How to Beat the Media's Pressure to be Thin


How to Beat the Media’s Pressure to be Thin

10 ways to stop letting this society’s crazy and unrealistic ideals get you down.


To Look Good, Be Thin” is an expectation that affects us all. How we look is inextricably connected to how we feel about ourselves. Of course, we always want to look our best. But . . . how do you really feel about how you look?

How to Beat the Media’s Pressure to be ThinI feel fat, my stomach bulges, my butt’s too big.
My thighs and arms are flabby.
Nothing fits right.
My hair is just wrong.
I’m super sensitive to what your boyfriend says.
I think others are looking at me.
I endlessly compare myself to other women.

Go to a newsstand or drugstore and everywhere you look, there are countless “recipes” for success, to make you feel better, to look good, be thin. There are articles that say: “get slim” (by tonight) and tips from the top ten celebs on how to dress, to look “just right.” No wonder you’re obsessed about your appearance.

When she was just 16 years old, a tabloid magazine published a photo of Hayden Panettiere’s backside with the word “cellulite” plastered across the image. “I was mortified,” she said, “It gave me such body dysmorphia for so long. But I remember reminding myself that beauty is an opinion, not a fact. And it has always made me feel better.”

How to Beat the Media’s Pressure to be Thin

In a Doonesbury comic strip, a young woman staring at a bathing suit magazine says to her friend, “Look at these models. Wouldn’t it be cool to look that gorgeous?” To which her friend replies, “Well, yes, but you have to remember that their body type is not actually found in nature. Becoming the media’s feminine ideal requires the right genes, plus just the right amount of insecurity, bulimia, and surgery.” And then a not-so-healthy dose of Photoshopping (more on that here and here).

Weighing just the “right” amount, having a “fit” body, the right clothes, make-up, and hair style are all sold to us as the solution — but it isn’t.

How to Beat the Media’s Pressure to be Thin

This is a Victoria’s Secret model – before and after the third round of Photoshopping. After all the makeup, lighting, perfect angles and great photography, Victoria’s Secret sends each and every image to between three and five retouchers before each image is published, to make sure it’s perfectly, unrealistically flawless.

How could there be a solution to what the message “To Look Good, Be Thin” implies? Weighing just the “right” amount, having a “fit” body, the right clothes, make-up, and hair style are all sold to us as the solution — but it isn’t. Because, as you already know, things are rarely how they appear on the surface. The problem isn’t how you think you look, it’s the self-doubt. The first step is to conquer the self-doubt. Here are ten tips on how to do that:

1. How to Beat the Media’s Pressure to be ThinNotice that the expectation about how you are supposed to look gets you to constantly compare yourself to others.

2. Pay attention to how this expectation exerts control over the decisions you make about your eating habits, fashion picks, workout plans, and so on.

3. See how your constant concern over your appearance negatively influences the way you think about yourself and leads to an ongoing experience of self-doubt.

4. Watch how the obsession about how you look interferes with your relationships.

5. Understand that the expectation to look a certain way may isolate you and often gets you to act with insincerity toward others.

6. Ask yourself if you really want these pressures in your life.

7. Notice when you are engaged in activities or events that give your life meaning and during which how you look or what you eat become a non-issue.

8. Make distinctions between when you are doing something that feels good to you and when you are caught by how you think you are “supposed to” look or feel.

9. Reconnect with what you do in your body that has always felt good: like dancing or doing yoga or swimming or playing tennis or whatever.

10. Delight in what delights you.

Remember that battling the expectation to look a certain way is life long, because we live in a culture where appearance is important. But you don’t have to let it create self-doubt. You can be in the driver’s seat and decide for yourself what works for you. You can live with confidence!

Victoria C. Dickerson, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist who has been teaching narrative ideas and practices in workshops and seminars worldwide for over twenty years. She is the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Family Therapy Academy.

Reader Discussion: 21 Comments

  1. Randie Cadiogan

    Great article! The media is really way too influential. I guess we should teach girls at a very young age to be proud and contented.

  2. That’s “media pressure.” People are obsessed with appearance because it’s what media implies. Particularly for young ladies, they find it hard to just love themselves and be contented. Media is really influential that’s why change should come from the media first. That’s what I believe 🙂

  3. Jen Spillane

    It seems that just being able to accept that you do fall for some of this stuff and do desire to look a certain way is a really big step. I wish I could say I was never swayed by the pressure, but of course I am, and I've found that letting that be there–but without letting it impact my actual lifestyle or thoughts too much–has been helpful.

  4. I love that this article gives tips on "beating" these magazines. While the material produced is very problematic, we can still control how we choose to interact or respond to it.

  5. Courtney Watson

    It's really difficult not to fall for this. We see models everywhere in media and it's intimidating. As a female, I used to find myself comparing my appearance to others. But as I mature, I'm able to resist this and I’m proud of it. It’s my achievement! 😉

  6. Jen Garcia

    Sometimes, it’s hard to understand why other people are so obsessed with appearance. I always believe that as long as you love yourself and happy with how you look, you’ll always be beautiful.

  7. Hannah Mayers

    Conquer the self doubt! 🙂 

  8. Gabrielle Williams

    There’s nothing wrong with going for your ideal body but if it hurts you or makes you unhealthy along the way, then I don’t think it would be worth it. It’s important to know yourself, your limitations, and to love your self first and make that self-love be the motivating force for you to have a good body. But remember, being thin doesn’t necessarily equate to good health.

  9. Zenab Bello-Osagie

    People is obsessed with getting thin. But in other countries, many people die of hunger. Very selfish 🙁

  10. Angela Davis

    “Becoming the new feminine ideal requires just the right amount of insecurity, bulimia, and surgery. ”

    This is very true.. I’d rather be flabby and bulgy than be unhappy.-

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