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How Unrealistic Body Images and Expectations Affect Women

Update Date: Oct 19, 2020 10:30 PM EDT
How Unrealistic Body Images and Expectations Affect Women
(Photo : How Unrealistic Body Images and Expectations Affect Women)

If you watch old commercials about people and food, you might notice something. Often, the creators framed them differently depending on whether it was a woman or man eating.

If it was a man, they described the food as hearty, and the meal as filling. The men took huge bites, and the voiceover talked about how the product satisfied them.

If it was a woman, it was different. A woman eating was indulgent. It was naughty or taboo.

This goes back to gender roles and body image in this country. While some commercials aren't so blatant anymore about expected male and female behavior, it's hard to say that society has stopped fat-shaming.

Let's look at what this does to some women, and how we can get away from it.


Any medical professional will tell that people should exercise. It's a way to stave off obesity and other medical conditions.

With the pressure put on women to stay thin, some over-exercise. These are usually the ones you see every time you go to the gym. They seem to spend hours on the stationary bike or the weight machines.

You might see them jogging around your neighborhood frequently or cycling. Inexperience can often lead to cycling accidents, but that doesn't stop these women from hitting the streets every chance they get. They have a fixation on reaching a certain idealized weight or body image.   

Over-exercising can lead to:

  • Heart attacks

  • Hormonal changes

  • Burning muscle instead of fat

Anorexia and Bulimia

Other times, women fixate on what they're eating and how much. They might deal with anorexia, where they don't eat enough because they're afraid to gain weight. Anorexia can lead to:

  • Blood pressure drops

  • Hair loss

  • Heart, brain, and kidney damage

As for bulimia, this is where a woman eats but then induces vomiting to avoid weight gain. With bulimia, you might experience missed periods, fertility loss, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, and stomach or intestine damage.

Have Things Changed in the Past Century?

If you look at commercials today, some of them have tried to get away from the notion that a woman eating is somehow taboo or wrong. A recent ad for Halo Top ice cream shows a larger woman dancing around her apartment, enjoying some ice cream.

The voiceover says something like women should no longer adhere to societal expectations. They should be comfortable in their skin.

On the surface, it's a good message. Fifty years ago, that commercial would never have made it onto TV. Part of that is because men dominated the advertising industry, as the show "Mad Men" illustrated.

Social Media and Women

It's safe to say that society allows some different advertising on TV and in magazines now. Pencil-thin women aren't the only models. Still, it sometimes seems like social media has a determination to drag the female gender back into the dark ages.

Some women make their living now as influencers. They tell their followers about merchandise, and the manufacturers pay them to do so. Some of them make a good living that way, at least at the upper echelons.

However, for every positive message that one of these influencers gets, there are dozens more they have to block. Trolls abound on social media, and most of them can't wait to tell these women how fat and ugly they are.

Body-Positive Role Models

Some women are doing their best to fight back against body-shaming and negativity. Look at Ashley Graham, who the industry calls plus-sized. She is incredibly outspoken about loving her body and tells other women to do the same.

She has her detractors, of course, just like all the other models and influencers. Some people say she glorifies being overweight, and she's a bad role model for that.

It's a contentious issue. For every woman who dares to show her stretch marks on social media, another resorts to self-harm because of online or in-person bullying.

The Future

What same people fail to realize is that a woman's ideal body changes with the times. During the Renaissance, society considered more voluptuous women to be the most beautiful. Painters wanted full-figured women to model for them.

It's easy to say that society will want women to look some other way in the future. However, that's hardly much comfort to a girl dealing with bullies right now.

Some parents tell their daughters to get off of social media and to quit posting selfies if they don't like the feedback they're getting. What they don't necessarily realize is that hardly any Gen Z member dares to get off social media.

They're growing up with it, and it's such a huge part of their lives. To them, getting off the various social media platforms is unthinkable, even if they're being fat-shamed, and worse.

There are no easy solutions to such issues. Women of every age feel self-conscious sometimes, and while society seems to welcome size diversity more than it once did, there are still plenty of individuals spewing venom from behind their keyboards.

They use their anonymity as a weapon, saying things from behind a screen that they'd never say face-to-face. Some women and girls can laugh it off, while others resort to cutting or even suicide attempts.

It's not easy for women and girls trying to fit in online, in real life, at work, school, or at home. Every parent that delivers a backhanded remark might contribute to their daughter's eating disorder.

The best thing we can say to parents is to be kind to your daughters because the cruelty they can experience outside the home is very real. As for women who are experiencing it themselves, practice self-love however you can. Try to surround yourself with individuals who support you and cut those that don't out of your life.

This is absolutely easier said than it is done, but you do yourself a disservice if you continue to allow those negative voices to rent space in your head.   

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