Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Youth Culture News: 3 Questions About Body Image

There is not doubt that body image is a huge issue for young people.  If were honest with ourselves for a minute, we could take the word "young" right out of that first sentence.  If that were not true than there would be no elective plastic surgery, breast implants or liposuction procedures. Some people have taken such issue with something that they do not like about themselves that it has driven them to extreme eating disorders and even suicide.  That is some serious stuff.  There are three distinct questions, for me, that arise from the issue.

1. Where are these issues arising from?

This issue is brought up this week with from the viral video introduced by the beauty products company Dove.  You can view the video here.

Inspirational right?  This video seems to say that these negative body image issues come, as we expected, from the inside.  That we really are better looking than we think and that other people don't notice the flaws that we see in ourselves.  I doubt that I would have taken the time to share that video if I hadn't come across this article in Scientific America by Ozgun Atasoy entitled:

You Are Less Beautiful Than You Think

You can read the post by clicking on the picture above, but basically it refutes the dove ad campaigns premise by introducing the scientific studies that give evidence to the opposite conclusion.  We as a culture tend to think of ourselves as better looking than average.  Of course, as the article points out, we tend to think of ourselves as better drivers, better workers and better students than average as well.  Somewhere between these two extremes lie the truth.

My opinion is that the ideas of what is beautiful or not come from external sources such as advertisements from beauty product companies, magazines and celebrity worship.  It leads to comparison to others either positively or negatively.  I wonder what this ad campaign would be like among some of the "mean girl" circles in the high school hallways where kids berate each others appearances behind each others backs. Probably wouldn't help to sell products if the conclusion was "you're ugly - fix it".  It is much better to say "you're beautiful - enhance it".  Both of which are faulty assumptions and do not lead to good things.

2. What long term effects do these perceptions have on society?

I could speak to this issue for a long time, but the first thought that came to my mind as I was reading all of these things came from Proverbs 31:30

Charm can be deceiving,
    and beauty fades away,
but a woman
who honors the Lord
    deserves to be praised.

Now whether you respect the Bible or not, look at the implications of this quote.  It is the unseen stuff that is the most valuable to concentrate time on.  As a society we need to stop judging each other based on the external.  The older I get the more of a reality this becomes.  When I am honest with myself I can see that I simply can't fight gravity as well.  I have more wrinkles, gray hair, sags, bumps and imperfections.  What if we took the time to find out more about the lasting characteristics of a person.  Their beliefs, their values, their strengths.  I like spending time with older people because they can't impress you with their looks and you take more time to listen to their hearts.

3. What can we do about it?

I think it is better to try to help young people learn how to think rather than try to impose rules.  For instance, I can say: stop thinking about that zit on your nose.  Of course that would be humiliating, unhelpful and counter productive.  All that kid would think about is that zit - and what a jerk I am.

I think what I will take from this is starting to talk more about my own heroes.  People I have come to love because of their viewpoint on life instead of their external attributes.  People like:

Mother Teresa


Bruxy Cavey

Shane Claiborne
Abe Lincoln

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