Beauty Redefined Blog

No Prince Charming Can Conquer Your Body Image Battle

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When it comes to how you feel about your body, you’re not a damsel in distress. Yes, you might be a damsel and your body image might be in distress, but no dashing prince can rescue you from this one. No matter how strong or charming or handsome, no man can ever really save you from the yucky, painful darkness of body shame or appearance obsession. YOU are in charge of your fate in this story. Fortunately, you’ve got a lot of help on your side to ensure that you not only survive, but THRIVE and bask in your beautiful, powerful, healthy glory … if you decide you want to.

The Fairy Tale-ish Scenario:

You don't need her body proportions OR a prince to win the body image battle!

Protagonist (who we’re rooting for): YOU. Or any other female dealing with body anxiety, shame, or preoccupation with weight or any aspect of appearance. I know, it’s tough to imagine a real female protagonist in a fairy tale, but remember this isn’t your typical fairy tale!

Antagonist (villains, evil forces, anything in the protagonist’s way): Profit-driven media. Haters. That script running through your mind. Well-meaning family members, friends, romantic partners who say stuff. You know the stuff: “Didn’t Beyonce lose all her baby weight in 6 weeks?” “You look exactly like [insert the last name you want to hear]!” “Are you OK? You look so tired.”

The Dilemma: Body shame and anxiety, preoccupation with appearance. The vast majority of women and girls in the U.S. are shown to feel terrible about their bodies. More than half of adult women claim their bodies “disgust” them and 90 percent of women are dissatisfied with their appearance (Dove International, 2007). Two-thirds of adolescent girls wish they were thinner, though only 16% are actually overweight, and 35 % of 6 to 12-year-old girls have been on at least one diet (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2010). When girls and women are disgusted with their bodies, it consumes their lives. Constant fear of being looked at, non-stop clothing or makeup or hair adjusting, worrying about what they look like at every moment — all of that amounts to the equivalent of being locked in Sleeping Beauty’s dungeon. Females who experience body shame — regardless of what they actually look like — are less likely to exercise regularly, more likely to make poor eating choices, and they perform worse on all types of skills tests — from throwing a softball to solving math problems.

Supporting Character: Dashing Prince … or intelligent prince, or charming prince, or hilarious prince (or all four) — this is your current or future romantic partner. In a regular fairy tale, this person would save the day. This hero would rescue you, the helpless and beautiful damsel in distress, from whatever forces were working against you. This person would save the day, get all the credit, and whisk you away to happily ever after. But the villain in this story is a bit too powerful for even the Dashing Prince to conquer. This is not a battle for a man; this is a female fight.

The Battle Story: Negative body image is a crushing force that, as mentioned, most females in the U.S. (and similar societies) struggle with on a daily basis. Men can be a huge help in this fight, and they can also be a huge hindrance in this fight, but they can never conquer it for you. Since body image is such a complex matter, and is influenced by so many outside and inside factors, it doesn’t really matter how many times your boyfriend, husband or significant other tells you you’re beautiful, or compliments your appearance in some other way — that just doesn’t solve the problem for people who struggle with body anxiety and shame. It would be nice if it were that easy!

At Beauty Redefined, we’ve received countless comments and messages from men with serious concern for their girlfriends’, wives’, sisters’ and friends’ body image issues — whether it’s the painful self-consciousness that holds them back from ever putting on a swimmingsuit, the disordered eating she privately maintains “just until she fits in those old jeans,” the unnecessary cosmetic surgery procedure she’s going into debt for when she’s got bills to pay and no perceivable flaws to fix, or preoccupation with some aspect of her appearance that distracts her from anything else more worthwhile. Body shame harms relationships and families just as much as it harms individual women.

An awesome Beauty Redefined supporter in Texas, Kristin Hastings, wrote us this short but powerful message that reflects countless others we’ve heard and received since starting this fight:

“I can’t tell you the difference reading your articles has made in my marriage. I turned to my husband the other day and said, “Hey, you know what? I am beautiful!” and he said, “Kristin, I have been trying to convince you of that for the last three years.” I feel like someone has finally given me permission to stop loathing myself, and to start living my life.”

Kristin and her beautiful baby girl representing for Beauty Redefined in our latest project!

Kristin’s account gives me goosebumps not only because it’s exactly the influence I want Beauty Redefined to have, but because it is true. Her husband could have told her years ago that she didn’t need to worry so much about her appearance — and it sounds like he definitely had — but it wasn’t until she did the legwork (or mindwork) herself that she really believed it. That legwork is a process of learning to recognize and reject the harmful messages we’ve been sold about women’s bodies since birth. Profit-driven images and messages have convinced us and reminded us that women are primarily meant to be looked at, and are valued (and devalued) solely for their appearances. That means any part of our bodies, faces and beings we can be persuaded to see as a “flaw” or in need of “fixing” brings in HUGE money for a variety of industries.

We see new flaws invented constantly, whether it’s those unsightly underarms in need of Dove’s “armpit makeover” or those insufficient eyelashes in need of Latisse’s prescription may-cause-blindness-and-discoloring-of-skin-around-the-eye solution. Women tend to be the main consumers in the household — they control the cash. Therefore, notice no one cares about men’s unsightly armpits or insufficient eyelashes*.

Part of the legwork in Kristin’s battle against body shame was through increasing her media literacy. She did that by reading up on the research on our site and informing herself about the influence of media on teaching women to view themselves as objects to be looked at. That’s a great place to start! By learning to recognize which messages are harmful to body image and why, you give yourself the power to reject them — either by turning away from it or, if you’re not quite ready to cancel the subscription or give up that TV show, looking with a critical eye about why the messages and images are engineered the way they are, and consciously keeping tabs on what it does to your self-perception.

Protagonist beware: the media dragon has to be slayed over and over and over again. This is not a one-time fight where you figure out that the camera zooming up and down all the female characters’ bodies in your favorite show is influencing you to view them as an object, and then you’re done. Nope. These media dragons are pretty sneaky and more dangerous than they seem once you get used to seeing them in the dungeons where you visit them all the time.

Still, conscoius awareness of these not-so-secret media dragons and their power to influence a woman’s self-perception gives the protagonist in any body image battle some real empowerment. Kristin’s story continued as she describes how her new-found media literacy gave her the power to fight back:

“For some reason (even as I type this), I feel this vague unease that maybe I’m not allowed to claim beauty as the normal, imperfect-looking person that I am — but then I remember that I’ve been trained to feel that way by companies whose only objective is profit, and the stick-it-to-the-man side of me kicks in. I will not let my feeling of worth depend on my beauty, and I will not let my feeling of beauty depend on an advertising campaign, for pete’s sake.”

Turn your back on that evil inner voice.

But what happens when the dragons to slay are a little closer to home than expected? Like, in your own head? Too many girls and women have a constant script of mean thoughts about themselves running through their minds. That kind of negativity is not motivational or inspirational — in fact, it’s debilitating. That mean mumbling under your breath when you catch your reflection in the glass door is actually a pretty powerful force that keeps women stuck in their own body anxiety. It takes conscious effort to turn off that negativity and replace it with anything — seriously, anything — else, but it has to be done! The best replacement for that negativity is positivity. Yes, you’ll feel like a dummy, but you’ve gotta slay those mental dragons with some mental self-love: try “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me. And I’m beautiful.”

Sometimes the antagonist isn’t just harmful media messages or your own inner mean girl, it’s also other characters in your own story. Sometimes it’s the wicked stepmother, the evil queen, or the jealous townspeople (notice the stereotypical catfight fairytale themes) … but sometimes it’s the so-called Prince Charming. You — the powerful, media literate protagonist — have the power to recognize and reject all the negative body image influences in your life, even if you love him (or her). We truly hope the people in your life are helping you love your body more, and are steering you toward positive health choices and away from self-objectification and body shame. But if they’re not, straight-forward conversation can go a long way to give someone a look into your internal struggles, shut down critical comments, or help someone understand you’re more than just a body to look at. You can use just about anything we’ve written as a catalyst to start that conversation. However uncomfortable it may be, the body image subject is a crucial one to discuss with your current or future significant other — what hurts, what helps, what you struggle with, what your goals are and what he can do to assist you are all critical conversation points.

Unfortunately, sometimes people aren’t so receptive to teaching, and in that case, the “reject” option might be promising. Another Beauty Redefined supporter, we’ll call her Kara, shared this story about dealing with her not-so-charming prince:

“In a roundabout way you girls have helped me in so many ways, from reminding me of my true worth to helping me get out of a bad relationship. A few months after I moved down here I started dating someone whose views of women are definitely driven by the media. He was never happy with my appearance and was always on my case about going tanning, coloring my hair, or purchasing and wearing clothes that showed off my body. He made me feel like all I was to him was “eye candy.” I asked him if he would go to your presentation with me and he refused because he didn’t like the feminist messages you were teaching women. That was the last straw and it gave me the courage to take a stand for myself and get him OUT of my life.”

Once the media messages dragon and the negative self-talk dragon have been slayed and Prince Charming has been educated and recruited to join the battle, you are well on your way to positive body image-ever-after! I wish I could tell you that once the battle has been fought and those dragons have been conquered, you can ride with Prince Charming off into the sunset, happily ever after. But I can’t — and you know why.

This dragon will be back.

It’s because you’re going to get too comfortable with that crappy media that focuses only on bodies, and you’re going to wonder if maybe the Victoria’s Secret catalog would make good motivation to get you to the gym, and you’re going to let that inner mean girl back into your head, and you’re going to get a new Prince Charming who isn’t so enlightened and says dumb things about other women’s bodies non-stop, and your mom is going to make a comment that cuts your body positivity down a few notches, and you’re going to have a baby and still carry extra weight and a stretched-out stomach for months or years afterward — regardless of what Beyonce does or doesn’t look like two months later. All kinds of dragons are going to pop up when you least expect them, but staying conscious of what they are and how they’re conquered is immensely powerful.

When you begin to realize your worth and can really say and believe that YOU are beauty redefined, your life will be much happier and more fulfilling than any amount of appearance-fixation could ever bring. You’ll see the beauty and power you already possess and you’ll multiply it exponentially by believing it and showing what beauty can and should mean. As you move forward beginning to believe in what you are capable of and who you really are, NOT what big industries want you to believe, you will change lives and bring light to a world so in need of your light. Start with this list of strategies for girls and women, and don’t hesitate to share this list of strategies for boys and men who want to help. Males are a crucial component in the body image battle, but they don’t get to be the hero of your body image story — YOU do!

 
*Of course men are increasingly targeted by anxiety-inducing advertising and are experiencing increased levels of body shame. We hate that. No one wins by bringing men down too. The focus of this piece is on females, who are predominantly targeted in appearance-related media and experience staggeringly higher levels of body anxiety.

 

  1. Kristine
    Kristine06-12-2012

    While I think it’s really important to work to empower women to love their own bodies, I don’t think it’s beneficial to shame those for whom men played an important part of that journey to self-love. When you bold the phrase “This is not a battle for a man; it’s a female fight” you’re not only upholding a problematic gender binary, but you’re alienating those of us whose journeys involved men in significant ways. I was always really self conscious about the size of my butt and thighs and it wasn’t until I started being naked with male sexual partners who found them attractive that I came to reframe my own vision of them as glorious and wonderful. I realize that ultimately that is work that I did myself because I could have chosen not to believe them, but that journey to embracing my body was catalyzed and supported by men and I love and appreciate them for that. I have had to work through feeling like that makes me a “bad feminist” but ultimately i think it’s important to have a vision of feminism where all paths to self love are valued rather than shaming people whose paths involve men in deep and significant ways.

    • Beauty Redefined
      Beauty Redefined06-12-2012

      Of course that doesn’t make you a “bad feminist!” That’s a fantastic story that many of us share — so I’m having a hard time seeing here how I’m shaming anyone whose journey to self-love involves men, significantly or otherwise. Mine certainly has, so I would never insinuate that! In your comment, you completely echo my intention with the “this is a female fight” statement by saying that you recognize it was ultimately YOUR work that brought you contentment — not the result of someone else’s work. If you could be more specific about where you feel I’m shaming anyone, please let me know, because that is not my intent.

    • Kristin
      Kristin06-13-2012

      Kristine, let me just echo the Beauty Redefined ladies – I think you’re doing exactly the right thing by internalizing these positive comments and influences! Just because it’s someone else’s comment originally (really, that’s what a Beauty Redefined article is, too) doesn’t mean that the choice isn’t still ultimately yours to decide what and who to believe. Sounds like you are fighting the “female fight” because you’re choosing to listen to the people and messages that bring you peace and confidence. And sounds like the people you’re describing were definitely the “supporting characters” in the truest sense of the phrase – they supported you and help you to feel happy, accepted and loved. I’m proud of you for listening to them, and happy for you to have had great people in your life!

  2. Adelaide
    Adelaide06-13-2012

    THANK YOU for providing the list of strategies for women and male allies. It’s easy to understand the point of the article in theory, but it’s hard to figure out what that looks like in real life. So helpful to have these lists included!

  3. Amanda
    Amanda06-13-2012

    I agree. We’re the only ones who can “save ourselves” from the self loathing that’s been so ingrained in us since childhood.

    However, for me it WAS a man that made the light bulb go off, like, a total “Ah-ha!” moment. I read an article a couple of years ago by Dan Pearce: Worthless women and the men who make them. (http://www.danoah.com/2010/10/worthless-women-and-men-who-make-them.html) After reading it, I showed it to my husband and said, “You DO think I’m beautiful!” (I believe his response was a nicer form of “Duh!”). That’s not to say that my problem was fixed, but it was like a flip had been switched and I realized it MIGHT be okay for me to think of myself as beautiful. I’m so grateful Dan took the time to write that piece

    And I’m thankful for the work you both are doing. I tell EVERYONE about it. You’ve helped me to be able to think critically about the way women (and men for that matter) are portrayed in advertising, tv shows, etc. In fact, I was showing my mom and sister just the other day in a swim suit ad just exactly WHERE the model’s leg had been digitally exact-o’d to fit into the media mold. Two years ago, I would have taken a hit on my self esteem instead. So thank you for helping me on this journey as well. :)

    • Archy
      Archy06-15-2012

      Amanda, that article is terrible. Laying the blame on men solely is misandrist at best. There are some good points on how actions of the men looking at others give messages to women, but it’s ruined by the men are solely to blame generalizations. It gives no recognition to the fact that BOTH men and women are a part of society and make choices which impact body image for both men and women. Every-time a person judges another person’s body, they’re adding to it. Every-time a person buys a woman’s or men’s magazine they financially support that magazine, and if it’s full of photoshopped models then those magazines will keep doing it. Anyone that thinks women as a group do not have half the blame in body image issues needs to re-examine our society because both genders created this society. I’m glad you took something positive from it, but the whole “Guys… It is our fault. The blame lies with us.” mentality is a huge insult to the men of the world.

  4. Archy
    Archy06-15-2012

    What’s interesting is that this is a fight many men are battling, in fact recent statistics show it may be slightly more men who are concerned about their body image, but I’d say it’s probably fairly evenly split. I don’t think I have met a man or woman who DOESN’T have some issue with their looks.
    ht tp://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/jan/06/body-image-concerns-men-more-than-women

    So maybe it’s not women as damsels in distress, but both men and women are fighting body images and teaming up could be a great idea. I am disheartened that the majority of body image and self-esteem campaigns are about women alone that I have seen, it does feel alienating at times especially as most women probably have little idea of just how much of a problem body image is with men. So often it’s defined as a female problem, but really it’s a human problem so really both genders are fighting this battle, neither can be the hero to the other but simply be an ally in arms fighting together.

    • Beauty Redefined
      Beauty Redefined06-15-2012

      Thanks for your comment, Archy. You’re very right that men and women are in this together and must team up for any efforts to combat body shame to be really successful. And yes, many men are fighting this battle, and increasingly more so all the time, but there are major differences in the pervasiveness and extent of such problems among females — both in terms of the cultural pressures targeted directly at women specifically and the numbers of women severely affected by such pressures. though it does seem true that “almost everyone has some issue with their looks,” it would be inaccurate to say men and women experience the same levels of body anxiety and engage in the same harmful behaviors and ways of thinking that accompany it. Despite many men feeling pressure to improve their appearances in some way, I’ve seen no studies to show that men and women feel equally defined by their appearances or experience similar levels of body anxiety, and hundreds to the contrary. The study cited in the link you provided is a small sample audience of men in Britian (1/4 of whom were gay, which greatly skews the sample since homosexual men experience appearance anxiety and go to extremes to achieve physical ideals at similar rates to heterosexual women — far higher than heterosexual men). That’s not to say men who do experience body shame aren’t equally as affected as women who experience body shame — but culturally, women have come to be defined and valued for the appearances alone, which is something that isn’t true for men. And I hope it never balances out!

  5. Jen
    Jen06-15-2012

    I think this is a great article, but should also include people who are in non heterosexual relationships. “Prince Charming” definitely implies man.

    • Beauty Redefined
      Beauty Redefined06-15-2012

      Hi Jen,
      I used the “Prince Charming” idea to invoke a theme/trope — but you’ll notice throughout the post I included more open terms like “significant other” and “romantic interest” to keep this open to non-heterosexual relationships. The whole damsel in distress depending on being rescued by a dashing prince is a pretty common idea, and is particular to heterosexuals, but the idea of any romantic partner solving your body image problems for you is applicable to all sexual orientations. Thanks for your comment!

  6. Ry Dalee
    Ry Dalee02-07-2013

    I love the heart of your thoughts here, but I feel as though there is a slight categorical error to this piece. Did Prince Charming save Cinderella any more in the original story than you are implying he is incapable of doing here? I don’t think so. She always had the choice of whether or not to believe that she was who the step-mother said she was. It is true that no prince could make that choice for her. When the kings representative came to her home she could have believed that she was unworthy or not good enough to seek after the prince’s affection. But instead, she did seek after his affection, thereby saving herself. Still, in the story we would MUCH MUCH rather her have the option of having a prince to run to. He provided her with the opportunity to live in another reality, one in which she was loved and desired above all others. For her to know that she is beautiful in and of herself, must surely be a most wonderful experience if ever she thought otherwise. It is life itself, I believe. But what is life in isolation? Is not life meant to be experienced together? And if together, then shouldn’t the ones which offer you a reality in which you are loved, appreciated and desired as you are be the ONLY opinions that matter? That’s the point. Cinderella chose to let only the loving opinions matter.

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