In Search of Perfection By Pilar Sims

Media continues to play a huge role in the rise of body image issues, people are pressured to conform to the standards that society has set for them.

“I’m too fat.”

“I have bad skin.”

“I’m not tall enough.”

“I have cellulite.”

“My voice is too high.”

Almost everyone has physical features that they would change if they had the chance.

Perceptions of our bodies and other physical characteristics are influenced by the people we see around us and in the media.

Maybe someone made fun of your hair when you were in elementary school, and it still makes you self-conscious.

A number of factors, including fashion trends, lead us to create an image of ourselves in our own minds..

As a person ages, their body changes, as does their self perception.

Whether it be negative or positive, everyone has a set image of themselves.

What do you think you look like?

Are you happy with how you look?

Body image is one’s consciousness, attitude and thoughts about themselves compared to the standards that society has set.

Body image isn’t limited to purely unhealthy thoughts about the physical body, it is not always related to weight and size. Body image includes how a person behaves as a result of their thoughts and feelings.

The effects of a poor body image on mental health goes is much more than the occasional negative thought. Negative self-esteem can lead to a string of issues such as eating disorders, depression, and higher levels of anxiety and suicidal thoughts, causing issues in relationships, and in the workplace.

Body image issues tend to start early for kids. By age six, girls in particular start to show signs of declining self-esteem, while 40-60 percent of elementary school girls express concerns about their weight and the fear of becoming too fat according to research by Linda Smolak, Phd, author and professor of psychology at Kenyon College.

These issues continue into the teenage years as well. The expectations to look good and have an exceptional body weigh heavily on on high school students, who often bow to peer pressure to fit in.

In order to cope, teenagers pick up behaviors in an attempt to change the perceptions of others. One study concluded that up to half of all teenage girls and up to a third of teen boys turn to unhealthy weight control methods like smoking cigarettes, fasting, vomiting, taking laxatives and skipping meals.

Teasing is another issue that often drives young people to make bad choices in their quest for perfection and acceptance.

Whether teasing is serious or meant jokingly, it can still have a serious impact. Weight-based and appearance-based teasing can scar a person’s self-image for life.

Up to 60 percent of people have experienced teasing amongst peers, while 36 percent have experienced it from siblings and 19 percent from parents.

According to recent national surveys, 30 percent of girls and 24 percent of boys in middle school endure bullying, rejection and teasing because of their size. In high school, the numbers increase to 63 percent of girls and 58 percent of boys.

Women always try to live up to society’s expectations but what we really need to do is live up to our own expectations, love ourselves and be happy,” student Leilani Lee commented.

As teenagers grow up, they often carry their body dissatisfaction into maturity, even as the teasing and bullying of high school draws to a close. While adult stress-causing factors are different—work, college, marriage—the learned coping mechanisms remain the same, accounting for psychological distress, eating disorders and depression.

Besides the teasing, bullying and low self-esteem, some people some people suffer from an illness known as body dysmorphia, which causes an insatiable fixation on flaws, whether real or perceived. About 1 in 50 people suffer from body dysmorphia. Those who have the disorder may go to extreme lengths to fix their flaw or simply obsess over it constantly.

A widespread misconception is that women are the only ones affected by body image issues, and though women face more pressure from the media, society and peers to appear a certain way, men can also suffer from the symptoms. About 1 in 3 men suffer from eating disorders. In the U.S. alone, 10 million men will be affected by negative body image at some point in their lives.

“The stigma surrounding self-esteem issues discourages men to openly discuss their issues and others,” said student Salvador Gomez. “Body dissatisfaction amongst men isn’t discussed as much as it should be.”

Since the topic is often taboo, many men won’t seek the treatment they need. In some cases when men do seek help their problems are misdiagnosed due to gender.

Males have been left out of epidemiological studies and treatment trials related to body image. As a result, there is little information on men with image disorders, considering how they make up less than 1% of research to date according to Dr. Stuart Murray, the co-director of The National Association for Males with Eating Disorders (NAMED).

By today’s standards, the typical male is supposed to be strong, masculine and unemotional, but men and women alike can endure the hardships of having a negative body image. Like women, men are constantly bombarded with unrealistic expectations of the male body and appearance through the media.

Twenty-five years ago body dissatisfaction impacted 15 percent of the male population, unfortunately today that number has risen to 45 percent, the University of Sydney discovered in a recent study.

Body image is ingrained in our minds from an early age. Overcoming negative self-image and disorders associated with it can be quite difficult, but nonetheless possible. Knowing what help is needed as well as what works best is essential to break the toxic cycle of self-hatred.

Some of the best weapons to combat poor body image is to try to avoid negative media influences, recognize unrealistic expectations and surround yourself with positive reinforcing elements.

Having a positive body image may not assure a good physical or mental health, but it can lessen the chance of developing disordered eating patterns, and other illnesses that are a result of poor self-esteem, like depression, anxiety and body dysmorphic disorder.