The Four Cornerstones of a Happy, Healthy Body Image: Media Literacy

Welcome to the next installment in my Four Cornerstones of a Happy, Healthy Body Image series. If you  missed the first two installments, here they are:

Introduction

Thought Control

And a reminder of the Four Cornerstones:

Cornerstones_Picasa_120713

Today we’re going to talk about media literacy. I hate to admit it, but I wasn’t truly aware of how much messages from the media were impacting me until, oh, six months ago. Once I realized that every ad and every magazine was a cog in the Giant Machine Designed To Make Women Feel Bad In Order To Sell Them Stuff, my perceptions of myself, my world, and how I viewed my body really, really changed.

First of all, let’s talk about something I’m sure you’re familiar with: Photoshopping and otherwise altering images in order to make them appear more appealing. These days this gif of the beautiful Jennifer Lawrence and her own Photoshop incident has been making the rounds:

Jennifer Lawrence

And you’ve probably seen this, too:

So, logically we all know that the images we see everywhere, from magazines to the internet to videos and movies are altered and not realistic, but it seems highly plausible that many of us don’t really remember that. Obviously, if we’re constantly being told that we should look a certain way, and that way is unattainable even to people who are paid to be beautiful, it’s going to do some damage. (Not to mention that the idea we should look a certain way in the first place in order to be loved, valued, or healthy is ridiculous.)

Being force-fed these images and ideals constantly, along with the incredibly frequent stories in magazines that are trying to get us to lose weight (underlying message: you’re not good enough unless you’re on a diet or already very slim, regardless of your cholesterol, resting heart rate, blood pressure, or mental, spiritual, or emotional health) leaves us no choice: We feel like we’re Doing It Wrong all the time. Sadly, most of us do ultimately buy into this message, if the 61 Billion per year we spent in 2013 (in the US alone) on weight loss diets and gimmicks is any indication. How are we supposed to have a positive body image if we’re being forever told something is wrong with us?

Over the summer I read Mirror, Mirror Off The Walland author Kjerstin Gruys lists the three questions she teaches her students to ask regarding media. I can’t remember what they are verbatim, but they definitely got me thinking about what I should consider every single time I see an ad in the magazine (or read another story in a fitness magazine that tells me how to eat 1300 calories a day). My version of the three four questions you must ask:

  1. What is this product (or article/story) selling me? On the surface it probably seems pretty clear: shinier hair, stronger nails, less cellulite, thinner thighs, brighter teeth, a cleaner butt (hey, I’ve seen ads for it). You need to dig deeper, though, and ask:
  2. What is this ad (or article/story) telling me? Usually they’re telling you that whatever they want you to buy is what you need to be the optimal you. In other words: Your hair is too dull, your nails are too weak, you clearly have way, way too much cellulite, your thighs are too broad, your teeth are too dull, and your butt, well, your butt should definitely be cleaner, and if you don’t hop to it and fix all of these things, you’re doomed to be miserable/alone/jobless/homeless/loveless/fired.
  3. How does this ad (or article/story) make me feel? It probably makes you feel bad if the product in question is promising to fix something you perceive as being wrong with you. Lipstick adds and teeth whitening ads don’t mean jack to me, but seeing an ad or reading a magazine article about weight loss or toning up always made me feel like something was wrong with me, so in other words: sad and bad about myself.
  4. What do I want to believe about this ad (or article/story) and about myself? You want to get to a point where you see an ad and it doesn’t have any impact on your personal happiness or perceptions of yourself. It doesn’t make you feel bad, it doesn’t make you question your image or body, and it doesn’t make you feel that if you don’t alter yourself immediately that you are not worthy. Instead of thinking about what the ad wants you to change, think about what good things you have going for you, instead. Try changing your thoughts instead of continuing to believe the crap.

Got it? Start today, start right now. Instead of letting media messages into your brain with no idea of the impact they’re having, stop and pay attention. Really think about it–your health and happiness may very well depend on it.

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