We are currently discussing body image. When I first approached this topic, I wanted to try to dissect it a bit because the topic of “body image” is complex. What is “body image” exactly? It has to do with how we view ourselves to be sure, but it’s more than that. It has to do with our perception of other’s views of our bodies as well. Our body image was not formed in a vacuum. It was formed in a family and a culture with many sub-cultures. While we might consider the larger culture to be comprised of “pop culture”, the publishing industry, Hollywood, advertising, the music industry, and the like, the sub-cultures might be the regional cultures in which we grew up or now currently live. Each region of the United States has its own culture, set of traditions, ethnic groups, and tacit expectations for women and their roles in society.
I grew up in the South where the standard of beauty is very high while also very distinct. Think “big hair”. When a young woman came of age, she did not just wear mascara and lip gloss. Oh no. I woke up at 5:30 AM to wash and blow dry my hair so that I could set it in hot rollers. Then, I had to apply the mask of foundation and powder, eye shadow, eye liner, cream blush and powder blush with a bit of highlighter to the cheekbones. The eyebrows were tweezed and finished with a bit of hairspray applied with an old toothbrush. The lips were exfoliated with Vaseline on yet another old toothbrush after which lip liner and lip stick were carefully applied with a lip brush. This was all set in place with a final application of powder. This make-up had to stand up to the Texas humidity. Then, on to the hair. Hot-rolled, curled, brushed, combed, teased, and shellacked with Aqua Net. Not even a flash flood was going to take down my do. Picking out the perfect outfit to match our hair and make-up was mandatory, and all Southern females put in the time. If you wanted to measure up, you had to do it. We looked like 15 year-old geishas quickly making our way to our classrooms, eyes darting back and forth from one girl to the next, catching our own reflection in locker door mirrors, wondering “Do I look good today? Does my hair look okay?” In the South, one tacit expectation for women is to look beautiful. I would classify that as a cultural expectation.
The fact is it matters to us what the next person thinks about us. It matters what my mom thinks. It matters what my best friend thinks. It matters what my neighbor or my child’s teacher thinks. And, in my case, it might matter that I meet the expectations of my regional culture. We don’t like to admit it because we think that we should be above it–“I don’t care what she thinks about me. I don’t care that I’m not fitting in.” Right. I don’t think it’s that easy because there is a human need to belong. We not only want to belong, but I believe that we need to belong. I could make a case for this assertion giving you evidence based in anthropology, evolution and group dynamics, but, suffice it to say, when we feel that we do not belong, we feel excluded and often out of control. Loneliness ensues, and we are left trying to meet that need through different and often harmful ways; Just because an inherent need goes unmet does not mean it goes away.
I’m not breaking new ground in what I’ve just said, but I want to say it again because I believe that the media takes advantage of our inherent need to be accepted. This is one reason why Americans spent over $7 billion on beauty products alone last year. Analysts at Goldman Sachs estimate that the global beauty industry is worth over $95 billion dollars and growing (www.economist.com). And again, the images that we consume on a daily basis do not reflect reality. Women are striving to reach an ideal that is unattainable.
This leads me to my point. I want you to watch this short video. It is called “The Photoshop Effect”. The process of learning to see yourself differently is much like tearing down a wall, brick by brick. Each brick has to be taken out individually, named for what it represents, and named for the person, culture, or idea that added it to our wall. We are steeped in a culture that puts forth the idea that women can be “perfect”, and then some version of “perfection” is put before us. We are then strongly encouraged to try to reach that level of perfection by any means necessary be it through purchasing products, exercise, dieting, cosmetic and plastic surgery, or any other sort of extreme activity. This video pulls back the curtain in order to show you that life in Oz is not what it seems.