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Body Image: Reality or Illusion?

“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 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.

No Illusions

“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
Dark Side of Fat Loss



52 thoughts on “Body Image: Reality or Illusion?

  1. Gavin Chamish

    Even if you make it and reached perfection in muscle tone or in weight. You still lose because your living up to other societys standard. You may be helping yourself in the surface but in the depth of it you are establishing a pattern of consisting living up to other people’s standards. A extremely draining and unhealthy way to life.

  2. Dawn

    Sean, this blog entry really speaks to my heart! I finally decided to stop forcing myself to eat, train and look like an Oxygen Magazine model and accept the fact that I love food, and want to have a loving relationship with it instead of fearing it like an adversary! I twittered you yesterday about having taken hydroxycut for nine years. I had the abs and the sculpted arms, but I was never really happy. Now, when we have decided to try and get pregnant, I finally stopped taking hydroxycut and I am trying my best to learn how to eat like a ‘normal person,’ without constantly counting calories, removing egg yolks, or sprinkling on the artificial sweetener. I have gained 20 pounds, but to be honest, the new body shape doesn’t bother me. I have breasts and hips. I look like a woman! However, I am concerned about a few things. My arms and stomach have a strange kind of fat on them now. With a little bit of cellulite! I’ve never had something like that before, and am wondering if it has a connection to my thyroid or adrenal gland. Like I said, I wouldn’t mind staying at this weight, but I definitely don’t like the consistancy of this new fat. What do you think?
    By the way, I can hardly believe it but you have convinced my husband to eat the egg yolk, quit guzzling diet sodas, and start swallowing coconut oil! That’s amazing.
    Hope to hear from you!
    Take care, thank you for everything,
    Dawn (lilsparrow3 on twitter)

  3. Robert

    Wow, the first couple of sentences of this article almost had me in tears. My daughter is in the fourth grade and it would absolutely kill me if this were how she viewed the world. It is high time I get off of my own butt and start setting a better example for my kids. I will be subscribing to your channel immediately. Keep up the great work!

  4. Cora

    Well, you’ve articulated the problem quite eloquently, but a very wise man once told me that if you’re going to point out a problem, you had better have a solution ready.
    So you’ve stated the problem. Any ideas as to what a solution might be? I know, you talked about what really matters and such at the end of your article, but people who are truly struggling with food and body complexes need far more than that to help them get right again.
    So what’s the solution? Therapy? Education? Or something else?

  5. JS

    Thank you so much for this. I struggle everyday with body image and am fighting to find myself after being lost in this unreal aspiration for so long. the funny thing is, I prefer to have curves. I look at other women who have curves and think it isso sexy. Honestly, I think Paris Hilton and Victoria Beckam haveno sex appeal. I admire the bodies of Kim Kardashian and Beyonce far more. I’m not putting anyone down who naturally has a skinny body, but I was chasing a goal that wasn’t me. I am naturally curvy and I have to learn to embrace it instead of fall for society’s pressure to be stick skinny and swear off all foods that have any sort of satisfaction involved in eating them. Wish me luck!

  6. Mose Rudicil

    Considerably, the article is actually the sweetest topic on curing acne naturally. I fit in with your conclusions and will thirstily look forward to your forthcoming updates. Saying thanks will not just be sufficient, for the exceptional lucidity in your writing. I will instantly grab your rss feed to stay privy of any updates.

  7. Saira

    This is a great entry, thanks for writing it, and I hope you will continue to update this site with words like these and not only with videos.

    I think both the saddest, and the best thing about this issue, is that all people as a whole have the power to change it. Who’s really employing those makeup artists and illusionists? Not the actors or their agencies because we employ the entertainment industry in reality, so it must be all of us perpetuating it. If we weren’t buying, they wouldn’t be selling.

    Let’s move that fad out. I think it’s had it’s time, and we’re all ready for a change. Thanks for spearheading it, Sean.

  8. Harry

    Sean this is a great blog, i indefinitely agree.

    I would take my health and the way i feel over anything else. Recently i had to come to grits with that, and it feels like a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders, and im losing weight now, effortlessly, because my main focus is: get healthy and be happy. This blog is not what people want to hear, it’s what they need to hear.

  9. Patrick Kallie

    Sean you are right, their are so many gimmicks for weight loss out their these days. People are just better off without a lot of the things that are out their. People just need to go back to the basics of loosing weight and they would be OK.

  10. lola fay

    love your site. came to it looking at the dr. sears pace exercise program. do you recommend that program?

  11. John

    It’s truly a shame that so many people (teenagers specifically) are so analytical of themselves to the point of illness. They need to be educated about natural health.

  12. Rickie Kates

    Much as I just loved butter, thinking of the pathetic state of cows and milk production, I switched to top quality coconut oil. It worked ! I love it even more. Well-informed-sources (dot) com- The best info on the benefits of coconut oil on the Internet

  13. Dorrey

    Hey Sean, This is really good post. It reminds me of a couple of documentaries that speak to body image for men and women, Killing us softly: Advertising’s Image of Women & Tough Guise: Violence, Media and the Crisis in Masculinity.
    At my school, I facilitated a 3 hour workshop with faculty members where we took a closer look at the roles that the media doles out for men and women. It’s sickening. And what’s crazy is that it doesn’t just effect our children, but grown people, adults who you would think would know it’s all a charade (present company included), are just as effected by it too. Every time I go to the supermarket those headlines capture my attention, and I quickly skim through the magazine to find out how they did it, mainly to see if I could try it, or if I’ve already tried it before. I can’t even buy my food with out being hit with these images of once obese unhappy women, standing proudly on a cover of a mag proclaiming they lost it all in an incredibly short amount of time, and guess what’s the best part… I can too. The secret’s inside, just buy the mag, and follow the instructions. It’s a sad state of affairs my friend. Sad.

  14. Fidel Matey

    Intimately, the post is really the best on this noteworthy topic. I harmonise with your conclusions and will eagerly look forward to your coming updates. Just saying thanks will not just be adequate, for the great lucidity in your writing. I will immediately grab your rss feed to stay informed of any updates. Gratifying work and much success in your business dealings!

  15. zynga chips

    i was beginning to think that i might possibly end up being the sole woman / man who thought about this, at the very least at present i recognize im not loonie 🙂 i will be sure to find out more about various additional threads right after i get a bit of caffeine in me, it is really hard to read without having my coffee, I was really late last night grinding myspace poker and after having a few ales i finished up giving up all my zynga poker chips cheers 🙂

  16. Blossom

    Great post! I am recovering from an eating disorder and have started a blog to reconnect women and men to their authentic selves. We do focus way too much on looks and not enough on the inside and what truly brings us happiness. I know how difficult it is to break free from this body image illusion and I’m still working on it, but with each day I am getting stronger and waking up to the reality of my life. My path has been a long one and although it has been difficult I am finding my true purpose by helping others along the way. I am very passionate about this subject and I am confident that in time this ‘Thin’ obsession will come to an end. We just need more people like you to truly see it for what it is and then we can get back to living a far more fulfilling and joyous life.

  17. Vanessa Pinter

    I just found your podcast, and from that your website. Great info (and great blog post, BTW). I just listened to your interviews with Sally Fallon and Gary Taubes. Wow! I have to share them with everyone.

    P.S. You might like Robb Wolf’s website and podcast. He is a Crossfit affiliate owner with a lot of experience helping clients in person and by phone or email. He advocates a gluten-free Paleo diet with smart training. How about having him on your blog when his book is published?

  18. Tim Jordan

    Great post! I have seen the same stereotypes at the gym and their intensity can be frightening. There is nothing wrong with striving for perfection, it keeps you motivated but they have to realize that you can never actually attain it and no one expects you to.

  19. Josh

    Good post. It is hard to remember what we are striving for sometimes. Just going through the motions each day. Thanks for the perspective shift.

  20. Rudy Dickirson

    I smoked cigarettes for a long time and stopping was very hard. I bought all of the stop smoking tricks but nothing helped. Then I discovered the smokeless cigarette. The e-liquid uses a nicotine fluid that holds just nicotine. No toxic substances at all. They have luckily saved my life.

  21. Glayds Karle

    Aim at the sun. You will possibly not reach it, but you will fly higher than if you never aimed. I guess it’s hard to deny such a thinking, right?

  22. Toby Wilhide

    Tout comme les rayons infrarouge, les ondes de radiofréquence chauffent la peau en profondeur. Selon le type de radiofréquence utilisée, les ondes peuvent agir à 4 mm, 6 mm ou jusqu’à 30 mm de profondeur pour atteindre les tissus adipeux et s’attaquer à la cellulite. La chaleur provoquée par les ondes ramolli les capitons graisseux qui composent la cellulite et stimule la production de collagène pendant plusieurs mois. Cela donne un effet raffermissant et restructurant de la peau.

  23. AaronF

    Wow, this is a great post. I used to be ultra-lean before doing low-carb. Now having come off I have a slight paunch that sometimes is not noticeable and sometimes more noticeable. It really forced me to confront my body-image pride. And yeah, I have reflected on it to others. Some blow you off. Some listen. But I don’t believe in not expressing our insecurities.

  24. AJ

    Wow, this article reminds me of a show about body image. They interviewed both women and men and asked them all the same question “Would you give up 10 years of your life if it meant that you could have the body of your dreams?”. And guess what? Even though most people would think that more women would shave off 10 years off the end of their lives for good look, but it was mostly MEN! Yes, many men admitted they would sacrifice longevity for vanity, one guy actually said “Yah my life would be shorter, but I’d have more fun and be happier!”


    You are always on the dot. GO SEAN!

  25. Nancy

    Love this entry. It’s beautifully written. After poking through your site and watching a few videos, I’m impressed by your honesty and your efforts to simply help others through sharing what you’ve learned. Please keep it coming.

  26. quit cigarettes

    I started cigs while I was in my teens. It ended up being the most detrimental wrong move I’ve made. Right now 20 years later and I’ve got heart disease. When attempting to kick the habit, I found the electric cigarettes and i intend to see if it helps. With some luck, it is going to help me with this particular awful addiction.

  27. uwlo

    It’s such a sad state of affairs when a 4th grader thinks not eating is cool. The media certainly has a lot to answer to in this respect.

  28. Diann

    Wow!! Sean!! Your article is so well-written! Thanks for reminding me that I will never look like the magazines…and it’s ok to be ME!!! Eating healthy and hitting the gym to build muscle are doing wonders for my appearance and over-all well being! Thanks for your insight…

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