Body Image: Reality or Illusion?December 31st, 2008 | 52 Comments
“All my friends are on a diet. It’s just not cool to actually eat lunch. We just sit around the [lunch] table and talk instead.” (Janie, a fourth-grader)
Human nature drives our desires to want that which we cannot have. For those who eventually achieve what once seemed physically unattainable, they are usually met with feelings of emptiness and solitude. Their journeys to their supposed mountaintops are not joyous and redeeming but lonely and demoralizing. Their motivations are out of fear, False Evidence Appearing Real. For most, the apex is nonexistent. It is merely an oasis, a delusion of grandeur. Someday, they will come face to face with the reality that the days that have passed are gone forever. What remains is not worth the pain.
The false evidence of which I speak is everywhere I go. It screams out at me as I impatiently wait my turn in the inappropriately-named Express Lane at the local supermarket. Lose 10 Pounds! Janet’s New Body! Get Shredded in Two Weeks Flat! Most of these headlines are directed toward the opposite sex but even I walk away questioning my physical state. I can only imagine how others feel.
Upon returning home, I turn on the TV and flip through channel after channel of infomercials pitching their latest gimmicks. At that very moment, someone is getting filthy rich as insecure Americans jam the 1-800 phone lines eager to fork over their hard-earned cash for simple weight loss solutions. Frustrated, I settle for a movie but notice that every time the lead actress turns sideways, she disappears.
Enough! I’m going to the gym to blow off some steam! Once there, I find the usual suspects; the ones who spend 2 to 3 hours a day striving for the perfect bodies; the ones who ought to have their mail sent there; the ones who are there more than I am. And I work there! The anorexics we can’t help due to legal issues are on their designated treadmills. The guys who seemed to have put on 20 pounds of muscle over the last 2 weeks while coincidentally acquiring horrendous cases of acne are there too. The girl with the imaginary stomach pooch is crunching. She’s crunching. She’s crunching… The very idea of perfection is in fact imperfect. Like a David Blaine stunt, what appears real is not. Our attempts to achieve similar results remain elusive even when we think we have figured out his secret.
Believe it or not, celebrities are no more immune to cellulite and butt dimples than you and I. They just do a better job of hiding the evidence. How? It’s called airbrushing and your favorite magazines and tabloid rags hire the best of the best to do it. If you can Photoshop your ex out of old pictures, imagine what a professional can do with a patch of thigh cheese.
Early in his career, a make-up artist transformed Eddie Murphy into a Caucasian for an unforgettable SNL sketch about the perks of being a White man. A decade later, he portrayed an elderly White man, an old Black man, and a really bad singer all in the same movie, Coming to America. The same technique has turned Martin Lawrence into a Big Mama and Mel Gibson into a Man Without a Face. Photograph manipulation and make-up artistry have become lucrative careers. Making false evidence appear real is their job. They are very good at what they do.
The “thin is in” concept isn’t just sucking the self-esteem out of average American women; it’s hurting the actresses themselves. As the pressures to be skeleton-thin are mounting, many celebs are jumping ship. The physical and psychological costs of Hollywood are driving both aspiring and successful stars out of town and onto Jobs.com. For them, the money and fame they’ve dreamed of since childhood aren’t worth the self-deprecation. Health is priceless. Shouldn’t you follow suit?
In her book, Life Inside the Thin Cage, Constance Rhodes writes,
“Hollywood plays a dramatic and often self-debilitating role in promoting an image that is increasingly unattainable. But while many stars choose to risk their health and well-being in order to get a part, more and more women are crying out for permission to look like a woman, permission to be who they are. We all deserve this freedom.”
In the dictionary, the word model is defined as:
n. Representation or reproduction of something, usually constructed to scale or in miniature.
However, the models that strut the runways and pose for magazine ads in their size zeros are thinner than 98% of the population! They starve themselves and chain-smoke as they toe the line of anorexia. Just who in fact they are modeling beats the heck out of me.
Why do we envy those in the public eye? Imagine seeing perfectly airbrushed, made-up pictures of yourself in magazines and tabloids, and on billboards, television shows, and movie screens. How would you feel when you had to look in the mirror at your real self? How would it feel to have the expectation to appear flawless everywhere you go? Would your fans examine your every blemish and imperfection? Could the real you live up to your manufactured celebrity image? Personally, I’d avoid stardom like the plague. I have enough problems of my own.
Measure of a Man
And guys, you’re not exempt from this discussion. We have our own issues that no one wants to talk about. Male body obsession is becoming more prevalent than ever as our self-esteems have become dependent on our physical ideals of manliness. If wide chests, bulging biceps, and ripped abs are what make us men, most of us will never escape the firm clutches of boyhood.
Male body obsession and reverse anorexia are closet issues that deserve recognition.
“Women, over the years, have gradually learned, at least to some extent, how to confront society’s and the media’s impossible ideals of beauty. Many women can now recognize and voice their appearance concerns, speaking openly about their reactions to these ideals, rather than letting them fester inside. But men still labor under the societal taboo against expressing such feelings. Real men aren’t supposed to whine about their looks; they’re not even supposed to talk about such things, And so this “feeling and talking taboo” adds insult to injury; to a degree unprecedented in history, men are being made to feel more and more inadequate about how they look, while simultaneously being prohibited from talking about it or admitting it to themselves.” (The Adonis Complex)
We’re All in it Together
* Nearly 65 million American women are on a diet on any given day. Of these, 35 percent, more than 22 million women, progress to pathological eating.
* A 1997 study found that an amazing 45 percent of American men (well over 50 million) were dissatisfied with their muscle tone, almost double the percentage found in the same survey in 1972.
* Eighty percent of women are dissatisfied with their appearance.
* Three-quarters of women within normal weight limits feel too fat, desiring on average to weigh slightly more than anorexic.
* If Barbie were the height of an actual woman, she’d have only a 16-inch waist.
* If the G.I. Joe Extreme introduced in the mid-1990s were full-sized, he would have a 55-inch chest and 27-inch biceps.
“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”
– Albert Einstein
As children, the concept of illusion merely entertained us. Despite our nascent minds, we remained cognizant of the magician’s primary objective, to deceive our senses. The joy was in discovering the sleight of hand that produced such trickery. Yet, as we grew into adulthood, we lost our ability to decipher reality from its illusory counterpart. The illusion has become our lives. It is as though we depend upon it to fill the gaping hole in which joy once resided.
Life is a gift and when it’s all over, there will be no closing credits, no endless list of names responsible for creating and maintaining the illusion. Chase your dreams and recognize deception for what it is. The moment we let go of expectations that fail to exist, a whole new world will open itself up to us. Fear will cease to exist. We can live out our own lives and simply be ourselves.
Author, The Dark Side of Fat Loss