Four Corners: Body image

Dat-Vinh Nguyen: It concerns weight … people’s looks, and how it impacts health, and its relation to health.

Sarah Menendez: If there’s one thing that bothers me — and also speaking as a woman — it’s that we’re constantly faced with things like “13 ways to get skinny in two weeks.” To me, it puts these ideas in my head like, “Oh shit, am I — should I be concerned about losing weight? Should I be skinnier? Am I not okay where I’m at — with my body?” It’s definitely one thing if your doctors come up to you and they’re like, “Hey, we’re concerned about this and this or diabetes,” but, when you feel this pressure from the media, from your friends and society to look a certain way, well, then that’s a problem.

Ryan Cady: I think that the standard of beauty for men is just as high. When was the last time you saw a shirtless image of a man without a six-pack?

SM: Well, I agree, but I think that it’s definitely in a different way. With guys you have to be buff and go to the gym and be toned, but with girls it goes a whole extra mile. Boobs, ass, makeup, wardrobe, nails.

DVN: I will argue that perhaps it’s the same as men. Just as bad, but different things.

RC: It’s not publicized because men don’t talk about these things. With each other or in the media.

SM: I think it’s just the way that it’s put on blast. Of course the body issue exists, but it’s just a matter of being out there. How many fucking magazines out there are there about women’s beauty? It’s not that we have it worse off, it’s just the exposure.

DVN: For both genders, I feel that the issue of body image is associated not with health, but with beauty. I think people try to sell it as “healthy” — but it’s how to look good. It’s not, “If I don’t do unhealthy things, if I eat right, etc., then I can live longer and be happier and have more time with my family.” It’s not that. It’s how can I look sexy. That’s a hollow way to go about it.

SM: That creates a mentality that’s so corrupted. Nine out of 10 times, these articles will be in the health section, but they’re not about health — they’re about beauty! And that has nothing to do with health, it’s about how sexy you think you are. Obviously, diet is important — how we go about our lifestyles — but that shouldn’t concern standards of beauty.

Belester Benitez: Um … I don’t know, man. It’s uh, yeah, I think that you shouldn’t feel pressured to lose weight just because of what you see in the media and in society, especially if you’re healthy, but I think what people don’t realize is that, when you’re trying to lose weight, there comes a moment when you’re like, “Why am I trying to lose weight?” “Am I unhappy?” “No, I have friends, I have family, I’m happy.” But people lose weight because there’s a connection between the physical image that you want to become and the expected happiness you hope to achieve. Which may or may not be there. I don’t think that connection is real at all — skinny doesn’t equal happy. We have that mentality that drives it, because skinny people are happy. Skinny people go to the beach, skinny people have friends, skinny people go to concerts, skinny people do everything because that’s all we see in the media. Beautiful, thin, everyone — all the Disney heroes, we all grow up with. All these images are put in your head. But every once in a while you’ll get someone in the media who isn’t skinny and they’re proud of it, they’ll just say, “I’m happy being overweight.” And people will be like, yeah, we support you, but to me it always seems like that support is fake.

DVN: It’s patronizing.

SM: It’s like when they talk about America Ferrera back when she was kinda chubby, and they’ll say, ‘America Ferrera rockin’ those curves!’ Like, you can fucking say it, yeah, she’s not that skinny, you don’t have to say it like that, we all know what you mean.

RC: And speaking of curves, I have a lot of fairly overweight female friends on Facebook, friends I know from high school, and at least once a week, usually more, they post a picture of Marilyn Monroe or some other curvy woman with a caption like, “This is what a REAL woman looks like!” It’s like — it’s the same thing over again, but disenfranchising skinny women instead of overweight women!

BB: It’s overcompensation, but not out of nowhere. People push one image so much that people who don’t meet it, in order to feel anything good about themselves have to push back, and be like, “No, THIS is what a real woman looks like.”

SM: A woman is a woman!

BB: A human being is a human being.

RC: You, by all means, have a right to personal preference. You can say, “I am not attracted to people who are blank,” but you can’t say, “People who are blank are not attractive.” Or “Men who are blank aren’t real men,” or “Women who aren’t blank aren’t real women.” That’s some bullshit.

BB: But there’s no middle ground, so people are always going to these extremes.

DVN: There is a cultural pushback, when a segment that is overweight or of a certain physique, they resist that skinny mentality, and you see the BBW, the Big Beautiful Woman, but I’ll ask you this — when have you heard Big Beautiful Men? The pushback comes from the female zone.

SM: Well, the thing is too, Vinh, is that the reason for that is because of the extremity when it comes to women for the skinny thing. Maybe because I’m a girl and I’m around girls more, but I’ve heard plenty of stories about girls sticking fingers down their throats  and, not joking around, I would cut meals all the time, it’s a thing that happened. The extremity of “skinny or nothing” is so far on that end of the spectrum, that this kind of pushback is almost necessary to balance things out. Granted, you can criticize this, how this body image propaganda is brought about, but there needs to be a middle ground, and this middle ground is reality. The skinny girl is not everyone, but the curvy girl isn’t everyone, either.

DVN: See again, it’s not even about health! It’s about the standards of beauty.

SM: The mentality needs to change — because even those tend to demonize skinny girls — I feel like those girls shouldn’t be demonized, but neither should overweight girls. No one shouldn’t be demonized for their metabolism, their body type, something they can’t control — it isn’t fair. You look the way you fucking look, and we need to steer away from these two different sides.

DVN: I don’t like to pull this, but I feel it, so I’m gonna say it: there’s a market for this. It’s not even about health, it’s about selling products, selling image and making people pursue those certain products to get that certain image. It doesn’t appeal to health, it just appeals to consumerism. The media makes you feel bad about yourself, so you have to buy your way to happiness.

RC: This is the unfortunate part of the whole thing, and this is what it all boils down to, is that where this stems from is: Are the people you want to be attracted to you, attracted to you? And if they’re not, then you’re going to be unhappy anyway, no matter what you look like. That’s the individual root cause of these two movements.

SM: This whole concept of body image is so tied into so many integral parts of our society. There’s a whole weight loss market. Everywhere! And how many people are buying into it? I mean, of course you want to be healthy, but there’s a difference between trying to pick the skinny option and trying to pick the healthy option. The way that we look at beauty and health is so distorted, and it’s not the same.

BB: In our culture, we make our happiness contingent upon a lot of things. How we look, how much money we make, what kind of clothes we wear, how in shape we are — when we shouldn’t base our happiness on these things. If you go to someone who has unconditional love for you, they don’t care what size you are. They don’t care how you look. But we still care, and we shouldn’t. I know I’m part of a system where being skinny is perceived as better — even though it’s not a system that I believe in.

 

Belester Benitez is a fourth-year English major. He can be reached bbenitez@uci.edu.

Ryan M. Cady is a third-year psychology and social behavior and English double major. He can be reached at rcady@uci.edu.

Sarah S. Menendez is a second-year literary journalism and political science double major. She can be reached at smenende@uci.edu

Dat-Vinh Nguyen is a fifth-year English and criminology double major. He can be reached at datvinhn@uci.edu.