Chances are if you were to ask a young woman about her self-esteem she would begin to discuss how she feels about herself in relation to her body. It is generally believed that this has to do with the current conceptions posed by the media; a study done by J.B. Martin in 2010 showed that 47 percent of elementary school girls felt that magazines influenced their desires to lose weight and 69 percent said that the images in magazines affected their concept of an ideal body weight. This information should be of concern to all of us, not only to those who have a loved one suffering from an eating disorder or disordered eating. What are the facts that we should know and how can we counter this dangerous mentality?
First, is it important to understand why this is the current perception and get the facts straight about what is truly behind this trend? A study done in 1996 showed that the amount of time that an adolescent watches television or movies is directly correlated to negative body image. Additionally, a study done reveals that 67 percent of women over the age of 30 reported body image dissatisfaction, mostly likely related to images promoted in the media.
We are faced with billboards, ads, commercials, and film that emphasize the idea that “thin is in” and that to make it in this world one needs to be a size 2 and constantly dieting and restricting. While it would be glorious to simply block out the media from our lives, we live in a day and age when this is nearly impossible. There are some exceptions out there that promote a healthy body image, but most simply show individuals who are a size 6 and still do not show those who are a few sizes larger. When I spoke alongside Dr. Ellen Haimoff at a yeshiva high school in the Five Towns, she encouraged the students to pay attention to the expression of models in ads—the waif-like models rarely seemed to be smiling or happy while those few ads that showed men and women in a more “normal” size actually showed expressions of joy.
As members of this community we know that we want health and happiness for our loved ones. So how can we avoid this whirlwind of diets and body image dissatisfaction among not only adolescents but ourselves? I believe the first key to doing so is to remember the distinction between self-esteem and body esteem. As stated, people often confuse the two and feel that their self-worth is solely related to how they feel about their weight and appearance. This is what is called body esteem, or feelings of self-worth about one’s body and appearance. Self-esteem, rather, is feelings of self-worth in relation to personal achievements, attributes, characteristics and successes. To clarify this distinction it is vital that we promote activities in our lives that will lead us to self-worth: good deeds, charity, hobbies—all activities, among many others, that allow us to feel good about ourselves.
When I was still in the deep stages of my eating disorder, my father and I volunteered at a cemetery, cleaning gravestones once a week. This activity encouraged positive feelings about myself and what I was doing to make a change and help others that did not interact with my appearance or weight. I highly recommend filling one’s day with some form of charity or kindness as this will release positive thoughts. Then when negative thoughts creep in, you can look back at your reflection and think of the good you do—this good that should define more of who you are than a number on a scale. The more positive thoughts non-related to weight, the better. Additionally, it is important to point out these characteristics to show your loved ones that they are more than just a body. We often get caught up in focusing on compliments relating to appearance, rather than complimenting the good we see in those we care about.
There is still a concern, though, that even with the knowledge of self-esteem vs. body esteem, how can we promote positive body image, not only in adolescents but in ourselves? I encourage you to find something about your body that you love. Additionally, you can remind yourself of what your body gives you. If you are dissatisfied with a certain part of your body, remind yourself of what it does for you and how you are blessed with this. For instance, if an individual is not fond of her arms, she should remind herself that these arms allow her to hug her loved ones and carry out everyday tasks. It may not be easy but sometimes the key is reminding ourselves and others about what is on the inside and how lucky we are to have functioning, strong bodies.
I still struggle at times with body image. To counter negative thoughts I remind myself that I define what I believe to be beautiful and that my body has not given up on me yet, even when I put it through danger during my eating disorder. I am not defined by my weight but instead by who I am as a person and what I do. Thoughts like these encourage positive self-esteem and positive body esteem.
For other tips on body esteem and self-esteem email Temimah at informationTVC_gmail.com
By Temimah Zucker