According to one study, British undergraduates were willing to give up years of their life in order to achieve what they considered to be the ideal body.
One-third of the participants were willing to give up a year of their life, while 10% were willing to give up two to five years. [source]
Of course, the study was small with a limited diversity of participants. We can’t say for certain that all women would give up a year of their life for their ideal body.
But I wouldn’t be shocked by the notion.
Why would women go so far for the perfect body
Glamour Magazine conducted a survey of young women across the U.S. in that same year to determine how often the participants had a negative or anxious thought about their bodies over the course of one day.
Ninety-seven percent had at least one “I hate my body” moment every day. On average, the women had thirteen negative thoughts daily. And more than half of these respondents weren’t surprised by the number of negative thoughts they had.
Feeling anxious and negative about our bodies is a societal norm. In fact, if we don’t play the fat-talk game we are considered immodest or worse (just watch Mean Girls and you’ll catch what I am saying).
Things really haven’t changed since 2011, either.
A recent TODAY/AOL survey found that women on average worried more about their appearance than finances, health, family/relationships, or professional success.
And moms seem to worry the most. Seventy-three percent of moms, as compared to sixty-five percent of women without children worried about their appearance.
Then those moms topped it off with a little side of guilt, with fifty-seven percent worried about how their own body image issues affected their children.
The average woman is most concerned with her stomach, but her skin, thighs, cellulite, and butt follow close behind.
Eighty-two percent of women in this survey felt like they could lose weight, while sixty-six percent don’t like having their picture taken and more than half worry that they are being judged on their appearance.
The sad fact is they’re right.
A study conducted in 1989 on 2,792 women and 2,465 men found a significant correlation between body mass index (BMI) and education, income, occupation, and marital status in both sexes.
While this study could show a relationship, it did not show a cause. Did higher BMI’s lead to lower social statue or the other way around?
Read also: The Body Weight Factor
It’s hard to say, but what we do know for certain is that weight bias does exist.
Those who carry excess weight are less likely to be hired for a job or promoted than their equally qualified, slimmer counterparts. And the obese often receive lower quality of care in health care situations.
Women experience higher rates of weight discrimination than men. Women also experience weight discrimination at lower levels of excess weight than men, with women noting discrimination at a BMI of only 27.
Note: the BMI of the average American woman is 28.5. While BMI can overestimate the body fat of those with a muscular build and underestimate body fat in those experiencing muscle loss, like the elderly, it is a simple measure of obesity. Just like the scale is not a measure of your worth (or health), neither is your BMI score.
The less a woman looks like a Victoria Secret Angel the less successful she is likely to be in her career, education, and relationships.
Which is probably why we fear the idea of being fat. In fact, 72% of Americans would rather have debt than an extra 25 pounds. [source]
We all worry about getting fat
Neuroscientists scanned the brains of women of all sizes to determine the extent to which we are affected by thoughts of gaining weight.
What they found was that even women with a normal perception of body image (i.e. women who claimed to not care about body issues) still had brain scans that showed concern about getting fat.
The spikes in the area of the brain that involves thoughts of self-worth even occurred in normal weight women when they were shown images of larger bodies and asked to “imagine someone saying ‘your body’ looks like hers.”
Okay, so this tiny study doesn’t prove that all women are concerned with becoming overweight, but it does illustrate that even normal weight women and women without body image issues are affect by the idea of gaining weight and being judged by others as fat.
We know we are being judged on how we look
So often we are told we worry more about what we look like than anyone else; that we are all too self-centered to notice what others look like.
But, let’s be honest, that is just not true.
Because we know that we judge others on how they look. It is a rare creature that doesn’t.
And we watch and listen to others in their judging.
We see overweight and obese actresses play the maid or the funny sidekick but never the romantic lead in our favorite movies.
We celebrate the plus-size model appearing in our favorite magazine, even though she is wearing a size 10.
We cheer for the Biggest Loser, believing that their lives will be phenomenal when they leave the Ranch because they are 100 pounds lighter.
The culture of America holds tight to the beliefs that obesity and fatness equal laziness and gluttony.
Obese people are to blame for their condition and therefore deserve what they get, or so the attitudes go.
It’s your fault you’re fat
That’s what the average American believes anyways.
In a culture steeped in the belief that anyone can achieve the American Dream, and your success and life are in your control, it’s easy to see how our attitudes on weight have come to be.
Yet sociologists have shown us that there are far more factors to achieving the American Dream than hard work and perseverance.
And the same is true for our weight. Obesity is a complex issue with hundreds, if not thousands, or contributing factors.
Everything from your gut microbiome, antibiotic use, stress levels, activity levels, sugar consumption, access to whole foods, portion sizes, high calorie snacking, inexpensive processed foods, government subsidies and recommendations, advertising, work and family schedules, education, and mental and emotional well-being.
And how many of these factors are actually 100% under your control?
What you eat really isn’t even under your control.
What you eat is controlled by how much money you make, what foods are available in your area, and what you have the time to prepare (thinking of all those folks out there working two to three jobs just so they can reach the poverty line).
And even if the government offers assistance … well take a look at what you can get with food stamps.
Where do we go from here
The point of this article wasn’t to depress you or imply that you shouldn’t ever hope of feeling good about how you look (even if it seems to be the case).
I’m also never going to say that your looks don’t matter. Because unfortunately the evidence is clear that what you look like (weight, skin color, height) all have an impact on how you are perceived and treated in our (American) culture.
Society will only change when individuals change.
Which starts with you.
First observe your own beliefs regarding the size of a person.
Examine the two photos below. Look at photo number one and write down the thoughts that come to mind. Free flow it, don’t judge or censor.
Now, do the same with this next photo.
Are there any differences? Were you surprised by any of your attitudes or beliefs?
Next, become aware of the times you hear someone being judged for their looks, by you or someone around you. What attitude or beliefs have they placed on that person based on the way they look? Do you, or they, know the person’s story? What has the judgment said about the worth given the individual?
Now speak up. Don’t laugh at fat jokes or participate in fat-shaming.
Instead point out how damaging they can be. When someone makes a comment about a stranger’s weight, suggest that they do not know the life of the person, from their medical history to the stresses in their life that may be contributing to their weight.
Last, take some time to become aware of just how often you complain (even internally) about how you look.
Write down the words that you say to yourself.
Step back and look at those words. In fact, instead of writing them down, record your voice saying them and then listen the recording.
Really listen to yourself say those words. Would you ever say those words to someone you love. Would you ever measure your child’s worth on the size or shape of their butt?
We can’t expect society to stop judging people by their weight if we cannot stop judging ourselves by the same measure.
I’m not saying it’s easy.
But wouldn’t it be wonderful if someday a young college woman wouldn’t even consider giving up a second of her life for thinner thighs or a flat belly?
It starts with giving up our own self judgments (my own included), our own damaging internal dialogue (again, I’m guilty as well).
It starts with honoring our bodies and the bodies around us for the amazing miracles they are.
My name is Maria. I am a fitness instructor by morning/evening, & an avid reader & fitness coach when I can fit it in. I write about being a new mom, a fitness instructor, a wife, and a lover of life!