In my career I feel pressure to be successful, independent, and capable. In my personal life I feel pressure to be a good friend, a good daughter and sister (which can get tricky when you live across the country), disciplined, relevant, healthy, and dateable. And on top of all of that, I feel pressure to be size zero (newsflash: never gonna happen), sexy, and always put together (but with no makeup and seemingly no effort).
Los Angeles is a hub for body image insecurity, but it’s far from the only city that experiences it. In speaking with my friends in the UK, it’s happening there. It’s happening to my friends in New York, Charleston, Indiana, and DC. And it’s everywhere we look. It’s a wakeup call on billboards as I drive to hospitals at 6 am:
“Look young again for the small price of a $599 laser treatment.”
“Fat Freeze: get the body you’ve always wanted!”
It’s on TV and in magazines and in the workplace and when you try on clothes in a fitting room at stores that run their clothes really small (thanks for the confidence boost H&M!).
Body image is attacked everywhere we go. Sometimes the attack is obvious and easy to recognize. Those are the good attacks. Other times, insecurities and negative self-talk seep in and we don’t even realize it until someone points out that we criticize ourselves every time we look in the mirror. It’s even somehow become a friendship “builder” for girls to stand in front of the mirror with each other and point out insecurities; seeking affirmation and compliments from their equally insecure friends.
A close friend lived in NYC for a while before moving to LA. She did a short stint at a designer label in the city and distinctively remembers a conversation with girls at the store when they told her that “12-year-old boy” is “in.” Skinny, no curves, cheek bones and clavicles showing.
Aside from my personal beliefs about the fact that women’s bodies were literally designed for child-bearing, it’s virtually impossible for many women to ever resemble a “12 year old boy” unless they have a severe eating disorder.
In a city like Los Angeles, where beauty often seems to be more important than brains or impact or kindness or even success, how do we keep it in perspective? While we feel attacked by billboards and media and workplace and dating apps, our friendships should be safe places to build strong foundations of healthy body image and self-worth.
Here are three tips to cultivating these relationships:
- Start the conversation. And I don’t mean starting it with “If only I could lose 15 pounds…” I mean real, vulnerable conversation around what you’re struggling with and what acts as a trigger for negative body-image. Real conversation around why you feel pressure to be a certain size or look a certain way. Let people in and ask the tough questions of your friends. They’re probably struggling more than you realize and by asking questions, you will learn how to be there for them and how to partner together to gain healthy perspective.
- Focus on “healthy,” not skinny. Cook healthy meals together, go on runs together, make healthy choices together. Not because you are chasing some unrealistic body-type, but because you want to build your relationships around making healthy choices. Recognize the negative expectations and pressure that sneak into your mind and call them out. Talk about that with your friends- work together to pinpoint and recognize where the negative thoughts are stemming from and actively combat them with authentic conversations. Lies and insecurities are way more powerful in the dark.
- Look outward instead of inward. I’m going to be really blunt here: It’s easy to get in a negative place when you spend all of your time being selfish. Fill your time with things that serve others. When you’re spending time with broken people or focusing on building others up, you have much less time and energy to spend tearing yourself down. Serving others shifts your perspective away from yourself and onto making impact. Serving others is a reminder that we are so much more than our image. We have the opportunity to create real impact and can’t do that if we are obsessing over what others think about us.
The problem isn’t that we care about looking nice or feeling cute or working out. The problem is that culture’s definition of beauty has become so exclusive that it fails to recognize that beauty comes in many forms. Beauty comes in curvy and slim and athletic. Beauty comes with youth and with age and wrinkles and life experience and hardship. Beauty comes in compassion and kindness and selflessness and drive and passion.
Let’s work together to recognize beauty in all people, to start conversations that lead to healthier perspective, and to cultivate relationships that celebrate positive, healthy body images.
Who do you need to start the conversation with?