Thursday, March 29, 2012

Series: Self Esteem Sneak Attacks

A comment yesterday inspired me to do a blog series on the very subtle attacks on your self-esteem and body image that you encounter every day.  These attacks are so subtle that they generally affect us without us even being aware of them.  They act as invisible weights to drag us down when we're fighting hard to stay up.  Being aware of them is the first step to defending against them, because if we are processing something consciously we have much more control over how it affects us.

Today's Sneak Attack:  The Poison Image

Studies show that people of all genders score significantly worse on body image and self-esteem markers after viewing a fashion magazine aimed at their gender for as little as thirty minutes. They're often not even aware of the change, but express more negative comparisons between their body and the bodies in the pictures, exhibit depressed mood, and increase negative thinking.

The images in these magazines aren't real. The bodies represented are generally 2% or less of the population to begin with, then are digitally edited to alter their size, shape, bone structure, skin clarity and texture, hair, and teeth. In fact one company got so tired searching for the "perfect" body that they created a computer generated image of what they saw as the perfect body for their clothes and use different models' faces on the same body in the catalog.

The easy solution is to avoid fashion magazines, especially those that use idealized, trendy, altered images. Read magazines that involve your interests or hobbies instead. If you're shopping for plus-size clothes, give preference (or at least equal time) to the lines that use plus-size models to show them. 

If you must have your Vogue or GQ, try to be aware of the effect it has on your self-esteem. Stop and affirm to yourself that these aren't real images and that you are okay as you are.  Check in with your emotional state, and if it is starting to drop, put the magazine down and do something affirming and/or creative for a little while.  Flip through some Adipositivity pics to balance the effect. 

Check in with yourself also when watching television.  Many shows depict only the 2% of men and women that match the currently fashionable body types, and/or have characters that constantly reinforce poor body image or fatphobia.  Is the rest of the show really worth it to you?  If so, then make sure your guard is up against the toxic elements of it.

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