Life Style

The emphasis on appearance: Body image issues

The emphasis on appearance: Body image issues
By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 5/26/2019 5:38:27 AM IST

 “Most important, in order to find real happiness, you must learn to love yourself for the totality of who you are and not just what you look like” (Portia de Rossi). 

We live in society where physical appearance has come to play a huge role, for both men and women. We judge ourselves and others on the basis of outward appearance. There has always been a tendency to favour those who fit in with the existing body image ethos; however, now people have begun to set very stringent criterion for themselves, constantly comparing themselves to those perceived as being “perfect.” Exaggerating this is the transition that has occurred over the last few decades, wherein many individuals connect more to a virtual identity than a real one. 

Since the beginning of civilization, there have been norms associated with physical appearance. Often, these norms were intertwined with existing gender roles, reflecting the broader ethos of a particular society. There was a time the world bowed to Marilyn Monroe, who boasted a curvaceous figure and this was considered desirable by many. Today, this isn’t desirable and a lot of women are struggling to accept their bodies. This is not to say that men have been exempted from the syndrome of perfection. There is tremendous pressure on the male gender to fit into idealized notions and huge numbers of them are succumbing to this. 

Exaggerating the discrepancy between reality and arbitrary notions of beauty are mass media, social media, and the health industry. Ever since social media has made a visible presence on the global stage, a huge majority of individuals have been drawn into a vortex. Without realizing, people began prioritizing the identities they build for themselves on social media platforms. More effort and time to modify their appearance because they were all chasing the “perfect body image.” 

With a hectic work life and fast-food culture, obesity has been on the rise and there is an imminent need for people to adopt a healthier lifestyle. The focus here needs to be on why someone wants to lose weight or look a certain way. Unconsciously, the media has been able to link our physical appearance to the eventual outcome of happiness. The idea that if you look a certain way, it will pave the road to happiness is a narrative that has been built over a long span of time. 

What makes body image and body dissatisfaction so important is its link to self esteem. The perception of our body and the feelings associated with the image has a huge influence on our self concept and self esteem. Adolescence is the period during which we become conscious of our changing bodies. Due to the biological, social and psychological changes, adolescents are vulnerable to body dissatisfaction. Low self esteem has been identified as a risk factor in depression, eating disorders and substance dependence. In an attempt to overcome perceived flaws in one’s physical appearance, people are likely to engage in a multitude of risk taking behaviours- not eating enough, using drugs, using steroids and so on. 

A life fuelled by body dissatisfaction will be one characterized by constant comparisons, persistent negative self evaluations and despair. There is a need to change the social perception and gender norms. We have to be able to look beyond physical appearance and appreciate the nuances of being human. Perhaps we need to focus on the real life, building real relationships, meaningful experiences and less dependence on a virtual identity. Special attention needs to be paid to the adolescent population. Parents ought to emphasize holistic development while providing an unconditionally supportive atmosphere. 

As a society, we have to strive to change the narrative. Only then can we inculcate an inclusive approach that accepts diversity in all its shades and forms.

Parvathy Nair, Clinical Psychologist, Pure Mind Clinic,


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