My 2-year-old granddaughter spent this past weekend with me. On Shabbos morning, she was in my room, gazing at herself in front of a full-length mirror, when she smiled and told me, “I am so beautiful!” I laughed, as I am thrilled that she feels beautiful, but I wonder how long she will hold on to that feeling about herself. Most little girls think and feel beautiful, but at some point many, if not all, girls and women become self-critical, especially regarding their appearance. Most women look in the mirror and find fault in what they see much of the time.
A recent report showed that 61% of adults and 66% of children feel negatively about their body image. One of the major causes of negative self esteem and body image among women and men is the media. We are bombarded with advertisements that contain messages about physical attractiveness and beauty. On television, in magazines, on billboards, via Facebook, Twitter, Tik Tok, etc. we are preached to about clothing, cosmetics, hair removal, laser surgery and physical fitness. If we would only try this cream, go on this diet and do this particular workout, we would look as we of course should want to look, just like the person advertising the product.
Poor body image has for some time been prevalent among younger people, but more recently it has surfaced among more mature individuals as well. This past week, a big fuss was made over the fact that the cover of the Sports Illustrated “swimsuit edition” featured 81-year-old Martha Stewart in a bathing suit, with a spread in the magazine. While some in the media wrote positively about the magazine choosing a senior citizen for this cover, others felt that even seniors are now made to feel “less than” and unattractive if they don’t meet certain predetermined (by whom, one may wonder) beauty standards. Instead of embracing and accepting their bodies, which have gotten them to this point in life, they now are hit with the message that “you can and should strive to look like Martha,” just as younger women are told that they can and should strive to look like whomever else appears in the magazine.
I have the privilege of knowing some remarkable, smart, accomplished, caring women whom I and others admire greatly, and yet their own feeling of self-worth is often tied to how they look and to the number on their bathroom scale. One of my clients told me this week that she always felt good about herself, but she considered that a problem because she was never inspired to lose weight because of her positive self-image!
Many of us, especially women, equate looking good and being healthy with being thin, and we are flooded with advertisements designed to confirm and perpetuate that idea. The global weight loss and weight management diet market reached a value of more than USD 175.44 billion in 2022, and it is expected to grow. While there is obviously a large amount of money spent on weight loss products and diets, the long-term outcome of diets is historically poor, with a staggering overall failure rate of 88%, with those achieving weight loss gaining it back within two years.
Recently, an injectable drug for weight loss was approved by the FDA with the brand name Wegovy. Two other injectable drugs, Ozempic and Moujaro, which are approved for Type 2 Diabetes, have now begun to be used to promote weight loss, though they are not presently approved for that purpose. In my own practice, I have a few clients who were prescribed one of these drugs by a provider and have had success with weight loss. What happens once clients stop taking the drug, though, is as yet unclear. What the long-term side effects are for non-diabetics of being on the drug is also unknown. We do know, however, that the long-term effects of obesity on the body are not at all good, so I am hopeful that these drugs are successful.
It must be stressed, though, that weight loss does not equal health! The quality of your food is important, not just the quantity. Eating a balanced diet of protein, vegetables, fruit and some complex carbs is vital for a healthy lifestyle. Moreover, if you are on a weight reducing program but are not exercising, it is possible that you are not only losing fat, but you are also losing lean muscle. The body was meant for movement, and it is not possible to have a healthy body without moving. As you get older, some weight training and resistance work is necessary. I know that none of this is new information for most of us and yet we have such a hard time changing our mindset!
If I could have a multimillion dollar advertising campaign, I would campaign for health, not weight loss. My campaign would focus on “How are you feeling?” “Do you have energy?” “Can you walk up a hill without feeling winded?” “Are you hydrated?” “Do you laugh a few times a day?” “Are you spending time with friends and family?” “Do you sleep at night?” “Are you feeling anxious?” “Do you have frequent heartburn?” “Are you in pain?” “When was the last time you took a vacation?” “What are the stresses in your life?” “What can be done to help you deal with those stresses?” “Have you had a recent loss in your life?” “I have a program designed to help you feel well every day. A program that fits into your lifestyle and can help you be the best you!” Now ask yourself, would that program be interesting to you? Can we get away from our quest to be thin and focus on our overall health?
I pray that my granddaughter grows up to be a woman who always loves the woman looking back at her in the mirror. And I hope that we can all be smarter in our approach to health and beauty so that my prayer becomes a reality for all of our daughters and granddaughters.
Beth S. (Bassie) Taubes, RN, CHC, CYT, is the owner of Wellness Motivations LLC. She motivates clients of all backgrounds, ages and health conditions to engage in improved self-care through nutritional counseling, personal fitness training, yoga practice, breath training tai chi and stress reduction techniques. She is also the rebbetzin of Congregation Zichron Mordechai in Teaneck. She can be reached at [email protected] www.wellnessmotivationsbt.com