When I’m out with friends, my mind is never fully present. I constantly feel self-conscious about how my body looks. These moments make me ask: should I appreciate and love myself as I am, or should I try to change myself for the ‘better’? If I do change myself, am I just giving into societal pressures? Or does it mean I love myself enough to take care of myself?
This conflict arises due to the different messages we’re getting from society. Advertising and the media show us a very clear and linear path to beauty – thin, toned, tall, white with acute features. No matter how much we feel we’re immune to the media influence (and most of us believe we are), the effects of it are inevitable, subconscious and consistent. We’ve been receiving messages about what beauty is our whole lives, and we’ve internalised them as what to strive towards to be desirable.
On the other side of the spectrum, we’re now being told more then ever that we should love and accept ourselves as we are. The Dove Campaign encourages women to accept their body shapes, with the aim of helping women tackle self-esteem and body image issues. Though Dove is one of the main advertisers openly flagging discussions on how society defines beauty, they’ve been criticised over their authenticity in how genuinely they wish women to find beauty from within, when they still sell products such as anti-cellulite creams and anti-ageing treatments.
When it comes to our bodies, the fact remains that it’s unhealthy to be overweight. Malta has one of the highest child obesity rates in Europe. Popular media shouts out that be overweight is funny, unattractive and undesirable. Ironically, in the 1950s Marilyn-Monroe-era, women were pressured to be curvy to be viewed as attractive. From the 1960s onwards, this trend shifted to wafer-thin, and only now is this being slightly challenged and questioned.
Image source: Timesofmalta
Either way, feeling pressured to be a certain way to feel beautiful leads to a culture of body-shaming when we don’t fit into the image of beauty. The more I speak to people about these issues, the more I realise that no matter what the body shape or physical appearance may be, we always wish to change some aspects of ourselves.
There’s a difference in doing so to feel more comfortable within and love ourselves, or doing so to please others and fit into the unattainable beauty image set before us. Documentaries such as Miss Representation and Killing Us Softly aim to educate and sensitise us to the real effects of advertising on our views of women and their views of themselves, as well as the ingrained gender stereotypes we hold. The manufactured and fake image of beauty that comes out of advertising is so clearly made to make us not feel good enough and to keep trying and buying, it’s actually a genius money-making concept. Educating ourselves about this reality of our times would be a great step in getting us to question it.
Can you imagine how many companies would falter if we really believe in our own beauty and didn’t rely on external products and services to make us believe it? Can you imagine what the world would be like if we didn’t constantly feel inferior, and instead of competition, we received messages in media about self-love and celebrating diversity?
What if we judged ourselves a little less harshly? What if we focused our attention on embracing ourselves as whole complete beings? What if we got our heads out of superficiality and what others think of us? Where could our minds go in place of our self-conscious self-criticising thoughts? What if we started to appreciate our quirks and our imperfections as strengths? What if we learnt more about what societal factors influence us?
The power is within us. Question. Learn. Reflect. Choose.