The Body Image Project
A Fresh New Look
Imagine you are a teenage girl. Maybe you are super thin even though you eat constantly. You constantly hear comments like “are you anorexic?” or “eat a cheeseburger.” No matter what you do you can’t seem to find a pair of pants that don’t sag on your butt and you can’t get yourself over 110 lbs. People have the nerve to tell you that you’re “so lucky” to not have to worry about your weight. Or maybe you’re a larger, curvier girl instead. “Thank goodness some poeple look like real women” is a comment you get often. But you’re trying to lose weight, you’d like to be a little healthier. Just because society is constantly telling you “you’re perfect” doesn’t make you shallow to want to improve yourself.
Now imagine you are a teenage boy. No matter how much you work out and how hard you try to eat healthy you simply do not have super defined biceps and a six pack. Maybe you’re super thin and gangly, maybe you got a little extra skin that will probably never go away. Maybe you are the guy that is too short and “no girl will ever date you” is something you hear a lot because apparently the only thing a girl sees in a guy is height.
See body image is a blurry subject, it’s very undefined. Recently I was researching positive body image and I found myself annoyed; I was flooded with an abundance of articles by adults telling me that teenagers had terrible body image and heres how to solve it, adults discussing how suceptible girls are to eating disorders due to thier low self esteem and middle aged women describing how they finally overcame their bodily insecurities. Then there was campaign after campaign promoting positive body image (only for women) by creating an ideal — whether that ideal was thin or curvy. This is when I realized what I wanted to say about body image.
But it’s not just what I want to say, it’s what teenagers have to say. Constantly seeing adults telling teens how to have positive body image bothered me, what teenager could relate to a fifty-something woman telling them how to love themselves? So I gave out a survey asking high school students to simply define positive body image in their own words. And what I got was a very long definition of positive body image — one that I think teenagers can relate to.
Positive Body Image Is About You
When it comes down do it, having a positive body image is about you. It is about confidence in all aspects of yourself, not just the physical aspects.
First off it is being happy in your own skin. Girls and boys of all ages agreed: simply being comfortable with yourself is key to positive body image. The distinction made by the 11th grade girl quoted above was very important to me; it’s not just about your body but it’s also about your mental and emotional self.
These quotes above really stood out to me because they all make interesting points. Look at the top left image: it goes further than simply loving yourself, it is expressing your self love positively. That is so important, not only for self-confidence but also for helping others see that it’s a good thing to love themselves. The top right image specifies loving yourself “no matter what” meaning you maintain all that positivity despite what other people say or do. The final one combines the two; a ninth grade boy of all people expressed that positive body image is both expressing yourself positively despite the opinions of others.
An 11th grade boy said it plain and simple, “To not worry about what others think because you like how you look.” And if all of this is still too confusing here it is plain and simple:
Positive Body Image Can Be About Other People Too
When I say that, I don’t mean seeking validation from others. A huge part of having positive body image is about confidence that others see you the same way. It’s also important to encourage others to view themselves positively.
These two quotes make such great points. The first one highlights the importance of being confident that others see you in the same light as you see yourself. The other says that part of having positive body image is making sure others seem themselves positively as well. I liked how two freshman were able to point out the important role that other people in your own personal positive body image.
Positive Body Image Isn’t About Creating Ideals
As I said in the beginning, one of the things that has bothered me the most is the different ideals that are created by society. The ideal could be the stick thin Victoria Secret model, or the curvy woman in the Dove Real Beauty campaign. It could be the Calvin Klein male underwear models or Brad Pitt. No matter what it is, whenever society creates an ideal body type it instatly excludes everyone who doesn’t fit that type. Clearly the world is not one size fits all so we have to love every curvy woman equally as much as every thin one; we have to love every man with a six pack as much as much as the ones who may not have one.
Instead of depending on these ideals for validation, people need to start looking at themselves in more reasonable ways.
Two people who could not be more opposite were able to make the same point. A senior boy and a freshman girl both pointed out that positive body image is about confidence despite any ideals society has created.
Another important point that is brought up with this: positive body image isn’t just for girls. Public opinion is that girls are so conscious about how they look and how they are viewed, but men struggle with the same issues. It is important to realize that it is just as much of an issue for boys as it is for girls.
Positive Body Image Isn’t About Being Perfect
Positive body image is not simply thinking your body is perfect. Like the sophomore to the left said, it’s about appreciating flaws and knowing that you are beautiful with them. I really liked how she pointed out the importance of the issues that come with negative body image for both genders not just for girls. This is clearly a topic that affects both genders, so it’s time society realizes that.
This next quote might be a bit conflicting but I thought it made a very interesting point. It is true that you should love the skin you’re in. But just because you love it doesn’t mean it’s how you want to look. It’s okay to want to improve yourself, it doesn’t make you shallow and it doesn’t mean you have low self esteem. It can mean that you love your body and you want it to be in its best and healthiest shape.
I think what these senior girls have to say speaks for itself.
So clearly we can’t make a box labeled ‘Positive Body Image’ and try to shove everyone into it. It’s complicated and blurry, it varies for each person, it takes work. What has become clear to me through this, and it hopefully clear to you, is that the way positive body image is being promoted right now is not the way to do it. We can’t simply throw out a line of every changing ideals and expect every single person to feel like they are included. The focus cannot be solely on women, clearly it is an issue for both genders. But most importantly, people need to recognize and respect when someone is confident in themselves.
By Mary Cerkvenik
Special thanks to everyone who responded to my survey. Also huge thanks to my beautiful models: Emma, Emersyn, Ruby, Lily, Izzy, Vilde, Elizabeth and Reilly.
To see a full gallery of The Body Image Project pictures visit: https://plus.google.com/photos/114093802202949991552/albums/6128797022670884385