Lean asked me in response to my previous post on distorted body image:
Perhaps you could write a post on what we could do to prevent this fixation in the next generation? Where did we get the idea that scrawny is beautiful/healthy, and how can we train our future daughters to have the right view in this matter?
This is such an excellent question, Lean! Because after all, our primary concern is the young and vulnerable girls that are so susceptible to anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders.
So, how did we get here? How did we get the idea that thinness equals beauty? It's clear that this is some kind of distortion. Throughout history, feminine curves were considered beautiful and flattering. The desire to be healthy and fit is understandable – but what about those walking skeletons we see on the covers of glossy fashion magazines?
As far as I know, there isn't a single opinion about what causes the drive for unnatural thinness and anorexia nervosa. Most of the researchers agree that it doesn't exist in cultures where people are often hungry – after all, who cares about dieting when there isn't always enough food on the table?
I'm not a mother yet, but I think that we have two main targets here:
1. Minimizing the contact with negative influences.
This means all the media – TV programs, fashion magazines, dieting websites – that not only promote distorted beauty ideals, but even worse: try to make them seem like the most important thing in life, like the only thing that will bring us happiness. Try this diet and lose weight quickly, and be beautiful, popular, happy, perfect. Now, I know we can never eliminate all these influences. But we can limit the exposure of young girls to dangerous messages.
2. Showing positive and healthy personal example.
Will the young girls see their mother frustrated because she doesn't fit anymore into the skirt she used to wear in highschool? Will they hear their mother always talk about the latest diet and how much better her life would be if she could only lose that extra weight? And what is this supposed to teach them?
Now, I don't think there's anything wrong with looking good or being fit or dressing nicely. On the contrary! What bothers me is how this is blown out of proportion in our culture. How people's self image depends so strongly on body image. If the way we look determines the person we feel we are, no wonder we are so miserable because of a few wrinkles or extra kilos! If our identity is built mostly on external beauty, we will never have peace. We will always be miserable.
I think the message we should give our daughters (and young girls in general) is this: "Looking good is great, but you certainly don't want to build your whole life around it. And who said that looking good means fitting a certain cultural standard?"