When I am introduced to someone new, inevitably I get asked what I do for work. The majority of the time when I answer “I’m a personal trainer.”, I watch the person’s eyes gaze down to my stomach, as if to ascertain if it’s true or not by whether or not I have a six-pack. As much as it pains me to disappoint these folks (total sarcasm BTW) I don’t have a flat stomach; I actually have stretch marks and some extra skin after two pregnancies, but what I can do is hold a two-minute plank because of my core strength. Understanding and appreciating what my body can do versus how it looks has helped me to be able to separate other people’s expectations of how I should look from my own body image, which has done wonders for my self-esteem.
However this is not the case for the majority of women, due to a variety of reasons, but by far the most impactful is the rise of social media. Growing up, we were all subjected to media messages on TV and in magazines, but with the growth of social media has come a rapid and massive influx of images suggesting that looking a certain way is the definition of being healthy. Just google “fitness motivation” and you will be bombarded with inspirational quotations layered over a woman’s sweaty six-pack or glistening glutes. These hypersexual images paired with words intended to motivate and inspire women to workout actually has the opposite effect because they focus too much on fitness for appearance rather than fitness for function.
Not to mention the blatant body shaming that occurs being subjected to these pics, which for too many women creates a deeply rooted dissatisfaction with their appearances. The danger with this is that too often it pressures women to seek unhealthy nutrition information, try fad/yoyo diets, leads to having a lifelong unhealthy relationship with food and on the extreme end may lead to the development of eating disorders, which can include fasting, constant dieting, or binging and purging.
Working with all female clients and being a female myself, I know firsthand how many women suffer from low self-esteem due to their body image. But now body dissatisfaction is starting at an even younger age. I am actually crying writing this, that according to the National Eating Disorder Association:
89% of girls have dieted by age 17
15% of young women have disordered eating
42% of girls in grades 1-3 want to lose weight
51% of 9 and 10 year old girls say they feel better about themselves when they are dieting
81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat
9% of nine year olds have vomited to lose weight
THIS IS NOT OK!! So how do we fix this?
For starters we need to develop a more diverse perception of beauty and an educated understanding of what it means to be healthy, and then apply that in our own lives, as well as promote it to others. We need to be hypercritical and hyperaware of the social and media messages being sent to women and girls, and actually do something about them! Write a letter to the company, refuse to buy certain products, and have the conversations with the young girls in we know about the underlying harm within these messages. We can utilize body positive language with ourselves and when we are around others, especially the impressionable youth. Removing moral judgement regarding food choices is crucial too; rather gain an understanding of how the right foods nourish us and start to think of food primarily as a way to fuel and protect our bodies.
Bottom line every single woman (myself included) ultimately wants to feel comfortable in her own skin, and promoting a more positive and diverse standard of beauty and an accurate and educated understanding of the tenets of being healthy are great ways to accomplish this.