Almost everyone feels insecure about their body now and then. But negative body image has started to erode the well-being of far too many women, and it's doing so at increasingly younger ages. According to The Representation Project, 53% of 13-year-old girls are unhappy with their bodies — a proportion that grows to a whopping 78% by age 17.
Women often look for external remedies to address this dissatisfaction, spending their hard-earned cash on unnecessary products marketed to "correct" biological realities. Indeed, women spend between $12,000 and $15,000 a year on beauty products and salon services, according to The Representation Project.
Instead of (literally) buying into the idea that that our bodies are problems in need of fixing, let's remember that many of the following common "problems" are actually completely normal. The more open we are about our body image struggles, the sooner we'll find that none of us are alone in our insecurity — and that, ultimately, we have nothing to be insecure about in the first place.
It seems that "feeling fat" is somewhat of a universal experience for young women and, in rising amounts, men. Forty-two percent of first to third-grade girls want to be thinner, and 81% of 10-year-olds fear being fat, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.
But it's important to remember that fat itself is not a feeling. As body image activist Caroline Rothstein recently pointed out in a video for BuzzFeed, "When I feel 'fat,' I know that means I'm feeling something else and it's worth figuring out what that is." Nevertheless, we're encouraged to associate fat with failure or low-self worth, an attitude often reinforced in seemingly innocuous ways — such as the presence of a "feeling fat" emoji option on Facebook.
It's equally important to remember that there is nothing wrong with being fat in the first place; it is a body type like another other. What's more, fat is a natural, necessary biological feature, and women often naturally carry an extra layer of fat in comparison to men. Many doctors agree that an individual's ideal body weight is personal, and not something that can be definitively designated by any universal system of measurement.
Products meant to "smooth" cellulite abound, even though, as the New York Times points out, "curing cellulite requires nothing short of changing the structure of skin." That's because cellulite results from the way the human body stores fat. It is largely a genetic phenomenon, and affects as many as 90% of women regardless of weight, according to ABC News. Cellulite is so common, the New York Times continues, that some doctors consider it "a secondary sex characteristic."
Some, like artist Nikolay Lamm, are pushing back on the idea that cellulite is a flaw by presenting it like the normal body feature that it is. Lamm's "Lammily" doll is an anatomically proportioned, cellulite-bearing alternative to idealized dolls like Barbie.
3. Stretch marks
Stretch marks are a form of natural scarring and may appear in response to skin changes, most commonly due to pregnancy, growth spurts or other forms of weight gain. According to the UK's National Health Service, "about eight out of 10 women get stretch marks during pregnancy" and about "seven out of 10 girls and four out of 10 boys get them during puberty."
Despite being perfectly natural, beauty companies have unfairly deemed stretch marks unsightly and created products intended to help women in particular make them go away. Instead, we should consider them byproducts of the miracle of the human body.
Thankfully, individuals like the administrators of the "Love Your Lines" Instagram account are working to prove that stretch marks are natural reminders of life experiences, and not ugly imperfections.
Many with freckles feel self-conscious about their skin, in part because of creams marketed to remove these spots. Dove picked up on this, featuring a little girl who "hates her freckles" in one of their Campaign for Real Beauty advertisements.
While some freckles are caused by sun exposure, many are simply due to genetics. More specifically, their presence can be attributed to the MC1R gene, which is tied to the pigment pheomelanin, which is also associated with red hair. In other words, freckles are rare — and, therefore, pretty special — genetic features.
5. Uneven breasts
Few body parts are as fetishized in the media as breasts. The obsession with having "perfect" breasts is one reason why breast augmentation was the top cosmetic surgical procedure performed in 2014, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
The truth is that breasts come in all shapes and sizes, and plenty of women have uneven sets. Arpana M. Naik, assistant professor of surgery at the Oregon Health & Science University, notes that "slight differences in woman's breasts are of no concern," and can be caused by many things, including hormonal changes, like those related to one's menstrual cycle, and simple genetics.
When it comes to aging, women perhaps fear few things more than wrinkles. In fact, one report projected that the global anti-aging beauty market alone will be worth $191.7 billion by 2019. But getting wrinkles is a natural byproduct of aging that, according to WebMD, occurs when "skin cells divide more slowly, and the skin's inner layer, called the dermis, begins to thin."
Prominent women have begun to speak out about choosing to embrace their aging bodies — wrinkles and all. Diane von Furstenberg, for example, wisely notes in her memoir The Woman I Wanted to Be, "Your wrinkles reflect the roads you have taken; they form the map of your life."
Furstenberg is right. We should be allowed to love and appreciate our bodies just as they are. We can start by rejecting messages that tell us all the ways in which we need to "fix" them.