The Beauty Ideal
Beauty is fine, until it starts to eat away at our mental health. It’s less about “being beautiful” and more about “striving for beauty.” There is nothing wrong with appreciating beauty and taking care of ourselves. However, the construct of “beauty” can lead to social comparisons, unhealthy thoughts and destructive behaviors. When you close your eyes and visualize the “perfect” body, what do you see? I would guess that for most of us, it’s a representation of the beauty ideal that we’ve been fed through the media. Worse, these ideals might be upheld by family members which cause a negative self-image.
So, what is the beauty ideal? It is “the socially constructed notion that physical attractiveness is one of women’s most important assets, and something all women should strive to achieve and maintain.” While this definition is specific to females, men are certainly not shielded from body image pressures. Further, the beauty ideal varies culturally. Feminine Western ideals are currently portrayed as a “thin and toned” body, while male Western ideals are demarcated by muscular bodies.
How Fitness Media can be Harmful
“Compared to people who didn’t see many fitness posts, those who were inundated with workout updates were more likely to be overly concerned about their weight, which may translate to a dip in self-esteem.” So, you mean to tell me that all my posts are harmful to my community? I definitely had a theory that a lot of fitness advertising that highlighted aesthetics and weight loss were detrimental to one’s self-esteem. I did not think that ALL fitness posts could be harmful. It’s encouraging to read that some people felt greater accountability from seeing fitness posts. The difference is in the TYPE of post and message.
One survey showed that of 600 Instagram images, the majority showed one body type: thin and toned. These messages deliver the belief that this beauty ideal is attainable and expected, which can lead to feeling inadequate. Research indicates that seeing images of attractive people can harm one’s self-image. When we have a perceived flaw of body image, we are more likely to have negative moods and body dissatisfaction. What’s worse than feeling crappy about ourselves? The behavior that follows: restricting ourselves from food and exercising excessively. It’s no wonder people who spend a lot of time on social media are at risk for eating disorders.
Read this blog post for the 10 Fitness Social Media Messages to Ignore.
How can we fight these pressures?
The only way to make a change is to start to become aware. Awareness of your thoughts, in this example, will be crucial. Next time you are scrolling through Instagram, take note of your self-talk. Are you saying things like, “I wish my stomach looked like that” or “If I could only have legs like her?” I know that I’ve certainly engaged in thoughts like these. The body image ideal pressure is everywhere, and so it’s normal to have these thoughts. However, we now know that these thoughts break down our self-image and self-esteem. I like to think about what will really matter when I’m 90 years old… having a flat stomach in my 30s or wishing I spent more time with my family.
With increased awareness, you could also unfollow accounts who may trigger these thoughts and fill up your feed with body positive accounts. Some of my favorites are @jennakutcher, @loveyourbellymovement, and @mynameisjessamyn. Filling up our feeds with positivity and diverse bodies is a great tool to begin to shed unhelpful beauty pressures.
With good intentions,