Being told you’re too fat, too skinny, not handsome or pretty enough, too tall or too short, eyes are too small or too big, all have lasting effects and some extremely detrimental to our overall well-being and happiness. The high pressures of society, cultural influences, social media and anything we are connected with all influence our body images. The brands of clothes we buy, the make-up you purchase, the new pair of Jordan’s coming out, all indicators of how we dress ourselves to look a certain way; to have status. This is no different than how we want to see ourselves or want to have others perceive us in a certain way. Typically, guys want a bigger chest, arms and a six pack. Females want a bigger booty and toned muscles. This is no different than it was 60 years ago, the only difference is how frequently it is in our faces, in the palms of our hands, and everywhere we go.
Growing up, for as long as I can remember, I have heard about eating disorders through my parents because we would listen to the Carpenters every Sunday in the van. Karen Carpenter, had one of the most angelic voices to ever make music. You could hear the strength in her vocals and the beauty in her lyrics, yet she was slowly dying on the inside. She suffered from anorexia and passed away in her early 30’s.
Many people suffer from various forms of eating disorders. There are some who are living in hospitals because they don’t want to eat in fear of believing they are fat, when in fact they are skin and bones. They’re hooked up to IVs, to be fed until they recover properly. Others, binge eat usually from anxiety or depression and low self-esteem signs. Both are on opposite ends of the spectrum yet both lead to very unstable and unhealthy results1.
Some researchers believe that some cases start at home. If a mother and/or father show dissatisfaction with their own bodies, they’ll likely influence their child/ren to think the same of their own bodies. Weight related teasing, body shaming, negative comments, and pressure to lose weight all influence someone to experience an eating disorder or discontent with their body2. I have seen this time and time again, even in my own experience. A parent gets so critical of their child’s eating behavior or how fat or skinny they are, only because they are dissatisfied with their own body/lifestyle. It is the parent’s way to have control in their life because they themselves don’t have much self-control when it comes to their own. In my own experience, I have been asked many times “why do I always have to workout?” “Why do I have to eat that?” These are all tools that I use to stay healthy and on my shit. If you missed My Why, check it out here (link to Youtube video).
Another sociocultural influence of eating disorders, are our friends and peers. Growing up, we’ve all seen it from as young as we can remember. Kids, most times, are extremely brash, truthful and mean. Even preschoolers tell it like it is. But as we went from the innocence of 3rd grade to 4th grade, it all changed. All of a sudden, it was cool to be wearing makeup and a training bra (I don’t know what you girls call it these days), to be wearing sunglasses, a watch and cologne. Some of my classmates back then even started dating back then; crazy huh?
Some even start to get into smoking in Elementary School because kids are easily influenced into thinking it’s the cool thing to do. Some of us grow up living our lives, based on what other people think about us and say about us; I’ll get to that at the end of this. So what people think or say about us has a direct influence on what we do and how we even perceive ourselves. We could be considered skinny/average built and someone could be mean and call us fat. This has a snowball effect where the person will start to starve themselves just so they can never be called fat again. This is where the person will develop what’s known as bulimia or anorexia. They’ll constantly purge the food that they eat or just won’t eat altogether in fear of getting fat. It’s a very scary scenario, because not only does it have issues where the acid from the stomach will mess up your teeth, but it also has dire consequences and may result in long hospital stays in a psych ward.
The opposite is true. As a “hefty” kid growing up, I knew I was overweight, but it didn’t bother me until I got to around the 6th/7th grade when I had my first crush. I coped with this by eating more junk food. Our mom always made healthy, nutritious food whenever she could but outside of that, I would stuff my face with all types of greasy garbage and sweets that would rile a dentist! I noticed I would gain roughly 10 lbs. during each school year since the 4th grade. I kept on eating this way until the ending of my junior year in High School, and the rest is history.
The other type of sociocultural influence that affects our body image is the media. It always has, for as long as we can remember. Over the decades, things just got racier and the sex appeal went to new heights. Even looking back at the magazines of yesteryear like Glamour, half of it was filled with ads about makeup, lingerie, anti-cellulite products, etc... Women will have read these magazines every month, fantasizing about looking like the Photoshopped images seen in them. Nothing’s changed today except it’s now on social media and it’s affecting even more people because of its broader reach. Most of the images seen on social media, are all Photoshopped, or were done on photoshoots, or they try to convince you that they’re life is always glitz n glamour with champagne showers at the clubs or private jets/yachts on the weekends. You know there are companies who rent those things out just for you to take photos with them, right?
In one study done on over a hundred women, from ages 18-35, they were randomly selected to view fashion magazine spreads with no warning label, a general warning label that the photo was altered and a specific warning label in which way the image was altered. Researchers found that women who viewed the photos with the warning labels had less body dissatisfaction than the ones who didn’t view the warning label3.
This goes to show that we try to live up to unattainable standards set by the media. We have to look a certain way, be a certain weight in-order to feel accepted. Why do you think in those types of magazines, they have columns and columns about the newest (and albeit dumbest) trendy diets, that are considered the next best thing. It is a vicious cycle that either sells people hopes and dreams or flat out makes people feel like their lives are complete shit.
It’s not only the general public, who experience eating disorders, but the competition realm of physique competitors is permeated with them. Competing myself, and hearing others’ stories about their experiences is shocking. I met this one girl, who said she did 2 shows and stopped. She stopped dieting, eating right and going to the gym completely. In her own words, “it messed me up.” And she’s right. You diet and train and do your cardio super hardcore for a minimum of 12 weeks, only go to on stage for a few seconds to minutes (depending on which division you do) and be judged by a handful of people to tell you about your short comings. “You’re too small, too big, not defined enough, too masculine, too soft” and the list goes on and on. Outside of competition day, now you have family, friends, acquaintances and strangers all telling you those same negative remarks. Some end up giving up altogether so they don’t have to hear it anymore. Others deal with it, or people like myself realize there’s more to life than competing and getting sucked into it.
I have heard of some people who want to compete for unhealthy and unrealistic reasons. They want to be a future Olympia Champion and will do whatever it takes to get there. Whatever it takes? Really? I don’t think they know fully what they’re getting into. If you’re 18 and don’t look like a winning bodybuilder at your local show by then, you either need to train harder and hire a coach or expect to take super supplements because you just don’t have the genetics to get there alone. I would rather tell someone the truth than to let them have a pipe dream that leads to doing more harm to their body, than good. If they do consider abusing super supplements, then they should take up a new hobby because that can only lead to disaster down the road.
Others compete to fit in with their friends or acquaintances. Back in my UNLV days, I was one of the first to compete in a bodybuilding show amongst us. Next thing you know all the trainers are trying to get into it. Needless to say, they don’t compete anymore. It wasn’t for them, or life happened. To do something like this, you really need to have a passion for it. I know a lot of trainers, or people for that matter, who don’t have a solid knowledge about bodybuilding or training for it. Many don’t know who Arthur Jones is, or Tom Platz or Mike Mentzer. All they know are Arnold, Jay Cutler, Ronnie Coleman & Phil Heath. It blows my mind that people have such an all-or-nothing attitude when it comes to bodybuilding, yet have little to no historical knowledge about it. All they want to do is swallow a pill or inject something and magically they’ll look like the people they see on Instagram. That is FAR from the truth.
There could be dozens of reasons why people go on diets. Some do it for health reasons, if they have serious health conditions and need to make lifestyle changes. Other times, it may be due to the influence of others. Sometimes, a friend may start working out and doing a new diet and it’s a way to connect with others around us; to feel like we’re a part of something. Some other times, it may be to get back at an ex-lover or even to gain the attraction from a crush. This idea goes way back, even when comic books first started getting published. Who didn’t want to look like a super hero? Some of those early ones even had advertisements for muscle building magazines.
Whatever reason you decide to go on a diet, just keep in mind these key-takeaway points:
Obviously, we can’t walk around looking Photoshopped all the time; we have to start to feel comfortable in our own skin. Look at the bigger picture. You’re alive, you’re able to be active, you have running water and readily available food to enjoy. Life’s great! And if you’re suffering from a health condition, YOU have the power and ability to change that. No amount of medication will heal you. You need to do that from within. Most of these people know that they should change their habits for their best interest, but sadly some don’t. What will it take for them, in-order to live a healthier lifestyle?
Have a near death experience? Maybe right, but why let it get to that point? Take baby steps. Slowly take out the bad foods and replace it with healthier options. Of course it won’t be as savory or sweet as the foods that put you in the current position, but there are ALWAYS healthy options.
At the end of the day, no matter the type of diet you do, or your reasons for losing weight, just know that happiness begins with you. Don’t let anyone take it away from you. Live your life, and I hope a long one, and enjoy it. We only have one life to live so why would you want to live is suffering most of the time? Why have someone else’s opinion detract you from your happiness? Live up to your standards, not anyone else’s. Happiness begins with you. It’s not what you have or own. It’s not the amount of likes or attention you get from strangers. True happiness is living your days content with who you are and what you have, that nothing else would affect your attitude in this world. Live your life. Be happy. And screw what others think about you.