This is Part One in a series exploring the rhymes and reasons behind today’s pursuit of bodily perfection, which is leading to the epidemic 'body image dissatisfaction'. Part Two will delve into the tips and tools that can help improve body image, which ultimately leads to a more freeing and confident sense of self.
the condition, state, or quality of [the body] being free or as free as possible from all flaws or defects.
The quality of beauty extends beyond the body, it is found in the most overlooked feature of humankind, a place so discrete we often forget to look; a vibrant, free, and comfortable sense of self. Yet, as each year folds into a new year, the pursuit of bodily perfection only grows. It carries with it the story that beauty is attainable, that it will only be found by those dedicated enough to its cause, and it promises the reward of acceptance, admiration, and peace of mind. But I wonder, how many of us are happy in this story?
We have found ourselves in a world wrought with ideals around what it means to be a woman; thinness, 34-24-34, sexiness, and flawlessness. Womanhood is inevitably accompanied by an innate belief that our value is based on society's predetermined construct of physical beauty (or a number on the scales...).
You have only to scroll through your instagram feed to comprehend the copious amount of time, effort, and emotion that goes into these glorified before-and-after images, all embodying this pursuit of the ‘ideal.’ But at what cost?
A mere 300 years ago there wasn’t even such thing as a ‘perfect size 6’ or an XXXS. Clothing sizes evolved during the Industrial era, when clothing production moved away from bespoke tailoring and into mass factory production. They became standardized into three simple categories; small, medium, and large. We gained a method with which to measure ourselves, and inadvertently, the ultimate tool for comparison. The years following saw a shift in magazine publishing as well; real life women posed on the covers of fashion magazines for the first time ever. Not only were particular clothes considered fashionable, but certain bodies were as well. Smoking campaigns from that era advertised, "Cigarettes are like women. The best ones are thin and rich."
Wind forward the clock to last year, the latest Victoria’s Secret's campaign presented an array of fashionably slim women displaying a new range of underwear, across their bodies were the words, ‘The Perfect Body.’ Don’t get me wrong, I too love a sneaky pair of VS underwear, but never before have we been surrounded by so many images depicting an ‘ideal.’ “The fear for many young people,” explains John Acquaviva, PhD, “is that life will pass them by unless a certain body type or particular level of beauty is attained.”
Ironically, research shows a direct correlation between society’s pursuit of the ‘ideal,’ and depression, anxiety, anorexia nervosa, and other mental health conditions. A study from 2006, examining body dissatisfaction in men and women, found that body dissatisfaction was directly linked to negative self-talk, over-emphasizing areas of our bodies we don’t like, and body comparison, where we see ourselves constantly falling short of what we “should” be. The authors of the study alluded that these symptoms fostered negative mood, heightened self-consciousness, and insecurity. Surely this is far from the ‘ideal’ we relentlessly pursue.
Marzano Parisoli, a moral philosopher interested in the fragility of the human condition, says that culture’s construction of the perfect body is "a body without a name that tries to hide its internal emptiness. It is unable to accept its real and concrete nature and is probably, in any case, a sick body completely incapable of perceiving its own natural desires, impulses, and needs. [It is] completely opposed to the self and without any link to a person's real needs."
The good news is that this does not need to be the end of our story (thank goodness!)! With the right insight and tools we can overcome negative body image, and can regain an appreciation for our bodies, even with their imperfections. Part Two of this series will explore how to disassociate our needs from our bodies, so our self-confidence does not waver with the number on the scales. We will examine how to value ourselves wholly, and at the same time maintain (or regain) our physical health. Because it is the confidence that comes from knowing our value, that is after all, the most beautiful quality one can possess.
Feed, Nourish, Value Yourself.
 Acquaviva, J. (2014). Improving Your Body Image Through Catholic Teaching: How Theology of the Body And Other Church Writings Can Transform Your Life. Alchemy Publishing Group, LLC.
 Thomas, J., & Schaefer, J. (2013). Almost anorexic. Center City, Minn.: Hazelden.
 Bearman, S., Presnell, K., Martinez, E., & Stice, E. (2006). The Skinny on Body Dissatisfaction: A Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Girls and Boys. J Youth Adolescence, 35(2), 217-229. doi:10.1007/s10964-005-9010-9
 Michela Marzano-Parisoli, M. (2001). The Contemporary Construction of a Perfect Body Image: Bodybuilding, Exercise Addiction, and Eating Disorders. Quest, 53(2), 216-230. doi:10.1080/00336297.2001.10491741