Body Diversity

The "Perfect Body"

  • Our society (and many advertisements) imply that having a "perfect body" is the key to attracting partners, to having good health, to being popular, and to being successful and confident. We are told that the perfect body is the key to a good life.
  • This perfect body for girls and women is either a very thin supermodel look, or an impossibly voluptuous figure -- usually with long blonde hair and large blue eyes. The most common standards tell females to be thin, curvaceous, muscular, and delicate -- all at the same time! Oh, and have porcelain skin with no pores! But, did you ever stop and think about who sets these standards?
  • The perfect body for boys and men, on the other hand, include lots of muscles or extreme thinness or both. Again, who set these standards?
  • If you are like most people, others have criticized you -- or you may have criticized yourself -- for too big of this, too little of that, or for simply not fitting the "ideal standard" (often Caucasian ideal). These standards tell you that you are not OK the way you are!
  • Research suggests that images of females are much more specific and limiting than what is allowed for males. Not surprisingly, more girls than boys are preoccupied with body shape, size, and weight. And, far too many are on diets!

Society's Messages about Body Image

  • We are bombarded with ads and movie star pictures that influence a society's messages about body image. But, we forget that advertisers use modern technology to achieve these photos with "perfect" bodies.
  • These media figures may be natural for only a very, very small percentage of the population! It is both unfair and unrealistic to expect ourselves to look like these so-called perfect girls and women!
  • Many seek the perfect body size, even though that pursuit may end up being harmful to our emotional and physical health.
  • There are very few diverse role models in the media.

What's Normal?

  • So if what we see in ads and on television isn't normal, what is? What size should we be?
  • Do NOT refer to the usual insurance company height-weight charts. Instead, remember that shapes and sizes are results of many things, including genetics, the environment you grew up in, your developmental stage in life, your nutrition intake, cultural norms, and your life styles.
  • Remind yourself of your unique body size and features. Body diversity is normal!

Tips on Dieting

  • It is simply not effective to cut out this or that or to eat just salads or diet milkshakes to make your body fit some pair of jeans!
  • Diets often do not result in permanent weight loss. Actually, they often eventually lead to weight gain.
  • Instead of dieting, pay attention to your body's cues and treat your body with kindness; feed its hunger and stop stuffing when you're full! Slow down your eating so that you can pay attention to your body.
  • Don't rule out any food. Indulge in your occasional craving, with moderation. Enjoy food & listen to your body! Remember food is the fuel for your body; treat it as a friend. Avoid exercise to get a certain look. Instead, exercise for health and to feel good! If exercise feels like a punishment, find another physical activity to enjoy.

Nurture Your Body into Its Natural Shape

  • Question the images you see on television and in magazines!
  • Don't buy fashion magazines -- at least don't buy into them!
  • Ignore or challenge the society's pressures to judge yourself or other people on physical characteristics like body weight, shape, size or looks.
  • Respect people for what they say, feel, and do, not for how slender or "well put together" they appear.
  • Accept your body in its natural shape and size, and take time to notice the body size diversity around you. Celebrate all that your body can do for you each day.
  • Avoid putting foods into "good" or "bad" categories. Do not associate guilt or shame with eating certain foods. Instead, treat your body with respect and kindness. Feed it, keep it active, and listen to its needs.
  • Wear clothes that are comfortable and that make you feel comfortable in your body.
  • List 5-10 good qualities that you have (e.g., intelligence, understanding), and repeat these to yourself whenever you start to feel bad about your body.
  • Do not avoid participating in activities that you enjoy (e.g., swimming, dancing, enjoying a meal) simply because you feel self-conscious about the way your body looks. Recognize that you have the right to enjoy any activity regardless of your body shape or size. And again, be thankful that your body can perform many activities (walk, jump, pick up books, etc.).
  • Believe that your self-esteem and identity come from within you!!
  • Agree with your friends that you will NOT talk negatively or put each other down for your weight or appearance. Create positive support instead!

Having significant body image issues is usually a symptom of other underlying personal struggles and not just about the food or the diet.

Eating disorders can be life-threatening! If you or someone else is struggling with significant body image or eating disorders issues, please seek consultation with a professional counselor at Counseling Services in Administration Building, Room 201. If your academics are negatively impacted, we also have educational counselors who may help with your educational performance, time management skills, etc. Our personal counselors are available for initial drop-in consultation from Monday through Friday, 10am-4pm, and for emergency/crisis walk-ins M-F, 8:30am-4:30pm. Please call 408-924-5910 if you would like additional information or to make an appointment with an educational counselor.

Additional Resources

  • Body Size Diversity and Acceptance (pamphlet). (1999). The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Counseling Center.
  • Dixon, M. (1996). Love the Body You Were Born With: A Ten Step Workbook for Women. NY: The Berkeley Publishing Group.
  • Freeman, R. (1988). Bodylove: Learning to Life Our Looks and Ourselves. NY: Perennial Library.

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