Dismissing Unrealistic Body Standards

By: Ann Rogerson, Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying)

 

Welcome to the fourth and final blog of the positive body image series, we’re glad you’re here! Today we’re jumping into the last component of positive body image as described by Avalos et al., (2005) and Menzel & Levine (2011), being aware of and dismissing unrealistic body standards.

 

A news article released from Harvard by the faculty of Public Health found that the average person witnessed about 3000 ads per day in 2015. Fast forward to 2022, a quick google search will tell you that the average person now witnesses anywhere from 6 000 – 10 000 ads per day. Yikes! Not surprisingly, many of these ads target idealized beauty standards for both men and women. With so many body-based messages coming in, it’s easy to experience self-critical thoughts that leave us feeling hopeless and even ashamed or embarrassed of our body. Sound familiar? This blog will lay the foundation for you to equip yourself with tools to dismiss unrealistic body-based messages.

 

Undoubtedly, being aware of and dismissing unrealistic body standards is an important skill to develop when living in today’s society. While there are numerous strategies that can be used to practice this component of positive body image, this blog will focus on the following two.

  1. Take active steps to limit exposure to unrealistic beauty standards.
  2. Challenge the way you think about body standards.

 

Take active steps to limit your exposure to unrealistic beauty standards. This is often easier said than done and requires some intentional action. We can start by asking ourselves, “Where am I seeing or hearing unhealthy body-based messages?”. Odds are social media is at the top of your list (it is for me!). Can you think of any other places where you experience unrealistic body-based messages? Maybe it’s in certain peer groups or perhaps it’s when you listen to the radio on your way to work. Take a moment to write these down. Now, let’s consider ways that you could reduce your time hearing or seeing messages that promote unrealistic standards. Take for example, Instagram. Not too long ago I went through my ‘following’ list and was surprised to see the number of influencers I followed. After a quick review of their posts, I was even more surprised to see the number of products promoted related to women’s bodies (i.e., shapewear, weight loss gummies, tummy tucking leggings…you name it, it was there). After checking out these accounts, I decided to unfollow! When we continuously expose ourselves to body-based messages about how we “should” look, it’s easy to start believing it’s true, especially if we don’t typically challenge these messages.

 

Challenge the way you think about body standards. We often forget the models we see on social media and magazine covers have a team of hair and makeup artists, clothing coordinators, photographers and lighting effect specialists to ensure the model looks their best and are… well, easy to edit after the photoshoot by another team of photo editors. Educating ourselves regarding the process behind the final product can give us a dose of realism… models themselves are edited to reflect the beauty standard they promote. Here’s a quick look at what goes into those ads we see. Dove – Evolution of a Model: 

Below are 4 additional considerations we can use to challenge the way we think about beauty standards.

  1. Think critically about the messages you see or hear. Ask, is this realistic or healthy?
  2. Consider the intentions behind an unrealistic body standard (Hint: sales?)
  3. Educate yourself (using reliable sources) on the potential harm of attempting to attain an unrealistic beauty standard (ie. cost, time, health, etc.).
  4. Recognize techniques such as photoshop and the privileges that celebrities have such as personal trainers, plastic surgeons, and on-demand chefs that the average person doesn’t.

 

Below are two activities that you can do to practically take what this blog has talked about and apply it. Feel free to pick one or do both if you like!

Suggested activity #1: Take a moment to reflect on where you see or hear unrealistic body standards. List as many places as you can. Next, consider ways that you can reduce your exposure to these standards. Get creative! Take for example a friend of mine, who while waiting in line to pay at the grocery store shared that she felt uncomfortable looking at the magazines. How did she reduce her exposure to unrealistic standards? She flipped the magazines backwards.

Suggested activity #2: Consider the list regarding ways to challenge how we think about body standards, what would you add to this list? To get the creative juices flowing, it may be helpful to consider what you might say to a friend struggling with their body image.

Challenging the Narrative: Cultivating a Healthy Body Image

If you’d like to further explore body image in a non-judgemental group setting, this is for you! I will be hosting a workshop series November 16th, 23rd, 30th and December 7th to further explore the content shared in these blogs.

To register, email me at annr.redbird@gmail.com

Thank you for following along on this blog series! It is my hope that this series provided thoughtful considerations regarding body image and potential changes to strengthen how we feel about the body we have.

 

References

Avalos, L., Tylka, T. L., & Wood-Barcalow, N. (2005). The Body Appreciation Scale: Development and psychometric evaluation. Body Image, 2, 285–297.

Menzel, J. E., & Levine, M. P. (2011). Embodying experiences and the promotion of positive body image: The example of competitive athletics.

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