Commentary: Our unhealthy obsession with body image

The Kansas City StarApril 26, 2012 

Imagine walking around with a tube that goes through your nose and passes through your esophagus, right down into your stomach.

A nasogastric tube, or feeding tube, provides nourishment. It’s usually reserved for patients with medical challenges. But now, feeding tubes are the new dietary rage.

Last week, the New York Times ran a story about crash-dieting brides willing to undergo the 10-day K-E diet that costs $1,500 and requires a doctor’s supervision.

It’s an eyebrow-raising trend, but we know where it stems from. The pressure on brides and women in general to look a certain way is not imaginary.

When I was planning my wedding, every magazine had a get-fit-quick plan for brides. Looking a certain way was an ongoing dialogue.

There was no escape from the endless pictures of Kate Middleton and even short-term bride Kim Kardashian. There’s nothing wrong with losing weight healthfully, but magazines, TV, runways and society seem to scream, “Lose weight. Look perfect.”

Perfection is expected of women, not just by men, but by other women, because this is the culture of thinspiration and bodysnarking. We feel so insecure about our own image that we pick on others. I am no exception. I’ve been picked on for being too skinny and having acne. But I’ve also scoffed at the girls in too-short skirts and v-necks down to there. It’s the bullied becomes the bully complex.

This is why Ashley Judd’s puffy face became a thing to talk about recently. We all wondered if she was a victim of botched plastic surgery or a crazy beauty treatment. I shamefully admit I gave her face the questioning side-eye. And I know better. Still, it’s easy to get caught up in the crazy talk.

In her essay for the Daily Beast, the actress blames the puffiness on steroids she was prescribed for an illness and takes us all to task over our obsession.

“The Conversation about women happens everywhere, publicly and privately,” she wrote. “We are described and detailed, our faces and bodies analyzed and picked apart, our worth ascertained and ascribed based on the reduction of personhood to simple physical objectification. Our voices, our personhood, our potential, and our accomplishments are regularly minimized and muted.”

She admits that she falls for it too. It’s one of those things in which none of us is completely innocent. And we must do better by our little girls and women.

Judd says men and boys face the same pressure when it comes to fulfilling an image of masculinity. I think there are unfair expectations for guys. But I don’t think it’s the same as what women go through.

On TV you can see a chubby, balding guy like “Modern Family’s” Jay Pritchett with the curvy and gorgeous Gloria. There is no reverse of that, not even in cartoon land with “Family Guy.” As long as a guy is funny, charming or talented, it almost doesn’t matter how he looks.

Adele, one of the most talented singers in the world, was called fat by designer Karl Lagerfeld. But Ruben Studdard, once “American Idol’s” winner, was considered a “teddy bear.”

Rapper Rick Ross, a Billboard regular known for his big belly, graced the cover of Vibe magazine’s sex issue last summer, shirtless. He has been called a sex symbol. But Jessica Simpson bares her naked, pregnant body on the cover of Elle and gets criticized for her weight. It’s called pregnant.

There is no way for women to mold themselves into this image of perfection the media pushes. But there is a way for us to quit feeding into this unhealthy diet of body shaming and accept ourselves as well as one another.

We cannot be reduced to our bodies, our faces and our clothes. We are much more than that. And it should be reflected in our conversations.

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