Best of…(Student Body) Boys, Girls, and the Body Image Question

body_imageBody image…those words seem to in the back of everyone’s heads every time bikini season rolls around. Young women are often critical and judgmental of how they look, which is no surprise given the pressures that society presents. The “ideal” body is elusive; the total package includes perfect thighs, a tiny waist, perky breasts, proportioned hips and rail-thin legs (which hard to find in nature). Add in long shiny hair, thick eyelashes, clear skin, high cheekbones and a white smile, and the package almost seems unobtainable. ??

A recent study illustrates that even if a young woman exhibits no signs of an eating disorder, she may still be highly critical of her body image. When Neuroscientist Mark Allen showed 9 men and 10 women photos of overweight members of their respective sex, the results were perhaps expected. The male participants in the study didn’t compare their own body image to the overweight men in the photos. Conversely, all 10 of the women who participated did compare themselves to the women they saw. Dr. Allen concluded that although women showed brain activity that represented a comparison between their own image and those of the overweight women and the men did not, there is no biological difference between the sexes that would cause this disparity. ??

This study is extremely interesting; why it is that women are inherently critical of their appearance while men are seemingly not? Shows like The Hills and The Real Housewives often show women who strive to make themselves “happier” by correcting a flaw via plastic surgery or Botox. Magazine covers and ads aren’t much help either. Images are photo shopped to the extreme depicting scantily-clad women with scarily thin bodies that don’t exist in real life. This leads women to beg the question, “why can’t my skin glow like hers” or “why can’t my legs be that long?” Is it any question why women constantly compare and contrast themselves to an unreachable ideal while men seem to be much happier with the way they look?

Let’s take a look at who the media has deemed to be attractive. Though “curvy” women such as Kim Kardashian, Scarlett Johansson, and Jessica Simpson do come around once in a while, the majority of celebrities and models are tall, statuesque, thin beauties. Hollywood seldom hires “buxom” actresses, and when they do they are often highly criticized for projecting an “unhealthy” message (take Precious star Gabourey Sidibe, for example). On the other hand, overweight men are often extolled and cheered. Seth Rogan, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Alec Baldwin are great examples of this trend; they’re still considered to be “sexy” even though they don’t have perfectly sculpted bodies.

Are women harder on themselves because being “fat” is not the norm as decided by society where as a few extra pounds on a man is perfectly fine? Are men simply less concerned with the way the look because they are more confident that they can fall back on other qualities when looking for a potential mate? Whatever the reason may be, the fact is some women will spend a lifetime attempting to obtain the perfect body and still find that it is out of their reach. Learning to love what you have (though difficult), is perhaps necessary for young women to maintain a positive body image throughout their entire life and NOT fall into the trap of hating themselves and developing unhealthy eating habits that they may potentially pass onto their own daughters.

– By Stephanie Vacchio, Union College

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