(Johanna Goodman / Los Angeles Times)
Portola High School

Opinion: Changing the body image epidemic from within

The other night, I settled into the couch, flicking through the channels on the TV in hopes of finding an entertaining show. I eventually landed on the reality show “Botched,” where patients — mostly women — who have already had significant plastic surgery consult with a surgeon and ask for even more implants or other procedures. In this particular episode, an already thin woman requested for her two lower ribs to be removed in order to have an even smaller waist, potentially risking her health.

I tend to click away from these shows because I find it upsetting how far some are willing to go to try to better fit the impossible and constantly changing beauty standards. However, I lingered on the episode, watching the woman cry with joy when the doctor agreed to perform the surgery. While there is little debate in bettering oneself, there is great concern for individuals that take it to any extreme.

Though, as I watched the show, I realized that the woman may have not been as different from others, young and old, who may feel that they need to look thinner or have other issues with their bodies and perceive them in a poor light — and the statistics show.

According to a 2011 survey cited by CBS News, approximately 97 percent of the women surveyed from all shapes and sizes had at least one negative thought about their bodies each day. Furthermore, the study found that nearly 63 percent said that they were actually aware of their negative thoughts, though many did not realize how detrimental or vicious they were until they wrote them down on paper.

These numbers have changed far too little over the years. According to a 2017 article by Psychology Today, over 91 percent of women still feel unhappy with their bodies. These disturbing statistics point to a few causes.

One of the most cited reasons seems to be the impossible beauty standards set by the media, especially in the age of photoshop, where nearly all advertisements are touched-up to make the models look even thinner and flawless. This can leave some women who have more common body types feeling substandard, adopting maladaptive diets leading to eating disorders. Only recently has there been some increase in diversity of female models with different sizes and skin colors.


(Johanna Goodman / Los Angeles Times)

Many advertisements profit from these perceptions, making women feel as though they truly are substandard unless they purchase the product to make them thinner, reduce cellulite, white-out stretch marks or cover their imperfections. Each of these ads that people encounter daily, whether on the television or social media, promise a more “beautiful” body, and each one profits from and reinforces people’s insecurities.

Another predominant reason in the persistence of the “body image epidemic” is rooted in neuroscience. The more a person focuses on a specific thing, in this case imperfections on a body, then the neural pathways strengthen, making the negative thoughts more habitual, according to psychologist Ann Kearney-Cooke, Ph.D. This makes it difficult to reverse the negative self-talk and improve body image — though, there are solutions to change this issue.

The process to reversing a poor perception of oneself takes patience and time, just as it is when reversing a habit — and it always starts within your own mind. Some tips that Huffington Post (as well as a wide variety of other sources online) recommend include training your brain to replace each negative thought you have about your body with a positive one, meditating, surrounding yourself with positive media and avoiding joining in on discussions where people are talking poorly about themselves together. Through these, you are rewiring your mind to see yourself in a more positive and appreciative light, and in the process encouraging others to do the same for themselves, helping to stop the vicious cycle.