Body image can be a pretty difficult path to navigate for young girls, or as I so eloquently described it recently – it’s a nasty son of a bitch. Blame mass media, Photoshop, our culture or perhaps the internet, but it often feels like women are expected to be young, pretty, thin, smart (but not too smart) and subservient always. Anything else is pretty quickly trashed – heaven forbid you are overweight or show any signs of ageing. So much is written about the issue of self-esteem and body image that I never thought I really had anything useful to add to the conversation. But I overheard a conversation between two young girls at a department store the other day and it broke my heart.
A girl, probably about 15 or 16 years old, was describing her plans to eat three apples a day for a month in the hope of losing 10kg. She insisted she weighed more than any other girl her age in her whole school and said ‘grade 10ers are not supposed to weigh XXkg, it’s disgusting’. I wanted to tell her she wasn’t disgusting and that there is no set weight she was supposed to be, and to just try and eat healthfully and be kind to herself. But maybe that would have been a bit weird coming from a random 25 year old behind her in a queue.
I understand that mentality completely, I think perhaps it just comes with the territory of being female. Life would be so much better if only my legs were thinner/hair was shinier/hips were narrower/boobs were bigger. It’s such utter crap and something hopefully every girl gets the opportunity to look back on and see for what it really is. A waste of time. Happiness is far more likely to be found in meaningful relationships, a sense of purpose and doing things that bring happiness to others.
I was looking on Instagram the other day at a random profile and the posts painted an incredibly sad picture. A mix of scantily clad mirror selfies and posts describing plans to eat nothing but vegetables for the next week to try to lose weight. Social media really gives an insight into that weird mix of exhibitionism and low self-esteem that seems to exist in so many young girls. It’s easy to call it narcissism but I don’t think that’s it. It is almost the exact opposite, masquerading as arrogance. Either way, seeking validation from randoms on the internet is not the way to feel better about yourself, and is certainly not going to make you a better person. It’s just a repetitive cycle likely to make girls feel worse and worse.
That’s not to say I know everything, or even that much about the perils of body image and self esteem. I exercise even though I don’t enjoy it and I still occasionally wish I was born with thinner calves, but it’s a matter of perspective really. Am I able to click my fingers and change my physicality? No. So best work with what I’ve got and realise looks are a negligible part of the equation for being a good human.