It’s impossible not to form opinions about the body you live in. After all, whether you like it or not, it’s the breathing, oozing, sweaty, hungry, itchy vehicle you use to move through life. It’s the car you can’t park. It’s the hat you can’t take off, even if you think it looks a little stupid with your haircut. It would almost be funny how much the body evokes in each of us if the complex relationship between the interior and exterior self wasn’t such a source of pain and anguish for so many people. The vision of a body as a to-do list, a series of action items to be diminished or reshaped or smoothed out by diet and exercise and surgery and Sephora VIB Rouge points is pervasive, bolstered by advertisers looking to cash in on insecurity and the push toward body positivity in one fell swoop. And you know what? It works, because it’s not really working: According to a recent poll by the Fashion Retail Academy, a solid 57 percent of respondents ages 18-24 said they have never felt body confidence, with a slight uptick to 58 percent of people ages 24-35 expressing the same sentiment.
This particular poll was relatively small, with a total of 2,000 participants all hailing from the U.K., but the results gel with those seen in similar surveys, even ones that are decades old. A 2014 survey by Glamour found 54 percent of women were unhappy with their bodies, a spike from the 40 percent of women who felt the same way when polled by the magazine in 2011. A 1984 study found 41 percent of women expressed body dissatisfaction, results that caused researchers to coin the phrase “normative discontent” to describe the widespread dissatisfaction women experience when it comes to their weight. And although more weight is generally given to the physical appearances of other genders, men aren’t immune from body confidence issues, either. One Psychology Today study from 1997 found a whopping 88 percent of the women and 79 percent of the men polled were dissatisfied with their bodies. These numbers are especially troubling given the strong link between positive body image and overall life satisfaction. It might be tempting to dismiss body anxiety as vain, frivolous, and Instagram-driven, but it’s clear that isn’t the case. More likely, intense and unattainable beauty standards are the driving factor, because even as the medium shifts, the message remains the same: You’re not good enough, because you don’t look like [insert archetypical Hot Person of the Decade here].
So, self-love eludes the masses, as it has for generations. Where else can we turn? One alternative is the body neutrality movement, which frees believers from having to conjure up love for the body, and encourages measured indifference instead—a lofty goal, especially for marginalized people whose bodies society tends to deem even further from the “ideal.” It’s hard to set judgment aside when you feel constantly judged. I guess there’s the possibility of avoiding all mirrors like a vampire, or milling around until being Uploaded To The Cloud becomes a viable option? Or maybe just trying to do things that encourage self-love, besides Googling “how to love yourself” and buying ass-firming scrubs on Instagram. Hey, if I had the definitive answers, please know I’d blog it for you.
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