Mridu Khullar Relph
“Even the models we see in magazines wish they could look like their own images.” ~Cheri K. Erdman
Unfortunately, for many people this is more difficult than it sounds, especially when it comes to weight.
Faced with a relentless barrage of Photoshopped media images depicting lean, perfectly toned bodies, it's no wonder we lose sight of realistic goals for ourselves.
From a very early age, we are conditioned to believe we will only be accepted by achieving a fairy tale version of physical perfection, setting us up for a lifetime of frustration, insecurity and esteem issues. For some, body image can become an obsession.
A Culture of Self-Loathing
"Low self-esteem is prevalent among Americans because of the ridiculous standards of beauty we have set for ourselves," says Dr. Karen Hylen, PhD, and primary therapist at Summit Malibu Treatment Center. "Because of the insane standards of beauty that magazines, television and movies set for our society, it can cause people who would normally be happy with their appearance to obsess about their looks in a negative manner. They will spend more time sitting in front of the mirror getting ready, be shy in social situations because they are afraid of what others may think, constantly need to check their appearance, compare themselves to others, and generally be unhappy with themselves."
As the standards of beauty get ever-increasingly higher, more people are at risk for developing psychological disorders that stem out of self-image. While it may seem that those suffering from negative self-image are more likely to be in their teens or twenties, recent studies indicate that the problem is much more widespread than that.
Children as young as five years old are now vulnerable to pressures to conform to an ideal standard of beauty. Reports also suggest that, increasingly, older people are coming to doctors with insecurities about what age has done to their bodies.
Three years ago 21-year-old college student Brian Kearney got a shock when, during his treatment for bulimia, he was diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).
"It was a bit of a wake-up call," says Kearney, "but at the time, I was so deep into my other sickness that it did not speed up my recovery or help me feel any better emotionally."
According to the Mayo Clinic, "When you have body dysmorphic disorder, you intensely obsess over your appearance and body image, often for many hours a day. You may seek out numerous cosmetic procedures to try to 'fix' your perceived flaws, but never will be satisfied."
Mridu Khullar Relph
Mridu Khullar Relph is an award-winning journalist who writes for Time magazine, The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, Global Post, Ms., and the Christian Science Monitor, among others. She is a contributing editor at Elle’s Indian edition and has also contributed to the US and international editions of Glamour, Vogue, Self, and Marie Claire.