Sex Education - ep. 5: Our Bodies and the Media
Welcome to the last episode of Sex Education Series, the place where we provide the sex education you always wanted. If you missed the other articles, you can catch them up here.
Social media has a huge impact on our relationships with our bodies. We are constantly bombarded with images of heavily touched up people, and this can have a very negative effect on how we view ourselves. It’s important to be mindful of the prevalence of editing when looking at social media, and have a critical eye when looking at magazines. TW: disordered eating will be discussed briefly in this article, don’t push yourself read this section if you find it too difficult or triggering.
Certain body types are seen as ‘in style’, and this changes throughout time, our beauty standards now are different from what was seen as desirable 20 years ago.
Other factors such as country, religion, and cultural backgrounds can also influence our expectations and standards. Different communities value different things; some people think they need to fit into a specific category in order to be accepted. Right now in the US and UK, curves, big butts and lips are ‘in’, with people like Kylie Jenner representing the pinnacle of what women want to look like, whereas in the 90’s it was popular to be really skinny, like Kate Moss. Pressure to conform to these trends can be very damaging, and potentially harmful to your physical and mental health.
With men, beauty standards continue to be an athletic body with good posture, broad shoulders, narrow hips, and strong muscles. The ability to grow a beard is still seen as a mark of masculinity, and something many strive for.
Beauty standards are just arbitrary ideals set by, and vary depending on, our society. While we are constantly trying to fulfil these expectations set for us by the media. Celebrities are constantly under scrutiny for their weight, shamed by being called too ‘fat’ or too ‘skinny’. The media is full of contradictions. It seems like whatever someone looks like, they will never be fully desirable or accepted.
In addition to this, colourism is a huge problem that’s constantly reinforced by the media. Time and time again, people of color are told they are too dark to be beautiful and are being advertised skin bleaching products, whilst white celebrities heavily tan in order to darken themselves, cultural appropriation become the standard of beauty. To darken oneself beyond natural capacity while people of color lighten themselves in order to be accepted and desired show the double standard at play.
While white people are darkening themselves, the longtime trend of people of color lightening their skin continues to be prevalent. Try to be mindful of the harm altering your skin can cause yourself and others.
The idea of being clean shaven evolved from images in mainstream media. How you choose to grow out your hair is your personal choice, don’t let anyone tell you that your hair is disgusting or unnatural. Some women, because of genetics or otherwise, grow more hair than socially accepted beauty standards allow while at the same time not all men can grow facial hair - a lot of this has to do with genetics, and shouldn’t affect your self worth. In order to combat the negative connotations we have towards people outside normal standards of beauty, take a look at the images you take in.
People of all body types and genders can experience disordered eating, and it can manifest in many different ways. Unhealthy habits might include undereating, overeating, or placing harsh conditions on yourself for eating and working out. A person doesn’t have to be one of these extremes to not have the healthiest relationship with their body and food.
Working out and eating well should be about looking after yourself, not in order to impress anyone else or through guilt based thought processes. Try and use positive affirmations and be kind to your body, don’t constantly compare yourself to others you see online. Practice body acceptance before positivity.
Not all eating disorders look the same. Fat doesn’t always mean unhealthy, skinny doesn’t always mean healthy. In order to take steps to feel better, you can try talking to someone. Counsellor, therapist, doctor, charity, online chat sites- people are there to help so don’t be ashamed if you need it. Change up what you see in the media, fill your feed with diversity and find positive influences.
Ask yourself, how many types of beautiful do you see on a daily basis? How many different bodies are you seeing, appreciating and respecting? How can you change your outlook through the media you consume? Unlearning standards and embracing your natural body can be a long and difficult journey, but it’s important that you understand your body is special and beautiful just the way it is!