By Majd Saif
When you think about the ideal body image, what crosses your mind? You probably think of a bodybuilder with a chiseled six pack or a gorgeous model with a small waist. The idea of the “perfect” body image in today’s society stems from the misguided idealism of the media. You see them in Hollywood movies, beauty magazines and even marketing advertisements. My question is, how come the media never shows the real body image of the average everyday person? Since a young age, our generation has been influenced by what the perfect body should look like. It is implanted in our minds that we should look a certain way without us even realizing it. This brings me to my argument. Do we, as the general public, exercise to be healthy or to look good? I believe that we work out to look good and not so much about health.
Throughout my research process I have surveyed teens, young adults and older adults and received mixed results. Most people said it was more about being healthy and others said it was about both, the health and the look factor. But my opinion differs from the majority. I believe that most people work out to look good. It was, has, and will always be about the look. Allow me to elaborate on my statement. The reason I believe that we care more about the image is because if it was really about the health then we would be committed to a healthier life style. We wouldn’t be smoking, drinking and we defiantly wouldn’t be eating fast food. Even the meat and veggies that we buy at the grocery store are not as healthy as you might think. Most produce sold in stores has been genetically modified such as pesticides in produce, hormones in milk and antibiotics in meat. These are all chemicals that can be harmful to the human body. If we cared more about health, then we would be more concerned with what we consume and put more effort into finding organic and healthier nutrition alternatives. But the idea of fast food is just so much more convenient and appealing.
The idea of looking good may outweigh the desire to be healthy because looking muscular or having an hour glass figure projects the image of being healthy. This is why some people might be driven to take higher measures to achieve the look they want. Some of these methods may include plastic surgery, liposuction, implants and anabolic steroids. However, there are some people who work out regularly for health benefits. Interestingly, when I conducted a survey the majority of the ones who stated that they exercised for health reasons, have emphasized that looking good gave them the confidence, thus bringing it back full circle to the “image.”
While researching the subject of body image I came across an interesting article written In The Atlantic by Jamie Santa Cruz. In it she explains the pressure that men face about their image and how it is over shadowed by the idea that only women face the stereotypical body standards.
“Culturally, we’re becoming well attuned to the pressure girls are under to achieve an idealized figure. But researchers say that lately, boys are increasingly feeling the heat. A new study of a national sample of adolescent boys, published in the January issue of JAMA Pediatrics, reveals that nearly 18 percent of boys are highly concerned about their weight and physique. They are also at increased risk for a variety of negative outcomes: Boys in the study who were extremely concerned about weight were more likely to be depressed, and more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors such as binge drinking and drug use. The trend toward weight obsession among boys is cause for worry, says Dr. Alison Field, an associate professor of pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital and the lead author of the study. “You want people to be concerned enough about their weight to make healthy decisions,” she says, “but not so concerned that they’re willing to take whatever means it takes—healthy or unhealthy—to achieve their desired physique.”(Cruz)
The media has a direct effect on how the general public views what is and what isn’t acceptable in regard to the standard of perfect physical attractiveness. According to research conducted by the Social Issues Research Centre, attractive people have an advantage over less attractive people. Some of the statistics were extremely odd and shocking. Studies have shown that attractive people are often given a lighter sentence in court. Taller men have a higher chance of getting jobs. Attractive students are more popular in school and teachers hold them at a higher standard than less attractive students. Our misguided society has created a stigma that attractive people have higher intelligence, confidence, and a higher social ranking.
The body image standards have changed dramatically throughout history. In the 1910’s The “Gibson Girl” was the ideal of female beauty. The 1920’s was the age of the “The Flappers” with shorter dresses, pinned hair and “scandalous” looks. Decades later in the 1960’s the “Twiggy” age entered. Twiggy Lawson, a fashion model, launched the skinny body and long leg image. She began the “skinny and slender” trend in the modeling industry that continues to this day. Dr. Harrison Pope, a psychiatrist who studies why American men are becoming increasingly obsessed with their bodies. Pope demonstrated the change in the male body image by showing the evolution of G.I. Joe action figures. From the 1960’s, what seems to be a normal looking man to the change in the 1970’s where muscle definition was added. The G.I. Joe figure increased in size and muscle definition throughout the years, which portrays him as a bodybuilder rather than anaverage man as it did in the 1960’s.
According to a study conducted by Heart of Leadership, which states “While research shows that women are more concerned with their weight and obesity, men are more concerned with their muscle mass and fitness definition. A study was done by The Better Health in Australia about men’s body image, “17 per cent of men are dieting at any given time. Those diets are not always nutritionally sound. One in four people with anorexia nervosa is now male and around 20% of regular exercisers are addicted to exercise, either psychologically or physically. Nearly 3% of Australian teenage boys use muscle-enhancing drugs.”
After spending countless hours researching articles, analyzing statistics and surveying people, I have concluded that the majority of people who do work out regularly, do it mostly for the look and not so much for health. We live in a society where perception is everything, and everyone strives to have the “perfect” body.
Years from now when I’m old and grumpy, I want to be able to look back at the photos from then and proudly say, “I looked like a Spartan!” I don’t want to look back and have any regrets about the way I looked. For example, no matter how much you take care of your vehicle, sooner or later that vehicle becomes old and starts to break down and eventually ends up in the junkyard. We are no different because no matter how much of a healthy lifestyle we live, we all will grow old, wrinkly and our bodies will start to breakdown. In the end we all end up in the grave yard the same way as vehicles end up in the junkyard.
• Gordon, Rachel A., Robert Crosnoe, and Xue Wang. Physical Attrictiveness and the Accumulation of Social and Human Capital in Adolescence and Young Adulthood: Assets and Distractions. Vol. 78. Hoboken, NJ: Society for Research in Child Development, 2013. N. pag. Print.
Online Newspaper Articles:
• Santa Cruz, Jamie. “Body-Image Pressure Increasingly Affects Boys.” The Atlantic 10 Mar. 2014: 1+. Web. 10 Dec. 2014. <http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/03/body-image-pressure-increasingly-affects-boys/283897/>.
• Board, Editorial. “Society’s body image expectations are unrealistic.” The Triangle 26 Apr. 2013. Web. 10 Dec. 2014. <http://thetriangle.org/op-ed/editorial/societys-body-image-expectations-arent-necessarily-attainable/>.
• Bahadur, Nina. “It’s Amazing How Much The ‘Perfect Body’ Has Changed In 100 Years.” The Huffington Post 6 Feb. 2014. Web. 10 Dec. 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/05/perfect-body-change-beauty-ideals_n_4733378.html>.
• “Body Image.” Brown University Health Promotion. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2014. Path: http://www.brown.edu/Student_Services/Health_Services/Health_Education/nutrition_&_eating_concerns/body_image.php.
• Fox, Kate. “Mirror, Mirror.” Social Issues Research Centre. N.p., 1997. Web. 10 Dec. 2014. Path: http://www.sirc.org/publik/mirror.html.
• “Statistics on Body Image, Self Esteem & Parental Influence.” Heart Of Leadership. N.p., 5 June 2011. Web. 10 Dec. 2014. <http://www.heartofleadership.org/statistics-on-body-image-self-esteem-parental-influence/>.
• “body image men.” Better Health. Better Health Channel, Oct. 2012. Web. 10 Dec. 2014. <http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Body_image_issues_for_men?open>.