image? We can refer to the 16th century to investigate the matter by equating the Renaissance art of that time to a Victoria’s Secret magazine since both illustrate standards of beauty for their time.

There is a painting called “Venus and Adonis” by the painter Titian. It depicts  Venus, the Roman goddess of beauty and love, and her partner, Adonis. In the painting, Venus has cellulite and would probably be a modern day size 12. Adonis, who is of famed handsomeness, still needs to lose the baby fat from his face. Yes, this was what ultimate beauty was thought to be back then.

Obviously, perceptions of what is beautiful have changed drastically over time, confirming that there is no one ideal for what is attractive. Different cultures also venerate different physical qualities. What may not be considered beautiful here may be the ideal elsewhere.

For example, the trend of artificial tanning has always astounded me. People actually pay money to increase their risk of skin cancer, just to be a few shades darker.  In South Asia women try to become lighter by using creams with poisonous mercury in them. The point is that although the adage “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” has been thoroughly overused, it is only because it is very true.

There is no perfect standard for a person’s appearance. This impractical perception is just one of many propagated by the media, causing women to inject Botox into their lips in hopes of resembling Angelina Jolie.

The one method most effective in diminishing such urges to transform to adhere to society’s template of beauty is learning to accept the unique physical attributes one possesses. Depending on the individual, this can be a process of varying degrees of difficulty. For those who struggle exceptionally with a poor self-image, especially those that harm themselves in pursuit of the “perfect” body, enlisting the aid of somebody else could be extremely beneficial.

As a matter of fact, Stony Brook University’s Health Service Center offers the option to see a personal therapist or even join group therapy that specifically targets body image issues.  If that seems too daunting then even asking a friend for help can improve the situation. In these cases  any sort of support can be crucial to the task of assuaging the anxiety associated with appearance.

The way we perceive our bodies goes hand in hand with our overall self-esteem. If a person’s body image is not a positive one then it can erode their confidence and this affects the ability to function socially.  So to promote a healthy body image you should ignore the pretty people shown by the media. Learn to appreciate your unique attributes and take care of your physical and mental wellbeing.

If there are hurdles on the path to doing so then do not be afraid to ask for help. Most of all, keep in mind that there is no ideal appearance.

So next time you come across an ad with a skinny, sulky model striking some awkward pose, roll your eyes, turn away and go live your life.

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