As part of my overarching commitment to health and wellness, I spend time daily on the treadmill for aerobic exercise. During today’s workout, a commercial appeared on the small television screen nearby promising a new life: one of preferred shape, loveliness and happiness. I was being invited to: “Uncover the body I’ve always wanted” – the banner phrase for Athenix Body Sculpting Institute. This company claims to “help you have the body you’ve always dreamed of”. This is accomplished by plastic surgeons specializing in body contouring and who promise “the best results in the safest environment.”
Really? Are we still a culture that promotes outward body shape as something we must manipulate (for a high fee) and shave (“safely”) down to something that meets…what: cultural expectations? A media-driven lust for the perfect body? A need for happiness dictated by physical appearance? When will this insanity end? And when will resources that are truly in service to people seeking a more mindful life, one of acceptance, wise choice and wholeness, be more easily obtainable and touted by the media as important…worth pursuing, worth purchasing or borrowing from local libraries and CD/DVD sites? And what if we were guided to “reshape our lives, rather than our bodies?”
As this commercial unfolded, a frightening scene was pictured: a small group of people (NONE of whom weighed more than average for their height, none of whom were over the age of 50 (if not 40), none of whom appeared handicapped in any way and ALL of whom appeared as what our culture would call successful in their appearance, choice of clothing, makeup and jewelry) standing around a piece of sculpture, enjoying (it appeared) a sparkling beverage and plates of appetizers or small bites. This lovely little group of friends was admiring the sculpted project, a womanly figure on a pedestal that reminded me of afternoons in the Louvre in Paris or strolling through a museum in Athens. The commercial closed with one of the women reaching across the group to touch another woman, who obviously was the sculptor, with her outreached hand to congratulate her. Then the person on each side of the sculptor, a man and another woman, kissed the artist as she unveiled (in a very sexy manner) the finished product.
In my astonishment, I realized this was a commercial for “body sculpting” and not for an art class of some sort, a clothing line or a food or beverage company as might be expected by the models and the setting. I brought my workout to a pause, found this video online and watched the beginning. It showed a woman of great cultural loveliness (reminding me of Faith Hill on a casual day) enjoying her experience with clay and her progress sculpting the bust of a woman that any of us, who are raised in the United States, and possibly other countries, would most likely give our most prized possession to acquire (that is, unless we have done our work … and embraced ourselves as whole and complete). As she worked with her sculpting tool, little by little, scraped pieces of the bust curled up and fell to the table supporting the project. Little by little, this bust becomes perfect before our very eyes.
As I looked further on the AthenixBody website, I found a page that appeared questionable at first: the body of a woman with seductive shapes and curves, lovely long hair and a professional makeup job. This was not a playboy model after all but a woman posing on the “Before and After Photo Gallery” page of this website. So this is what we will look like if we spend thousands of dollars having this “safe and harmless” procedure done?
The term “body image” does not necessarily refer to what a person actually looks like. Rather, it refers to the way that a person feels about her/his body. Some of the factors that can negatively affect body image range from unrealistic expectations about appearances coming from parents, peers or friends to simply being repeatedly exposed to images of “perfect” bodies through the media. James R. Mahalik, a researcher at Boston College, asked of a large group of women to share what they thought they needed to do to conform to female norms in our culture. The top answers were: be nice, be thin, be modest and use all available resources for appearance.
The consequences of societal pressure on women to be thin are a serious matter. In fact, the word epidemic describes the horrific number of women who have eating disorders in our country. According to the National Eating Disorders Association:
- 13 million binge eat
- 10 million women battle anorexia or bulimia
- 80% of all ten year olds are afraid of being fat
The South Carolina Department of Mental Health reports:
- It is estimated that 8 million Americans have an eating disorder – seven million women and one million men
- One in every 200 American women suffers from anorexia
- Two to three in every 100 American women suffer from bulimia
- Nearly half of all Americans personally know someone with an eating disorder
- Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness
- A study by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reported that 5-10% of anorexics die within 10 years after contracting the disease; 18-20% of anorexics will be dead after 20 years and only 30-40% ever fully recover
- The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate of ALL causes of death for females 15-24 years old.
- 20% of people suffering from anorexia will prematurely die from complications related to their eating disorder, including suicide and heart problems
The U.S. Diet and Weight Loss Industry reported over 60 billion dollars in revenue last year. According to motivation expert Dr. Michelle Segar, our approach to exercise and diet sets us up to fail. Through her extensive research, Segar discovered that the cycle of failure starts with a mindset of “negativity and a lack of friendliness toward our bodies and selves.” To break that cycle of failure, we must initiate behavior change out of a place of self-acceptance and a desire to enjoy a higher quality of life. You can learn more in her article, “How to Be A Shameless Woman: Making Peace With Our Bodies, Ourselves”.
Rather than continuing to throw our money at ineffective diet plans, isn’t it time to take a closer look at how the media portrays women’s bodies and demand that advertisements cease implying that if we just sculpt a little here and there, we will be beautiful, desirable, acceptable, successful and envied? I invite you to weigh in this controversial issue. What can we do? Where do we start?
Becoming healthy and confident in body, mind and spirit can be a rich and beautiful journey – one that brings discovery and opportunity. It can be an invitation to live a life of greater beauty, dignity, wisdom and love by living our lives from our highest purpose and potential. Healthy living starts today! Let’s do all we can, each in our own way, to take a stand and let our voices be heard. Please: let’s stop this insanity.