Most of us judge people by their appearance. And more specifically, by their weight. Weight stigma, weight bias, and weight discrimination are real. Even though we know we shouldn’t “judge a book by its cover”, we often do. Judgments can be so automatic that breaking free from idolizing body image ideals is challenging. Or maybe not even on our radar as something worth doing.
But, breaking free from idolizing an ideal body image is totally worth doing. That is, if you want to have a better relationship with your own body, improved self esteem, and a sense of worth based more on who you are than on your weight.
So where do you start? Let’s start with the concept of judgment.
Judgments are based on a reference point.
Most of us automatically judge attractiveness and worth using the culturally defined reference point of the” ideal body”. Culture values thinness at all costs and automatically equates it with beauty and worth. We tend to accept and even idolize the cultural definition of the ideal body image. No questions asked.
But questioning the cultural ideal body image is exactly what we must do in order to break free from it.
Otherwise, we buy into idolizing unrealistic cultural standards of body image ideals. Colluding with culturally defined standards contributes to chronic dieting, negative body image, eating disorders, and overall disempowerment. Hence, buying into this system is known as colluding with “the Life Thief.“
The cultural definition of the ideal body image changes over time. The idolization of it, however, does not. Beauty standards are typically based on whatever is most difficult to achieve in that time in history.
There are lots of reasons breaking free from idolizing the body image ideal is hard to do. For one, it means you must distance yourself from the culturally defined reference point. And rejecting Diet Culture makes you a rebel who risks being viewed in a negative light. Another reason breaking free from idolizing the body image ideal is challenging is because you then have to find other ways to feel worthy.
We live in a society where looks and first impressions matter. And define worth.
So do the number of Facebook/Instagram ‘likes’ we receive. The ‘likes’ are considered evidence that we’re attractive, liked, and worthy. Even though the images are altered. And the likes are not based on much substance beyond what meets the eye.
To get more social media likes, we use filters to make us look more “attractive”. Usually more “attractive” means editing selfies so we look thinner or more toned. More attractive. Sexier.
All of this sheds light on why resilience in the world of the powerful beauty/body image ideal is such a big ask.
So much of an ask that you may wonder if it’s really possible to break free from idolizing an ideal body image.
In our visual and virtual culture, our bodies are ourselves.
We define ourselves in a culturally prescribed way. The cultural prescription says “thin is good. Fat is bad”. If you’re not thin, then you’re fat. If you’re fat, you’re ugly, bad, and destined for misery. Or so says Diet Culture and its idealized body image.
Feeling ashamed of our bodies translates to being ashamed of our selves.
If you’re feeling shame about your body, telling yourself you shouldn’t feel shame makes it worse. Or at least does not help.
So how do you reject, rather than idolize, a prescribed ideal body image?
Consider these three suggestions for how to break free from idolizing an idealized body image:
1. Remind yourself of the historical, socio-cultural, and environmental roots of the idealized body image. Recognize that you have a choice in the degree to which you drink that Kool-aid.
2. Remember the quote attributed to Ghandi’? “Be the change you want to see in the world”. Why not? If not you, then whom? If not now, then when?
3. Another person in history to keep in mind is the anthropologist Margaret Mead. She is quoted as saying, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world.” YOU can be part of such a group.
You are free to choose to idolize culturally defined body image ideals as the way to define your worth.
You have other options, though. Including the option to find your own unique values to define your worth. Especially values that come from the inside. As opposed to values based on appearance, weight, and the number of likes on your Instagram posts.
Explore, discover, and be curious about your Authentic Self.
Living authentically is more rewarding than living your life based on cultural values about ideal body image will ever be. At least give it a try!
I love working with people as they discover the choices available to them, especially when their relationship with their body and self is involved. Begin within! Please contact me to learn more.