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Through commercials, TV shows, and magazines, women in the media-consuming world are bombarded with unattainable, often entirely fabricated standards of beauty that can cause them to develop negative perceptions of their own body.
Perhaps consequently, eating disorders affect up to 24 million Americans and 70 million individuals worldwide.
Body positive and diversity movements, famously first seen in a 2005 commercial series by Dove titled the “Campaign for Real Beauty,” helped bring awareness to the detrimental issue of warped body perceptions propagated by the media. While the value of such campaigns is monumentally significant, could a healthy dose of travel also help to remedy the way we appreciate our own unique bodies?
Leslie Goldman, a women’s health writer and body image expert as well as a frequent contributor to O: The Oprah Magazine, SELF, and Women’s Health, tells BTRtoday that there are various triggers that create poor body image, but societal pressures driven by the media is the main culprit.
“Things we see from a very young age— cartoons, Disney princesses, all being very skinny with tiny waists and big chests,” Goldman describes. “As we grow up, we see more of these images in magazines, lingerie catalogs, pornography. It’s everywhere.”
Women and men all around the world come in all shapes and sizes. No such place exists where every single person is undeniably perfect. Through travel, wanderers become more aware of the unfair cultural standards they have been subject to.
“It could definitely help to see other cultures and what is accepted and celebrated there,” encourages Goldman. “It might make you feel better about letting it all hang out.”
Contrastingly, it might be difficult if you go to a place like Brazil or Rio, where all you see is women in bikinis “with teeny tiny booties,” continues Goldman.
BTRtoday speaks with Dana Barron, writer for Crop Tops & Kale, who recently posted “How to Stop Hating Your Body”.
Barron reemphasizes the influence of the media and marketers in sculpting the unreasonable epitomes of female appearance. She explains how this plays out in the obsessive focus on the female body and sexuality.
“If you look around at the billions of dollars in the advertising industry, a large portion of that is based around women’s beauty, body image, and sexuality,” says Barron. “It is something innately around us all the time.”
This pressure hits across all demographics of women. In a project titled “Perceptions of Perfection,” graphic designers from 18 different countries were asked to edit an image of a female model to fit their culture’s perceptions of beauty. The results portrayed a sweeping contrast amongst beauty ideals around the world.
While various expectations to look a certain way exist all over the world, it is predominant in Western culture due to the overexposure of these images.
Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Anne E. Becker ran a study indicating Western television’s contribution to body dysmorphia. Before they had television, Fijian girls appeared to be free of eating disorders, but after just a few years of Western television, 11.3 percent of adolescent girls reported they had purged at least once to lose weight.
As easy as it is to imbibe negative feelings towards our bodies, critically prescribing only to media outlets that promote a positive body perspective is key, according to Goldman.
“If there is a magazine that triggers you to feel bad about your body, stop buying that magazine,” says Goldman.
Barron agrees that women need to realize that they have the power to change their body image without losing weight, partaking in a crazy cleanse, or exercising excessively. She implies that weight is not the real issue–rather, our mindset is.
Comparing our bodies to others or dissecting them in the mirror needs to stop altogether. Awareness of the synthetic mechanisms that inevitably form our own body image can remove some of the pressure.
“It won’t matter if you lose ten to fifteen pounds,” says Barron. “If you hate your body at 160 pounds, and you don’t do any work on how you feel about your body and feel about yourself, you’re still going to hate yourself at 140 pounds.”
Goldman encourages people to be compassionate towards themselves about eating and exercising. “Ask yourself, ‘how would I treat my grandmother if she did this; would I ever call my grandmother disgusting for eating pizza?’ Never, but we do it to ourselves,” adds Goldman.
Positive affirmations, whether saying them out loud or in your own head, help shift our mentality towards accepting ourselves.
“We can change our beliefs by repeating things that you feel strongly and want to believe, so repeating positive things to yourself throughout the day, telling yourself that you’re healthy and beautiful and you’re working to be even healthier and more beautiful tomorrow,” supports Barron. “Just being really nice to yourself.”
In this way, travel can be helpful to avoid certain triggers in criticizing our self-image.
“The main way travel helps your body image is just to get out of your own head, get out and see the world, move around and see beautiful things, and stop worrying so much about yourself,” says Barron.
Barron gives the example of camping, reasoning that there isn’t much opportunity to look in a mirror. Citing a three month trip around the country with her husband last year, Barron attests from her own experiences she is confident that travelers will quickly realize there is so much opportunity out there and so many new things to see.
“It’s amazing to get out of the daily grind and realize there is this huge, big world out there,” reveals Barron. “We get so caught up in our own careers, and our own commute, and our own friends and social circles.”
Traveling is also beneficial in boosting our awareness of ourselves and our own confidence, and as a result helps with body image. “Travel gives us a larger, broader perspective of the world,” Barron says, “it helps you grow as a human being in general, and I think your body image would evolve along with that.”
It is important to note that beauty is subjective. There are beautiful people everywhere, despite their differences, and that is exactly what makes them beautiful. What is under-appreciated in one culture, may be celebrated in another. What really matters is that women are celebrating their own beauty, regardless of what the media, society, or anybody else tells them they should look like.
For more body positivity and healthy living tips, follow Crop Tops and Kale on Instagram.