Yesterday I was working on a lesson plan on body image and the media. So, I went to the store to pick up magazines for our class. My goal is to help them understand the mixed messages that the media sends us about our bodies.
Have you been to a magazine rack lately? You have the teen section, the wedding section, the health section, men, women, science, and other categories. Because I was focused on body image I started to look at all these magazines through that lens, especially the health magazines.
What I found was scary… steroid-jacked men, perfectly thin tanned bodies, abnormally youthful skin on older women, perfect skin on teens and young adults, eyes that could penetrate a wall. Remember these images are digitally enhanced but we are made to think that we should look like this to be our best. UGH! I never really paid attention to this before. And I never looked at them through the eyes of being manipulated.
Not only are we inundated with messages about what an ideal body is for both men and women, we are also being sent messages about what is healthy. MANY of the “health” magazines didn’t focus on health at all, they focused on having an “ideal” body. (flat abs, muscle definition, tight buns) There is no such thing as an “ideal” body. We are all unique and come in different sizes and shapes. I will never be 5’7″ nor will I be 5’3″…I am 5’5″. 5’5″ is ideal for me!
When I was shopping I forgot to photograph the covers of some of these “health” magazines. So, I just googled “health magazine”. I got 7 instant images of magazines such as Health, Natural Health, and Women’s Health. What were the big headlines? Look Great Naked, Boost Your Energy, Eat Your Way Slim, Weekend Skin Detox, Lose 5 lbs, Drop 15 lbs Fast, and Get a Flat Belly Fast. Only a couple of these sound like health articles to me. Eat Your Way Slim? Really…slim is not always healthy, not for everyone. I know slim people who are extremely unhealthy. Drop 15 lbs Fast? Well, that’s not a healthy approach to weight loss, in fact, it can be quite dangerous.
Health is not about your appearance. It is about the balance of your mental and physical state. If you eat a healthy, balanced diet and get regular exercise, you will be physically healthy. If you eat processed, cheap foods and never exercise, you will not be healthy.
I like to see the trend towards models with normal bodies such as the Dove advertising campaign. I like that more and more celebrities are chosing to skip the photoshop and appear in their real bodies. But, we have a long way to go.
Our teens are most susceptible to the messages because they are still trying to find who they are. Their bodies are going through dramatic changes and they have hormones running rampant. We need to make sure we set them up to succeed and love themselves in spite of the messages our media present. We need to teach them to think critically about what they see, hear and read. We need to help them develop self-esteem and the confidence to be themselves. That’s our job, as parents and as a society.
Let’s start to focus on health, not appearance. Love and self-love, not judgement. This starts with us adults. Let’s lead by example!