Women in America have an incredible hurdle to overcome when it comes to being at peace with “how they look”. Why is this? Due to media, we live in what one author called a “crazy funhouse mirror”, where what we think is normal is NOT NORMAL. Let’s look at what has historically happened to play games with our minds, and maybe knowledge is the first step to self acceptance.
Only 20% of American Women are satisfied with their appearance.
- The average American woman is 5’4″ and weighs 168 lbs and has a 38 inch waist. (2018 CDC statistics)
- Compare that with the average model, who is 5’11 and weighs 115 lbs. Twenty years ago, the average fashion model weighed 8% less than the average woman. Today, she weighs 32% less!
- Over 50% of American women wear size 14 or larger. Yet most clothing in stores is 14 and smaller.
- Plus-size models have shrunk, too. A decade ago, plus-size models averaged between size 12 and size 18. Today, the majority of plus-size models an agency boards are between size 6 and size 14, said PLUS size magazine. Read that again. Since when can a size 6 model even BEGIN to give a realistic picture of what an outfit will look like on a size 18 woman? There is a huge disconnect here.
- Mannequins in the 1950’s mimicked the average women’s hip measurements of 34 inches. Today, the hip measurement has increased (not a good thing) but the mannequins have gotten even SMALLER than the ones from the 1950’s with an average hip measurement of 31 inches.
All of this causes the majority of us to have shame about our looks at one point or another (or for decades, like I did). How do you break down shame? First, read those statistics again. Burn them into your brain. YOU ARE normal, not the models!
What do we feel when we are “not enough”? Shame. The important thing is that shame can be healed. According to author Brené Brown, the four elements of shame resilience are: 1) acknowledging personal vulnerability, 2) practicing critical awareness, 3) reaching out to others; and 4) speaking shame. If we are going to confront the shame we feel about our bodies, it is imperative that we explore our vulnerabilities. What is important to us? We must look at each body part and explore our expectations and the sources of these expectations. While it often painful to acknowledge our secret goals and expectations, it is the first step to building shame resilience. We have to know and explicitly identify what’s important and why. There is even power in writing it down.
Next, we need to develop critical awareness about these expectations and their importance to us. One way to do develop critical awareness is to run our expectations through a reality-check. Brené uses this list of questions in her work:
- Where do the expectations come from?
- How realistic are my expectations?
- Can I be all these things all of the time?
- Can all of these characteristics exist in one person?
- Do the expectations conflict with each other?
- Am I describing who I want to be or who others want me to be?
- What are my fears?
We must also find the courage to share our stories and experiences. We must reach out to others and speak our shame. If we feed shame the secrecy and silence it craves— if we keep the struggles with our bodies buried inside – the shame will fester and grow. We must learn to reach out to one another with empathy and understanding. If, in a diverse sample of women, over 90 percent of the women struggled with body image, it is clear that we are not alone. There is a tremendous amount of freedom that comes with identifying and naming common experiences and fears— this is the foundation of shame resilience.
Finally, I’m posting this graphic NOT because it is important what men find attractive, but I bet most of us would not have guessed this! Love yourself. Love the body that has been gifted to you. Loving yourself is the beginning of truly loving others deeply, truly achieving the intimacy we all want, whether with our partners, or our good friends. We are worthy. And life is too short to compare yourself to a photoshopped fallacy.
Author Jean Kilbourne has spent her career focusing on the mis-representation of women in the media. Only 5 min. long, this video speaks volumes. Please watch it!
Great article, Eileen. It’s a constant struggle that begins so early in life and follows us no matter how we try to hide. Interestingly, when I looked at the picture, I couldn’t see the fine print that mentioned sizes, but I saw myself immediately over on the right. Then I saw that was a size 16. I’m a 10. How’s that for convoluted body image? Keep writing!