THE BLOG

How the Media Affects Our Body Image

07/01/2013 10:44 am 10:44:43 | Updated Aug 31, 2013

Not long ago, I was next to a newsstand while waiting for the R train in New York and I noticed a close up of Kim Kardashian's expanding butt splashed across the cover of a magazine. I took a quick glance at other covers and poor Kim's increasing size was also the main topic of focus. Everyone, she is pregnant, so why is it so shocking she is putting on weight?

It is undeniable the prevalence of such messaging in the media indicates the public is gulping it up with both their attention and their wallets.

Why is this phenomenon of public crucifixion so popular? Perhaps it's a quick pick-me-up or form of escape. If you see someone else being torn apart, you momentarily feel better about yourself. "My life can't be that bad," we tell ourselves, "look how awful this other person has it." It's much easier to sit on the sideline and denigrate another than it is to put yourself out there, reach for your goals and risk possible failure, or success.

As a full grown adult, I can see the ridiculousness of such media messaging and even see the humor in it. These messages no longer wreck havoc on my self-esteem the way it used to when I was a teenager. Back then, I took what these magazines told me as gospel. My body was changing everyday with puberty, I was on the cusp of adulthood and I was searching for role models to follow. The media promises that if you are young, thin and beautiful, you will be happy. And if you are fat, old and ugly, you are less attractive and you are not worthy. Very little emphasis is placed on becoming your own unique self, learning to love yourself or your body, develop intellectually, spiritually, or becoming more compassionate toward others. I went on my first diet at age 9 and developed an eating disorder at age 15. After four dark years of intense suffering, I finally recovered by reading books from inspiring authors such as Louise Hay and Naomi Wolf and attending personal growth courses such as Discovery Camp and Outward Bound. Discovering the art of belly dance and learning to embrace my womanly curves also helped me heal. Today, I am happy to report that I have been free of addictive behavior for almost 20 years.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, "In the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life."

In 2013, this is an ongoing issue that continues to affect a significant percentage of the population. It has become one of my missions in life to help change this statistic by expanding the idea of beauty outside the narrow confines of the media, and encourage girls, teens and women to learn to love and celebrate themselves for being unique.

In 2009, I conceptualized and developed in collaboration with dancers from my community group PURE (Public Urban Ritual Experiment), a dance theater show about body image called "PURE Reflections: Beauty Reimagined" with the goal of offering an alternative perspective to the beauty myth cycle that many women and teens are trapped in.

Even though the average person is inundated with an onslaught of daily media messaging dictating what is acceptable and what is not, it is possible to develop resilience to such nonsense through the healing power of art. It is my hope that people will dig deeper than news stands to find the courage to form their own opinions about what is beautiful.

Visit www.pureglobe.org to find out more about PURE.