We are 26-year-old twins finishing up the last leg of our PhDs studying how women are represented in media. Our nonprofit work, Beauty Redefined, is all about rethinking our ideas of “beautiful” and “healthy” that we’ve likely learned from profit-driven media that thrives off female insecurity. We believe it so much we got that message up on billboards and sticky notes we send across the world! We know our bodies are gifts from a Heavenly Father who loves us and knows what we are capable of becoming. Below are several research-driven strategies we can use to recognize and reject harmful messages about female bodies and then redefine “beauty” for ourselves in much more worthwhile ways.
Stop Negative Self-Talk: Too many girls and women have a constant script of mean thoughts about themselves running through their minds. That kind of negativity is not motivational or inspirational. In fact, it tends to show up on the outside. Recent studies show us that girls who don’t like their bodies become more sedentary over time and pay less attention to having a healthy diet. And that makes sense. If you think you’re gross and worthless, why would you take care of yourself?
Think Nice Thoughts Instead: On the flipside of the last study, research has found that girls who feel good about themselves, regardless of their weight, are more likely to be physically active and eat healthy. They are less likely to gain unnecessary weight and they make healthy lifestyle choices way into the future. Remember that what we THINK about our bodies has a strong connection to how we TREAT our bodies.
Unreal Ideals: Remember it is reasonable to assume no image we ever see of a woman in media has gone un-manipulated. As early as 1991, a media industry insider referred to the digital alteration of women as a “retouching epidemic.” And today magazine editors refer to airbrushing as an industry standard. Plus, vertical film stretching to make women appear taller and thinner is a common technique, as are filtered lenses on cameras and soft lighting, which do away with wrinkles, pores, and other so-called “blemishes.” Remember, even the ideally beautiful celebrities don’t fit the ideals!
Go on a Media Fast: Choose a day, a week, a month, or longer to steer clear of as much media as you can. That way, you can see how your life is different without all those messages and images, and when you return to viewing and reading popular media, you will be more sensitive to the messages that hurt you and those that are unrealistic.
Fight for Fitness: You can choose anything you want to work toward, whether that is running a mile in a set time, doing a certain number of push-ups or sit-ups, etc. When you set a fitness goal and work toward it, you will find you spend less time thinking about the way your body LOOKS and more time focusing on what it can DO. Reminding ourselves and encouraging others to engage in physical activity as a means for improving physical and mental health, rather than a strategy for achieving unattainable beauty ideals, is vital.
The Power of Kindness: Choose to compliment the girls and women in your life for character traits, actions, or talents you admire about them. When we choose to only acknowledge each other’s appearance, we reduce ourselves to our bodies. Females are capable of so much more! The compliments that stick with you for a lifetime are those that acknowledge your valuable qualities, like a good attitude, selflessness, talents, honesty and so much more that has nothing to do with a cute outfit or pretty hair.
Object to Objectification: Girls and women exposed to sexually objectifying messages (which are inescapable in today’s media landscape), prove to experience body hatred, learn to primarily view and value themselves for their outward appearance and actually endorse objectifying images in the future. And a particularly scary fact is that research proves these harmful messages leave females preoccupied with their physical appearance, which then hurts their performance in school (including mathematics, logical reasoning, spatial skills) and athletic activities. Yikes.
Redefining Healthy: Getting back to reality involves figuring out what “health” really means – and it’s not what media shows us. For-profit media like fitness magazines or TV shows would have us believe health and fitness are all about what we look like, and any doctor can tell us that simply isn’t true. Talk to a doctor or other health specialist to figure out what healthy really means for you individually. Work with them to set healthy goals for yourself that aren’t based off profit-driven beauty ideals.
Be Critical of Media, Not Yourself or Others: While the U.S. is the No. 1 producer and exporter of media, we are also the only industrialized country in the world without some form of media literacy in public school curriculum. We need to feel an obligation to put media under closer inspection for the influence it has in our lives. Next time you are flipping through a magazine or watching a movie, train yourself to ask important questions about what you see. If you don’t like the answers you find, remember you can turn away from the messages that hurt you!
Questions to ask yourself:
Do you feel better or worse about yourself when viewing or hearing this media?
Who is advertising here? (Look at the ads and you’ll see who is paying the bills for your favorite media messages)
Who owns the media messages you choose? (Research the company and you’ll find out who the powerful decision makers are behind the scenes)
Is the media you read and view promoting real health or impossible ideals meant to make you spend money and time?
How are females presented here? Are they valued for their talents and personality or just being looked at? Do they look like the females in your life?
To view more strategies from Beauty Redefined, go to beautyredefined.net.