Distorted body image mirrored by media
"Beach body" pressures for perfection
March 23, 2017
Body shaming proves to be universal
Freshman Isaac Wahl enters school everyday, facing more than just academic pressure.
According to Wahl, high school students feel restricted by societal norms regarding what is considered the “perfect body.” Wahl said these restrictions are often reinforced by friends.
“School is hard enough as it is, so when people judge you for things that you can’t change, especially when it’s your body, you have to live with it,” Wahl said. “I feel like society forces on high schoolers to change themselves, which isn’t the best thing. When you have your peers or your friends of friends also enforcing that, it’s really negative.”
According to health teacher Amy Pieper-Berchem, young adults feel the need to conform their personality and appearance in order to fit in with their peers.
“In (students’) phase of human growth and development, their sense of belonging is so important,” Pieper-Berchem said. “When you are an adult, you still want to be accepted, but I don’t think it’s that important. You want to belong so bad, that’s why I think some people make some really bad decisions, just to fit into a group and belong.”
According to Hayley O’Brien, therapist at The Body Image Therapy Center, body shaming issues are not limited to a specific gender or group.
“Body image is a huge thing for men. There is a tremendous pressure to have a particular physique,” O’Brien said. “Men do receive the pressure that women do. It is just not talked about as much. Men are told ‘You have to be strong and not let things get to you.’ (Men) face the same pressures, it is just underreported.”
Pieper-Berchem said there is a stigma around males asking for help when dealing with body image issues.
“It’s definitely affecting more guys, or it does affect guys. And the problem with it is that is, because of the way it’s been presented, they think body image issues and/or eating disorders are a girls problem, but many guys deal with body image issues and eating disorders, and so it makes it harder for them to ask for help,” Pieper-Berchem said.
Junior Ubah Abdullahi said although boys do get shamed, girls feel pressure to fit societal standards.
“Boys I feel like don’t get (shamed) as much compared to girls,” Abdullahi said. “Girls get so much (negative attention in) regards to dress, like if they (wear) too much then it’s like why are you covered up. But then if you dress too skanky, (it’s like) why are you being a skank. All this in between, you can’t just be you.”
Media perpetuates shame
According to O’Brien, body image issues for teens have been perpetuated through the media.
“Body image, I think, is always something that has had a tremendous impact of teens. It is such a critical developmental time period for these emerging adults. There is a lot going on for (teens) socially, neurologically and physiologically,” O’Brien said. “I think especially with the increase of access to social media, body image is a constant and people are taking what they see in the media and thinking that they need to look that way.”
Abdullahi said celebrities often represent unrealistic lifestyles that people try to adopt.
“If you look around and see all these celebrities or everyday people who are going out and getting a tan or going on a diet that’s super extreme, people are going to see that as a lifestyle they should also have,” Abdullahi said. “They have to beat those standards, they have to go out of their way to do that. It will affect them negatively.”
Pieper-Berchem said she believes many factors play into having a society so focused on body image.
“We are bombarded with 400-600 ads of beauty a day, and we don’t realize it, it is all around us, just embedded in society. Advertisements and advertisers are smart — they just put it places where we’re not actively seeking,” Pieper-Berchem said. “It’s not all the media’s fault, but movies. And there’s also the biological factor, physiological, environmental — all around us.”
Freshman Aleah Schumann said she thinks the media industry should show models with different body types to discourage body shaming.
“(We should) have more models that show everything, have more thick models. It shouldn’t matter what size you are, you don’t have to be a size two to be cute,” Schumann said. “It doesn’t matter, your size doesn’t affect who you are.”
Wahl said there is a constant pressure on social media to look the best because people draw conclusions based off of your image.
“You hear people talk about people’s bodies and you see comments on social media,” Wahl said. “You see people more feel ashamed of their bodies because they know people are judging them.”
According to O’Brien, as spring break approaches, there people feel extra pressure to change their bodies.
“Eating disorders are a constant and we see people around the year despite the season, but what I can say is that for many of my clients as we approach vacation season and summer time, that is an added pressure for my clients,” O’Brien said.
Pieper-Berchem said issues with body image are especially prevalent during the spring season.
“(Body image is present) even in the advertising, when the spring wardrobes come out,” Pieper-Berchem said. “It goes away from getting healthy and getting fit. Even though it’s about losing weight and stuff, but (it’s) your ‘winter weight.’”
Standing against deceptions
According to Pieper-Berchem, body shaming shouldn’t be stigmatized and should be addressed by schools.
“Talking about (body shaming) in class is important, checking yourself, it starts with you. I have to check myself all the time, and I tell the kids, negative self talk is not helpful,” Pieper-Berchem said.
O’Brien said it is vital for teens to have mentors who are supportive and encourage self-positivity.
“It is also important for mentors to really respect and honor their students and to really praise them for things other than the way they look,” O’Brien said.
Junior Jasmine Tchida said talking about body image is an important start to addressing the issue.
“Acknowledging something is the first step to fixing it. Especially now with all this photoshop, it is everywhere. And if you acknowledge (body image), you bring attention on it, it is a big step forward to having people feel comfortable with how they look and it helps people become more accepting (of) who they actually are and not who they want to be,” Tchida said.