I work with a lot of clients who profoundly dislike their body. It affects both their eating and well being. What I want to write about today is the culture’s devotion to thinness. We all have ingrained crazy beliefs that come from deep inside.
These beliefs are familiar and unrealistic, but the ideal of thinness often guides our lives.
For many women, the slender ideal generated by the culture’s devotion to thinness interferes negatively with their body image. Society and family messages are internalized so subtly and early in life that we sometimes forget they are not true. In the same way, we internalize the weight stigma when we come to believe that unfairly negative assumptions are valid (i.e., I am unattractive because I am a size x).
At this point, we may become our own harshest critics.
Making peace with your body is an ongoing process, rather than something you achieve once and for all. In a culture that worships the slender ideal and continually encourages us to go to war with our bodies - to monitor, control, restrict, punish, loathe, and fix - learning to live harmoniously in our body is the journey of a lifetime.
This journey begins when we wake up to the false promise our society has sold us, namely, that our happiness resides in the size of our bodies. This promise is part of our culture devotion to thinness that has many of the features of traditional religion, including beliefs, images, myths, rituals, and moral codes that teach us to define our value and purpose through the pursuit of a "better" (read: thinner) body. Learning to recognize and critique this "Religion of Thinness" is a crucial step on the path to overall health and well being.
This critique involves a paradigm shift: from the illusion that losing weight will "save" you (i.e.; by somehow solving your problems and making you happy) to the insight that various industries are profiting from the sense of inadequacy so many of us, particularly women, feel about our bodies.
Recognizing the Religion of Thinness begins with the simple insight that women are not born wishing they were thinner. Instead, we are indoctrinated into this belief by a society that glorifies the fat-free female figure. Years of exposure to media images of "beautiful" women who are uniformly thin conditions us to associate slenderness with beauty. Though it is virtually axiomatic in our society, this association is actually far from natural.
In our image-saturated culture, it doesn't take long for us to internalize our culture's devotion to thinness. Children as young as 3 years old can have body image issues. One study found that eighty percent of fourth-grade girls interviewed in the Chicago and San Francisco areas said they had already been on diets. Roughly the same percentage of women in the mid-fifties report a desire to be thinner. For many, this desire amounts to a life-long ambition. Whatever our age, we quickly, without giving it any thought, internalize our culture's dictates about body size into our own psyches, bodies, and spirits.
Recognizing the message our society sends us through the media - the Internet, TV, magazines - gives us the freedom to think differently: to think for ourselves. As we begin to realize that we have been culturally conditioned to distrust our bodies and believe that there is something wrong with them, we can redirect our criticism away from our own thighs and tummy towards the industries and ideologies that seek to profit on the very feelings of shame and alienation they stimulate.