“You’re So Skinny” is No Huge Compliment

In today’s North American society, the topics of body image and weight are on the tongue of every individual regardless of gender, ethnic background, sexual orientation, and even age (childhood obesity and playground bullying, anyone?). As women feel the pressure to be unrealistically thin, men feel the pressure to bulk up and gain muscle. It’s an interesting contrast when you take a look at a woman’s fashion magazine featuring digitally altered unrealistic proportions and compare it to a men’s health magazine that features overly defined muscles (with a little bit of help from camera tricks). Women and men may look to these examples to show them the ideal standards of beauty; however, I have not found that these criteria hold true in my day-to-day real life. These are merely digital images and reimaginations of the original individuals.

Naomi Wolf wisely says in The Beauty Myth, “We as women are trained to see ourselves as cheap imitations of fashion photographs, rather than seeing fashion photographs as cheap imitations of women.” I reflected on that quote a lot when struggling with my own body image issues. I translated the pressures I felt from the media and advertising into my real life, fearing that my friends, coworkers, and even strangers on the street were comparing me against that yardstick. However, individuals are not going to hold you to that false ideal – so why do the media encourage such strict and contrasting body ideals for both genders?

I’m definitely borrowing from existing feminist theories but I thought I would throw this out for discussion: are these media-constructed body ideals designed to reinforce traditional gender roles? Women are encouraged to be so thin that they almost disappear. Take up no space. Have zero energy to speak or fight in a society where they are marginalized. Dictating that women should see food as the enemy robs them of the benefits and energy it provides to thrive and live.  While on the other hand, men are encouraged to bulk-up and take up more room as the traditional leaders.

Admittedly, this could sound a bit far-fetched. I don’t truly believe there is a deliberate conspiracy out there. But it really made me think back to my high-school drama class. I was supposed to play a meek and powerless character named Mona in a prison cell and my teacher encouraged me to translate these attributes into the physical world. “Shrink yourself and hunch into a tiny ball,” she directed, “You’re the lowest ranking member in this cell, so show us by taking up the least amount of space.” What are we telling women when we always say that tiny is best?

Priyanka Parshad volunteers at the National Eating Disorders Information Centre as their Social Media Editor, you can follow her tweets for NEDIC @NEDIC85. To read more posts by Priyanka, visit her site www.EDawareness.org where she writes about body image and self esteem.