Combating Popular Media

Beth Somerset

For one week, can you avoid popular media, stop criticizing or analyzing your body, or not worry about what you eat?  It’s not easy, because it has become normal to do these things.  Americans are obsessed with dieting and fitness to the point that there is a tragic epidemic of eating and body image disorders in the United States.  There are over five million Americans affected by eating disorders, of which more than 90 percent are female, according to the Harvard Eating Disorders Center.

A major culprit in this situation is our own culture, which constantly bombards us with images of “ideal” bodies and health- and fitness-related information.  We are told to exercise more, eat less, and use various products to make our skin smoother, hair shinier, lips plumper, and abs flatter in order to achieve a perfect body.  Every day we absorb promotions for so-called healthier or better ways to live. Unfortunately, the underlying theme of many popular media messages is that we aren’t good enough as we are. This ubiquitous body-consciousness encourages widespread negative psychological and behavioral effects, ranging from minor body dissatisfaction and unbalanced eating to life-threatening clinical eating disorders, body dimorphic disorder, and depression. At any level, disordered eating and body-image distortion can be physically and psychologically detrimental. 

Given the threats from our body-obsessed society, here are some ways you can control how you perceive popular messages and images order to avoid becoming a victim of them.

1. Be a discerning consumer.
Plenty of health and diet information in the media is sensationalist junk, barely supported by relevant medical studies (or not at all).  Read between the lines.  The producers of the quackery want to snag those desperate for any method of “improvement.”  For example, drinking a special diet shake or eating a bowl of cereal in place of regular, balanced meals is simply the commercialization of drastically reducing calories — created with profit, not your health, in mind.  Be an astute, educated consumer, especially when reading health information.  Who is giving the information, and what are their credentials?  What evidence indicates the advice is safe, beneficial and proven to be effective?  Learn to recognize marketing ploys that seem unhealthy or unrealistic.  Most importantly, know where to find thoroughly researched health information supported by studies from reputable sources.  Look to top medical and public health schools and journals, health professionals, certified fitness professionals, or organizations such as the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Dietetic Association, American Heart Association, and American College of Sports Medicine. 

2.  Stop comparing yourself to others.
Every body is different.  Are you are a blood relative of a supermodel? If not, then why compare yourself to one?  You have different genes and a different lifestyle.  Your body is yours because of two factors: first, a genetic history over which you have no control, and second, your health habits (diet and exercise).  If you eat well and exercise regularly but still think your thighs (or whatever body part) are “too big,” get used to it.  That is your body’s natural shape.  Who determined that big thighs are “bad” anyway?  Do your thighs truly matter in the grand scheme of life? Have confidence and pride in your whole self, and you will stop worrying about your thighs, not to mention create a positive aura that attracts people who support you.

3. Avoid obsessing about diet and exercise. 
Although our culture obsesses over food and exercise, these are minor parts of life.  The focus on diet and fitness must be kept in moderation, in balance, like all things in life.  If food and exercise consume you — you constantly ruminate about them; they are your first priority; you plan your day around them — your life is out of balance.  In such circumstances, one can easily become isolated and possibly depressed, as relationships and enjoyable activities become secondary.  Moreover, eating habits usually worsen when one is unhappy.  The obsession is not worth the consequences. Do you have a friend who casually says she eats what she wants and exercises because she feels like it? Chances are, she’s a rather happy person, too.

4.  Skip the scale. 
Muscle weighs more than fat, and you usually gain muscle and lose fat by exercising.  Looking at the scale, you may think you are gaining weight.  However, your weight does not mean much.  What is more important for optimal health is body composition (fat mass vs. lean muscle mass), which can be scientifically calculated.  Don’t worry too much about these numbers, unless you have health risks, such as obesity.  Rather, focus on eating well (variety of foods, everything in moderation), exercising regularly, and getting enough rest (physical rest from exercise as well as sleep).  You will feel good, and your body will find its natural set point for weight.  Your weight (and your pant size) does not put a value on you as a person. Furthermore, being healthy and fit is more important – and research shows this – than being skinny.

5.  Reach out and talk to someone. 
Seeking professional guidance for health habits and body image issues can be an enlightening experience, even if you are not sure you need help.  Talking to a health professional – a doctor, nutritionist, therapist, or fitness specialist – does not mean you have a problem.  People often learn a lot about themselves when they are willing to discuss the details of their lives.

The bottom line is to try to stay balanced and maintain a healthy perspective on yourself and what you see and read everyday. Recognize and reject the social fallacies about dieting and body image prevalent in the media; you don’t have to become part of the statistics about disordered eating and poor body image.  Instead, empower yourself with information.  You deserve it.

For one week, can you avoid popular media, stop criticizing or analyzing your body, or not worry about what you eat?  It’s not easy, because it has become normal to do these things.  Americans are obsessed with dieting and fitness to the point that there is a tragic epidemic of eating and body image disorders in the United States.  There are over five million Americans affected by eating disorders, of which more than 90 percent are female, according to the Harvard Eating Disorders Center.

A major culprit in this situation is our own culture, which constantly bombards us with images of “ideal” bodies and health- and fitness-related information.  We are told to exercise more, eat less, and use various products to make our skin smoother, hair shinier, lips plumper, and abs flatter in order to achieve a perfect body.  Every day we absorb promotions for so-called healthier or better ways to live. Unfortunately, the underlying theme of many popular media messages is that we aren’t good enough as we are. This ubiquitous body-consciousness encourages widespread negative psychological and behavioral effects, ranging from minor body dissatisfaction and unbalanced eating to life-threatening clinical eating disorders, body dimorphic disorder, and depression. At any level, disordered eating and body-image distortion can be physically and psychologically detrimental. 

Given the threats from our body-obsessed society, here are some ways you can control how you perceive popular messages and images order to avoid becoming a victim of them.

1. Be a discerning consumer.
Plenty of health and diet information in the media is sensationalist junk, barely supported by relevant medical studies (or not at all).  Read between the lines.  The producers of the quackery want to snag those desperate for any method of “improvement.”  For example, drinking a special diet shake or eating a bowl of cereal in place of regular, balanced meals is simply the commercialization of drastically reducing calories — created with profit, not your health, in mind.  Be an astute, educated consumer, especially when reading health information.  Who is giving the information, and what are their credentials?  What evidence indicates the advice is safe, beneficial and proven to be effective?  Learn to recognize marketing ploys that seem unhealthy or unrealistic.  Most importantly, know where to find thoroughly researched health information supported by studies from reputable sources.  Look to top medical and public health schools and journals, health professionals, certified fitness professionals, or organizations such as the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Dietetic Association, American Heart Association, and American College of Sports Medicine. 

2.  Stop comparing yourself to others.
Every body is different.  Are you are a blood relative of a supermodel? If not, then why compare yourself to one?  You have different genes and a different lifestyle.  Your body is yours because of two factors: first, a genetic history over which you have no control, and second, your health habits (diet and exercise).  If you eat well and exercise regularly but still think your thighs (or whatever body part) are “too big,” get used to it.  That is your body’s natural shape.  Who determined that big thighs are “bad” anyway?  Do your thighs truly matter in the grand scheme of life? Have confidence and pride in your whole self, and you will stop worrying about your thighs, not to mention create a positive aura that attracts people who support you.

3. Avoid obsessing about diet and exercise. 
Although our culture obsesses over food and exercise, these are minor parts of life.  The focus on diet and fitness must be kept in moderation, in balance, like all things in life.  If food and exercise consume you — you constantly ruminate about them; they are your first priority; you plan your day around them — your life is out of balance.  In such circumstances, one can easily become isolated and possibly depressed, as relationships and enjoyable activities become secondary.  Moreover, eating habits usually worsen when one is unhappy.  The obsession is not worth the consequences. Do you have a friend who casually says she eats what she wants and exercises because she feels like it? Chances are, she’s a rather happy person, too.

4.  Skip the scale. 
Muscle weighs more than fat, and you usually gain muscle and lose fat by exercising.  Looking at the scale, you may think you are gaining weight.  However, your weight does not mean much.  What is more important for optimal health is body composition (fat mass vs. lean muscle mass), which can be scientifically calculated.  Don’t worry too much about these numbers, unless you have health risks, such as obesity.  Rather, focus on eating well (variety of foods, everything in moderation), exercising regularly, and getting enough rest (physical rest from exercise as well as sleep).  You will feel good, and your body will find its natural set point for weight.  Your weight (and your pant size) does not put a value on you as a person. Furthermore, being healthy and fit is more important – and research shows this – than being skinny.

5.  Reach out and talk to someone. 
Seeking professional guidance for health habits and body image issues can be an enlightening experience, even if you are not sure you need help.  Talking to a health professional – a doctor, nutritionist, therapist, or fitness specialist – does not mean you have a problem.  People often learn a lot about themselves when they are willing to discuss the details of their lives.

The bottom line is to try to stay balanced and maintain a healthy perspective on yourself and what you see and read everyday. Recognize and reject the social fallacies about dieting and body image prevalent in the media; you don’t have to become part of the statistics about disordered eating and poor body image.  Instead, empower yourself with information.  You deserve it.

For one week, can you avoid popular media, stop criticizing or analyzing your body, or not worry about what you eat?  It’s not easy, because it has become normal to do these things.  Americans are obsessed with dieting and fitness to the point that there is a tragic epidemic of eating and body image disorders in the United States.  There are over five million Americans affected by eating disorders, of which more than 90 percent are female, according to the Harvard Eating Disorders Center.

A major culprit in this situation is our own culture, which constantly bombards us with images of “ideal” bodies and health- and fitness-related information.  We are told to exercise more, eat less, and use various products to make our skin smoother, hair shinier, lips plumper, and abs flatter in order to achieve a perfect body.  Every day we absorb promotions for so-called healthier or better ways to live. Unfortunately, the underlying theme of many popular media messages is that we aren’t good enough as we are. This ubiquitous body-consciousness encourages widespread negative psychological and behavioral effects, ranging from minor body dissatisfaction and unbalanced eating to life-threatening clinical eating disorders, body dimorphic disorder, and depression. At any level, disordered eating and body-image distortion can be physically and psychologically detrimental. 

Given the threats from our body-obsessed society, here are some ways you can control how you perceive popular messages and images order to avoid becoming a victim of them.

1. Be a discerning consumer.
Plenty of health and diet information in the media is sensationalist junk, barely supported by relevant medical studies (or not at all).  Read between the lines.  The producers of the quackery want to snag those desperate for any method of “improvement.”  For example, drinking a special diet shake or eating a bowl of cereal in place of regular, balanced meals is simply the commercialization of drastically reducing calories — created with profit, not your health, in mind.  Be an astute, educated consumer, especially when reading health information.  Who is giving the information, and what are their credentials?  What evidence indicates the advice is safe, beneficial and proven to be effective?  Learn to recognize marketing ploys that seem unhealthy or unrealistic.  Most importantly, know where to find thoroughly researched health information supported by studies from reputable sources.  Look to top medical and public health schools and journals, health professionals, certified fitness professionals, or organizations such as the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Dietetic Association, American Heart Association, and American College of Sports Medicine. 

2.  Stop comparing yourself to others.
Every body is different.  Are you are a blood relative of a supermodel? If not, then why compare yourself to one?  You have different genes and a different lifestyle.  Your body is yours because of two factors: first, a genetic history over which you have no control, and second, your health habits (diet and exercise).  If you eat well and exercise regularly but still think your thighs (or whatever body part) are “too big,” get used to it.  That is your body’s natural shape.  Who determined that big thighs are “bad” anyway?  Do your thighs truly matter in the grand scheme of life? Have confidence and pride in your whole self, and you will stop worrying about your thighs, not to mention create a positive aura that attracts people who support you.

3. Avoid obsessing about diet and exercise. 
Although our culture obsesses over food and exercise, these are minor parts of life.  The focus on diet and fitness must be kept in moderation, in balance, like all things in life.  If food and exercise consume you — you constantly ruminate about them; they are your first priority; you plan your day around them — your life is out of balance.  In such circumstances, one can easily become isolated and possibly depressed, as relationships and enjoyable activities become secondary.  Moreover, eating habits usually worsen when one is unhappy.  The obsession is not worth the consequences. Do you have a friend who casually says she eats what she wants and exercises because she feels like it? Chances are, she’s a rather happy person, too.

4.  Skip the scale. 
Muscle weighs more than fat, and you usually gain muscle and lose fat by exercising.  Looking at the scale, you may think you are gaining weight.  However, your weight does not mean much.  What is more important for optimal health is body composition (fat mass vs. lean muscle mass), which can be scientifically calculated.  Don’t worry too much about these numbers, unless you have health risks, such as obesity.  Rather, focus on eating well (variety of foods, everything in moderation), exercising regularly, and getting enough rest (physical rest from exercise as well as sleep).  You will feel good, and your body will find its natural set point for weight.  Your weight (and your pant size) does not put a value on you as a person. Furthermore, being healthy and fit is more important – and research shows this – than being skinny.

5.  Reach out and talk to someone. 
Seeking professional guidance for health habits and body image issues can be an enlightening experience, even if you are not sure you need help.  Talking to a health professional – a doctor, nutritionist, therapist, or fitness specialist – does not mean you have a problem.  People often learn a lot about themselves when they are willing to discuss the details of their lives.

The bottom line is to try to stay balanced and maintain a healthy perspective on yourself and what you see and read everyday. Recognize and reject the social fallacies about dieting and body image prevalent in the media; you don’t have to become part of the statistics about disordered eating and poor body image.  Instead, empower yourself with information.  You deserve it.