You’ve probably seen one of those well-intentioned articles that asks you what you consider your “problem area” and then helpfully offers tips on how to fix it. “What is it?” they ask. “Thighs? Tummy? Neck? Arms?”
My problem with these pieces is that they assume that because you’re a woman, you have a problem area. They believe that there must be something you dislike about yourself and desperately want to change, and that you are, by default, not content with how you look. The problem isn’t that you have a problem area – it’s that the magazines assume you do.
Even someone generally pretty happy with her body will probably come up with one or two problem areas when asked. That may be because she actually dislikes them and wants to work on them, but let’s be honest – it’s also because as women, we’re conditioned to complain about our bodies. Being proud of our shapes or happy in our own skin is just not something we do. We’re catty and judgmental when we should be supportive and encouraging. We’re not comfortable being happy with our bodies the way they are, because someone – like those magazines – is always telling us something is wrong with it.
So let’s say in the process of reading that article, we’ve thought up one or two things that we’re not totally wild about and might like to work on. That’s where the magazine steps in and makes it worse.
“Are you sure it’s just your tummy? Maybe your thighs aren’t quite perfect, either. And your crow’s feet have been looking pretty prominent lately, and oh, did you know you have gray hairs?”
We may not give it much thought at the time, but later, in the mirror, we see ourselves and think “dang, you’re right, I DO have thighs, and they don’t look like Heidi Klum’s. There’s definitely something wrong with me.”
Or, “shoot, even though my stomach is pretty much shaped the way a human stomach is biologically intended to, it’s not flat like the magazine said it should be. I need to fix that.”
And the next day you think maybe your dark circles are extra dark, and your skin is too pale, and your butt isn’t perky enough, and then you go buy five more magazines and six bottles of potions to fix your new problems, even though you were perfectly content with yourself before you read that article. Suddenly you’re a body pessimist, all because you read an article that focused on the negative and dismissed the positive.
What’s the solution? Critical thinking. As Mad-Eye Moody would say (am I actually going there?), “Constant vigilance!” (Yep.) Reading a women’s magazine, for me, is a little like working out: I have to pay careful attention to how I’m feeling to make sure I’m not damaging anything. So take stock of your feelings before and after diving into the latest “Glamour.” Pay attention to your thought process while you’re reading. Be aware of your mood shifts and try to locate what caused them: a particularly leggy model? A beautiful ad for a new product? A reference to someone’s drastic weight loss?
And above all, remember how you felt before you were exposed to all those messages. You felt pretty okay, right? So what changed? Not you – just what you read. You’re still just fine. It’s just another shiny magazine page, trying to trick you into feeling otherwise.