“Now every girl is expected to have Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall ass, long Swedish legs, small Japanese feet, the abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a nine-year-old boy, the arms of Michelle Obama, and doll tits.”
So many of the girls we see hate their bodies. In fact, many of them cite body image issues as part of the reason they’re self-injuring.
But body ideals are no more than a trend in pop culture. Like all trends, they fluctuate and change with the times. Since the turn of the century, we’ve seen repetitive cycling of curvy to skinny. In the early 1900’s women were sporting corsets to create a full bust and narrow waistline until the flapper look, a straight shapeless appearance topped with a bob hairdo, became all the rage in the roaring twenties.
Voluptuous curves made a strong come back with the birth of the Barbie doll in the fifties. Jessica Rabbit and Marilyn Monroe made large chests and voluptuous curves the ideal, showcased in sweetheart necklines and circle skirts that flare. Later, the psychedelic 60s wiped out curves with the twiggy look. Thin is in, was the motto. It was no coincidence that that’s when Weight Watchers made its first appearance.
This yo-yo like trend continued. By the time the 80s rolled around, it wasn’t just Mohawks, crop-tops and neon colors that revolutionized fashion. The tall, curvy supermodel dominated the media. The fitness frenzy also made its debut thanks to industrious stars like Jane Fonda and Olivia Newton John, and even less fortunate looking ones like the short, frizzy haired Richard Simmons. We returned to waif models in the 90s, getting carried away with skinny once again.
Eventually, society started applauding the athletic body after 2000 more than ever, revering flat abs, sculpted arms, and toned bodies. Yoga pants emphasized this not too skinny but not too fat ideal. Today, in 2015, the world’s obsession appears to be giant butts, as Kim Kardashian “breaks the internet.” What’s next?
It might also be worth pointing out that Kim Kardashian’s rear, just like any other idealized body part featured on billboards and in magazines, has been photo-shopped and airbrushed. The image has been altered, and any existing flaws have been erased. It is not real. There is no point in feeling depressed that you don’t look like the girl in the magazine because the girl in the magazine doesn’t look like that either.
The above summary of the media’s suggestion of body image ideals this past century is meant to make a simple point. The ideal body keeps changing. Each whimsical turn crushes the girl who doesn’t meet that expectation. Who gets to decide what sexy is? The media? The media is as fickle as a toddler with a coloring book and a pack of crayons. So there can’t possibly be one objective standard for ideal or sexy. It depends on who is deciding, who is popular, whose line of apparel is in favor and… which planet the moon is in on the last Tuesday of the month when Mercury is in retrograde.
And the ones who suffer are our girls. They become, understandably, enraged by the constant demands on their bodies, and simultaneously silenced by the society around them. Even the strong ones can’t be heard against these raging trends because they don’t have the numbers – their voices are instantly drowned by billboards, websites, song lyrics, and the media. Self-harm becomes an understandable, albeit gruesome, “release valve” for this kind of unreasonable pressure.
Our answer? Help them build numbers. Heck, join their army! Speak out against silly body image trends. Support any and all organizations that promote self-love. Remind them that there is one thing that always remains sexy, beautiful and timeless, and that one thing is confidence. Calvin Klein ads and Victoria Secret catalogs presenting unattainable ideas for women will probably never disappear, but unlike strapless bras and thong swimsuits, pride and self-confidence look good on everyone.
Most importantly, show them how to love their bodies by loving your own. It’s confusing–even enraging–to tell a teen that their body is just fine and then turn around and complain about your weight. We learn to love ourselves by watching others (thank you, Lady Gaga!), so remember that you are one of those “others.” Look in the mirror and smile. Say (in front of your teen) that you think you look kind of pretty today. When you hear someone trash someone else’s body, take the time to speak out against it, and show your teen that you disapprove of negative body talk.
As you know, we at KISI are family-oriented. We believe that strong families are the best defense against self-injury, and body confidence is a critical part of that strength.
-Carla Litto is a MFT intern at KISI