A Look at Body Image Issues for Women Through History

Over the years since the early 1900’s and way before the ‘body image’, especially for women has been something of a yo-yo ride. Even as far back as the early 300 B.C.’s you can see images of Egyptian women scantily clad with nothing but sensual bodies, while the men were strong and muscular, well built to both work and take care of their every growing families.

Our children are bombarded from a very young age of being a ‘weight conscious’ world. Little girls are given skinny mini Barbie dolls while boys are given muscular GI Joes. Children are bombarded with commercials of models, showing them a constant image to try to ‘be’ while being shown also that a good place to eat is a fast food restaurant. It is clearly confusing and the government does not try to make it any easier. Obesity is getting higher and higher while the rate of suicides as well as diseases such as anorexia, bulimia or even “bigorexia” just seems to be getting further and further out of hand. Yet no one seems to know what to do about our ever growing problems.

The notion of celebrity women who seem to try to ‘starve’ themselves to death caused a curiosity peak in the public eyes while horrifying them at the same time. How can one starve their self to such sickly thinness, yet how can one NOT be thin? An example of one famous person in the ’80’s to have done this to herself was Karen Carpenter. More recently was the public death of Terri Schiavo, who had such severe anorexia that it caused her to go into severe cardiac arrest, deprived her brain of oxygen for so long that she sat in a vegetative state until her recent death. Both of these cases were blasted on the television and on every news channel and newspaper that kept up with the newest news available. These cases gave all kinds of meanings, both good in some people’s eyes and bad, to those who would see it on the body images these women and how they came to their deaths. Some people only saw them as getting thin, thin, THIN. Wow! Some think and wonder how it is that they could do that also. A dangerous thought that our kids might watch a show with information on someone dying from starving themselves to death, only for our kids to see someone famous having gotten thin and blocking out the part where they died. ‘That won’t happen to them’ thinking is one of the biggest reasons why kids and women try fad diets and dangerous ways of losing weight.

Ten years before even the Karen Carpenter incidence, anorexia was thought of to be a “rare” occurrence but by the mid 1980’s, eating disorders were considered the 3rd most common health problems for adolescent females. There were approximately 300,000 anorexics and approximately a million bulimics. The scary idea to doctors and other health practitioners was that most bulimics like to ‘hide’ their symptoms and what they did with such urgency that it was thought that the number of bulimics could have been nearly doubled or more by just those ‘hidden’. What was even scarier was that at lest 5-20% of all those diagnosed died from their sicknesses. Our kids, friends and families were and are killing themselves without even ‘trying’ to commit suicide. “Cases of anorexia grew by 35% each 5 years between the years of 1950 to 1984” (After the Fact) Scary huh!

By the 1990’s these dangerous habits were now a problem for men too, but in an opposite direction. Women wanted to be (and still want to) be ultra thin, men wanted/ want to be big, muscular, enormously bulging and see results as fast as possible. Results are what everyone aimed for and when results were not being seen soon enough, dangerous extremes were turned to. First it was anorexia and bulimia, now we are adding steroids and high protein , nearly lethal diets, giving way to another form of problem to consider; bigorexia.

American consumerism does not make the choices easy thought for people to accept who they are, even though they help them to get to the point they are. The number of commercials bombarding us and our children, from as early as the 1920’s of ‘thin is in’ type thinking. In the 1920’s women were pushed to become their happy homemaker selves all over again, produce children to show you were happy and do what was ‘expected’ of them. Since then, through the early 80’s women have pushed for liberation but still have allowed themselves to be strung along by ideas that the thinner they could get, the more popular they would be, the happier they would be, the more successful they would be. After the early 1980’s women have been had many more choices of who to become, their way. The only downfall is that this thinking lead American women to a ‘fast food’ lifestyle. We are always on the go, hence the easier it is to get to or do for meal time and making, the more we go for it.

Some consumerism noticed this change in American lifestyles of people needing faster, quicker, better meals and hence the weight loss generation. The fit fast, fad diet, get thin now type of thinking that is leading our whole nation into a way of yo-yo living that we may never get out of it till it is too late. We now are shown an onslaught of commercials of fast food companies to only be also pushed by the weight loss companies. The government has not intervened by trying to stop in incessant pushing by both sides of the fence, yet they complain of how many Americans are in the obese range. Now we have women and men who go through the whole cycle of thinking it is okay to be fat or soft then in later years go through every fad diet on the planet, tearing their body’s metabolism to pieces. How can our culture know what to do or how to do it if we are constantly told so many different types of mixed messages. It is okay to be skinny, it is okay to be fat, it is okay to be muscular, and oh that is wrong isn’t it?! We are told to be skinny, muscular, but eat what we want, to work all the time, run our families everywhere and anywhere, but eat healthy even if you are living in the boondocks or traveling through the fast food capital of the world! LOL!

As far as how the Cultural Revolution has affected our socio-sexual world, it is hard to draw a line anywhere because I feel no one can really say anyone is right or wrong in how they feel. I do feel that I have seen more and more people comfortable with their bodies and with expressing their feelings and emotions in the past 80+ years. It is strange on how if you look at other societies how they treat people who are gay or ‘clandestinely’ dressed as a normal part of society. These ‘other people’ are not thought of as outcasts or weird or sick. They are just people like you and me and have the right to live just as such, happy and as healthy as they would like to be, no more no less.

An example would be if you were to travel to England, you see gay couples walking up and down the streets together and no one is shouting slurs at them or trying to push them out of their town, etc. Here in America no one seems to want anyone they know who is gay or a gay couple to be anywhere near them or their neighborhood. I think our problems stem from far more disturbing instances in our past, other than just the boldness of two people showing their affections towards each other, same sex or not. I think our culture has gotten out of hand altogether. We have so many problems that the least of which is whether or not a gay couple should get married or have the same rights. What we should be focusing on is our people who are living in poverty and worse levels; that are living for the sheer delight of ‘hurting’ another in any number of ways. The number of rapists, murderers, crime spree’s, those are VERY important issues to be fixed and dealt with. The fact that the US dollar means very little in most countries in the world, that it is very likely that we are on a financial downturn that could lead us into another depression. The fact that we want to accept all and everyone into our country but we want them to leave their family values and religions back in the country they just left. We do not really want to accept everyone in America and we are not really such an ‘accepting’ country. We just pretend to be. When we start accepting our faults, realizing our problems, work on fixing them, big time, and start accepting that humans are just that humans and all have the same inalienable rights to life and love, then and only then will we start making a mark on what we have allowed out society and commercialism to take away from us slowly but surely.

Body Image; whose body image are you trying to imitate? Is it what you want to be? Is it what society thinks you should be? Is it what the commercialists think it should be; All of them or some of them? Whose body image are you trying to imitate? Try being yourself, finding your happy place, be who YOU want to be and then, you will, if only for yourself, will have beaten the consumer commercialism at their own game! Be the best YOU that YOU can be!

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