One of the biggest issues that plagues my generation is body image. And it’s something that most of us struggle with on a daily basis.
My generation is growing up in a society that places an extreme amount of importance on body image. Of the many definitions online, one states that ‘body image is how we feel and think about our bodies and often has no bearing whatsoever on our actual appearance.’
Amongst Generation Y, unhappiness with our body image has almost become the norm. We have a tendency to judge people based on their appearance, we compare ourselves to others, media and fashion industries promote an ‘ideal’ body type that is often unrealistic and unattainable and social media has basically become our ‘bible’ on how to look better, dress nicer and be thinner.
According to research by the Victorian Government, only one in five women are satisfied with their body weight and almost half of normal weight women believe they are larger than they actually are. On top of this, some girls as young as ten years old are dangerously obsessed with how they look. The problem is, statistics like this should shock me, but they don’t. It doesn’t sound out of the ordinary to me and that’s because I’ve grown up in a media dominated society that’s consumed by image. And if I think about it, that’s pretty scary.
As children, we grew up with dolls and figurines with bodies that are near impossible to replicate. As we moved into primary school, we became self-conscious about the clothes we wore, our haircuts, our skin, and whether or not we should start wearing makeup. In high school, we forced our classmates into factions and friendship groups that were based on the equation pretty = popular. Then as we got older, we became more aware of the media and how tabloid magazines and billboards advertise ways to become ultra thin and ultra sexy (and preferably with a thigh gap and a straight nose). I’m not saying this is the case for every single man or woman in Generation Y, but unfortunately, for the majority it is.
And let’s not forget about the rise of social media and the impact this has on body image. It just might be the most damaging platform of them all. These days, if you open your Instagram feed, you’ll be flooded with pictures of women and men, all with the perfect clothes, perfect hair and makeup, perfect homes, perfect families and perfectly tanned skin. And whilst most of us know better than to compare ourselves with these images, over time they still make an impact. And if the images alone aren’t enough, then there’s the hashtags: #goals #fitspo #thinspiration just to name a few. And this is where it starts to get a bit too much for me. I know that I’m strong enough to stomach the media and the fashion magazines, but the hashtags… That’s where I draw the line.
Yep, body image is probably the mother of all Gen Y trends out there. We’re consumed by how others perceive us, but also by how we perceive ourselves. And we’re all so guilty of it. Am I the biggest advocator of positive body image? Absolutely not. Just like every other Gen Y girl out there, I struggle with self esteem and body image on a daily basis. But working in the media has certainly helped me develop a resistance because I’m right in the thick of it. I know what’s true and what isn’t. I can tell the difference between an image that’s been Photoshopped and one that hasn’t. And I think the majority of my generation is acutely aware of the ways media outlets perpetuate unsustainable body images too.
But if the rational part of our brain knows that images in the media are edited and distorted, then why does the irrational part of us still desperately try to emulate and achieve the same results? We simply can’t help it. And if the media has warped our ideas of body image, how can we overcome this? By learning to understand the difference between real and not real in the media.
Being media savvy means that we can develop new skills to resist the pressures of the media, make informed choices about the kind of media we consume and in turn, stop being so negatively affected by everything we see in the media. Ultimately, technology is never going to disappear, its only going to keep advancing. Tina Fey once said, “retouching is here to stay, technology doesn’t move backward. No society has ever de-industrialised.”
By understanding the media, we can take some of the power back. We can turn around and say “screw you society, I’m not listening to you!” We can learn to accept our body, flaws and all and strive to live a healthy life without worrying about criticism and conformity. One persons idea of beauty isn’t going to be the same as the next persons. We can stop spending our time trying to reach unrealistic ideals of beauty and instead focus on being happy, healthy and fit – no matter what that looks like to others.