Why We’re All So Damn Obsessed With Our Weight
I’ve never been particularly thin. It’s not that I aspire to be a plus-size girl, or that my efforts at weight loss have been unsuccessful; it’s that I don’t generally spend a lot of time dwelling on size – mine or anyone else’s. In fact, I once committed a major faux pas when a friend mentioned that she had been going to weight watchers and I asked her if it was working for her. She had lost 40 lbs! I hadn’t noticed. In my defense, for what it’s worth, I contend that when I look at someone I tend to see the person, and not necessarily the particulars.
We live in a generation obsessed with weight. Weight has become a multi-billion dollar industry which uses consumers as pawns in an ultimate financial chess game. Advertisers wage psychological warfare on the masses by promoting junk food alongside diets and weight-loss programs. The media constantly refines its concept of ‘ideal’ beauty by airbrushing and digitally enhancing models until the finished image is striking, though in most cases, biologically unattainable.
Magazines promote dessert recipes and weight-loss tips side by side on their covers. We are inundated with the subliminal message that we don’t measure up – that we could be happier, healthier, infinitely more successful – if only we were thinner.
I recognize that obesity is a major concern nowadays. We are a sedentary culture influenced by the dubious benefits of convenience. We drive instead of walk, we eat processed foods, and we watch a lot of television. We should all try to be more healthy and active but, in my opinion, we should do it to be health and have more energy; not because we want to look like the models we see in ads and the media.
Beauty is a billion dollar industry and we’re the pawns in its game.
Media has become a member of the family, with TV‘s in the bedroom, video games an adolescent appendage, even our children’s first words, and ideals, often come from the animated characters they see on television. Consumption has become a way of life, insidiously influencing our behaviors, attitudes and perceptions. I was in my thirties before it occurred to me to challenge that influence, but now that I have, I’ve realized that beyond the preoccupation with society’s obesity rests the more troubling pervasive negativity that we seem to have adopted as our mantra.
Women are more guilty of embracing this negativity than men. Self-deprecation has become a popular basis for female bonding. We feel infinitely more comfortable commiserating over our shortcomings than taking a compliment or (God forbid) tooting our own horn in public.
I wonder sometimes, at what point in our lives we begin berating ourselves over all the things we aren’t. Are some people psychologically predisposed to have low self-esteem or is that something which is cultivated over time, reinforced by whatever negative feedback we receive from loved ones or strangers? Regardless of when it happens, the tendency to compare ourselves to others seems to be innate.
At some point or another we start to feel as though, for whatever reason, we don’t measure up. That’s when the litany of “if only’s” begins: “if only I were smarter,” “if only I were prettier,” “if only I were thinner,” “if only I were more like HER”. It’s tragic how readily we overlook or dismiss our own redeeming qualities in favor of obsessing over our shortcomings. This is not an attitude I want to perpetuate.
I have a neice. At 5, she is the epitome of self-confidence. Unlike other girls her age who have already started dieting, it hasn’t yet occurred to her to doubt herself. She is a happy little girl, and I pray that as she gets older, she will carry that intrinsic sense of self-worth with her wherever she goes. I want her to be able to recognize this ‘negativity phenomenon’ for what it truly is – psychological masochism.
It is futile to measure our own sense of self-worth based on how we compare ourselves to others because there will always be people greater and lesser than ourselves. Life is not an even playing field and it is both unhealthy and unrealistic to feel as though we constantly have to conform to some imaginary standard of acceptability.
Like most of life’s problems, weight isn’t really the issue as much as it is a symptom. We only focus on it because it is readily apparent. What we – as a society – need is a reality check. We need to drop this perverse preoccupation with our appearance and get on with the business of living. We need to experience more and obsess less, liberating ourselves from the self-imposed pressure of judgment. We need to toot our own horns more often so that when we look into the mirror, we can feel confident as we focus more on the person and not so much on the particulars.
Read more: How to Beat the Media’s Pressure to Be Thin