Why We're Still Talking About Body Image

Struggling with body image has almost become a rite of passage for women in America. Rather than promoting the virtues of kindness, intelligence, and responsibility, society pushes us to have skinny arms, thigh gaps, and a rounder butt. Advertising campaigns spend millions to convince us that there is always something wrong with us, even when the doctor tells us that we are completely healthy.

One of my friends laments the hour it takes her to get ready in the morning, wishing she could just start her day without the hassle of straightening her hair and putting on makeup. She is hardly alone; the Renfrew Center Foundation, a nonprofit organization for the treatment of eating disorders, found that nearly half of American women have negative feelings about their appearance without makeup on. 

Makeup can be a fun and artistic way to express oneself, but it is tragic when so many women are unable to leave the house barefaced because they feel that who they are naturally is not worthy enough to present to the world.

It is easy to blame young women for these insecurities, but we live in a culture that chips away at women's self-esteem. When Academy-Award winning actress Jennifer Lawrence is told that she must go on a diet because her talent isn’t enough, what message does that send to women? One might point to the success of Melissa McCarthy and Rebel Wilson as proof that plus-size women can succeed in Hollywood, but even their movies and TV shows feature jokes at the expense of their weights. The obsession with women’s appearances goes beyond the entertainment industry; a recent Republican fundraiser in California distributed campaign buttons not featuring a witty slogan critiquing Hillary Clinton’s policies, but stating that “KFC Hillary Clinton Special: 2 fat thighs, 2 small breasts.” During a heated interview at CNN, a Congressman told a female anchor, “You’re beautiful, but you have to be honest."

Can anyone imagine a senator saying that to Anderson Cooper? 

We are told that for society to even consider anything what we have to offer, we must look a certain way first. We are told that we can't eat dessert without feeling guilty, and that exercising is expiation for having that second helping. This pressure is akin to oppression; women who cannot feel comfortable in their own bodies are women who will struggle to make an impact on the world.

A study by the University of Central Florida found that nearly half of the three- to six-year-old participants were worried about being fat; another by Oxygen Media found that 25 percent of young women would rather win America’s Next Top Model than the Nobel Peace Prize. Not only do women feel that they must live up to society's beauty standards, they fear that they are failing to do so.  A survey by Glamour found that women have an average of 13 negative thoughts about their body daily, and 97 percent of women admitted to having at least one such moment per day.

The inadequacy many young women feel in regards to their bodies deserves greater attention, and should be on the agendas of policymakers throughout the country. The NYC Girls Project in New York is the first campaign focused on improve the body image of young girls to be carried out in a major city, and it should not be the last. It is in our best interest to ensure that half our population feels confident and secure. We must work towards a world where a female Steve Jobs can comfortably give a press conference, knowing that the public is angling to get a look at the new iPhone, and not ogling her in that turtleneck.

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Sarah Mahmood

Sarah is a senior at Wellesley College studying political science and economics, with a focus on women in politics. In her free time, she enjoys watching 30 Rock episodes and feasting on Ben and Jerry’s chocolate fudge brownie ice cream. She hails from New York, but currently lives in Massachusetts.

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