They say the mirror doesn’t lie, but is that really true? Scientists say: “Maybe not so”. Whenever you check yourself out in the mirror, what you see might not be as objective as you think it is.
Of course, we trust our vision and assume it will give us accurate information, but it is a fact that our perception is very much challenged and redefined by external stimuli. Dr. Matthew Longo from the University College of London Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience experimented on the human brain, only to find out that there is not a single mechanism that plays into our perception. He concluded that the brain uses many parts of the nervous system in addition to the visual system for more extraneous input, creating more complexity and thus inaccuracy. It reshapes our seemingly objective image based on our personal experience, what we think we should look like, what we think is expected of us and our self-deprecation due to having failed to abide by a universal beauty standard.
Nobody can and will feel comfortable with the way they look every single day. Sometimes we cannot help but give way to negative thoughts on our body image, and there is nothing wrong with that – as long as we can translate those negative thoughts into productive actions. As humans, we are prone to thinking critically, to asking questions, and to being critical of ourselves as well as others. In moderation, this process creates a positive impact and helps us discover ways of improvement. With the help of critical thinking, we can reinterpret the information we perceive on our body image and figure out how to be more comfortable with ourselves. We can use it as a way to reaffirm our presence as an individual and remember that our efforts are not for others’ pleasure, but for ourselves.
All of this, however, is easier said than done. Critical thinking can sometimes go too far, to the extent that our negative body image can force us into a world of desperation, dissatisfaction and low self-esteem. Societal pressure can make us even adapt obsessive behavior, which could lead to serious mental illness; including anxiety, depression, and eating disorder.
Anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa and over-exercising are few of the most prominent and common body image diseases. People dealing with bulimia cannot control their eating habits and therefore binge eat. In order to reduce the physical consequences of their excessive eating, they either choose to throw up or use laxatives to enhance bowel movement before complete digestion happens. Anorexic people, on the other hand, live with the fear of gaining weight. They perceive themselves overweight even when they are exceptionally thin and unhealthy. One in 200 women in the United States suffer from anorexia, and two to three out of 100 women struggle with bulimia.
Body image becomes a more significant issue as the holiday season approaches. For those who have been waiting for this season since January 2, 2015, good times are near: spending time with family and close friends, buying and receiving presents, drinking hot chocolate, indulging in fatty food, and the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show 2015. If you just said “Wait, what?,” here is a recap for you.
Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show has recently managed to enter the millennial list of holiday activities after the company revamped its image through its models or let’s say; “angels”. The show aims at celebrating the end of the year, introducing a new form of live entertainment while also promoting its 2016 winter lingerie line.
As body image becomes an overarching factor in millennials’ lives, the obsession with what is appreciated has successfully been replacing previous traditions and values. Instead of watching Grinch and reflecting on the season, friendship and love, majority of us are mesmerized by a fashion show and voluntarily reflect negatively on our body image. According to a survey conducted by the National Institute on Media and Family, 40 percent of girls 9 and 10 years old “have tried to lose weight and by age thirteen, 53% of American girls are ‘unhappy with their bodies’”. By the time American girls are seventeen, this percentage goes up to 78%. Especially young women look up to these “angels,” and unfortunately they forget who they are and what they are worth.
“Comparison is the thief of joy” said Teddy Roosevelt almost a 100 years ago. Today, his statement has more significance at a time when comparison has become a mainstream pastime. Millennials go online, see images and feel pressured into fitting those images. They fall into problematic behavior through seemingly harmless idiosyncrasies or mental illness with serious consequences.
What if you do not know how to defy this pseudo-status quo? A few years ago, Lizzie Velasquez was surfing the internet when she came across an 8-second clip called “World’s Ugliest Woman”. The moment she pressed play, she realized that she was the woman in the video: She was the ugliest woman on earth. Although she was branded that superlative by people who have never even met her in person, she knew she was more than that. She knew about her health restraints that kept her away from gaining weight. She had already undergone various surgeries just to stay alive. Velasquez, now 26, has her own TED Talk to tell young girls like herself not to be afraid and embrace who they are. She advocates against body shaming and shows the world that she is more than who people think she is.
We should all remember that social expectations are a product of the brain, so is our judgment and our will to rise above these expectations. We have the power to define who we are; from what we see in the mirror to who we aspire to be. As our mainstream culture changes and imposes new images to look up to, one thing does not and will not change: the value of being human. Through compassion and understanding what it really means to be human, we can learn to love ourselves and love others. The rest is just details.
by Deniz Cam