Celebrating the Beauty of Health

After reading Leah McLaren’s article in The Globe and Mail the other day about the TV show How To Look Good Naked, I was prompted to think about other TV shows that I’ve seen which are based upon health/nutrition/fitness, and consider the effect of this media on women today.

I have to agree with Leah McLaren when she says that body image issues and low self esteem cannot simply be overcome within a matter of a few days.

Are TV shows accurately depicting how women can realistically deal with body image issues and low self esteem? Find out what we think in this discussion on body image and society's (unrealistic) expectations of women.

A spa treatment won’t magically change your life, even if it does make you feel good for a little while. Stylish clothes can help to up the confidence factor, but it’s still not going to work overnight; these things take a lot of time and effort and understanding to manage to get through. Even if you work on your body image issues for years, often they won’t ever completely go away.

There’s a multitude of reality TV shows that focus on people who are unhappy with their bodies, and follows them as they go through a number of changes to declare at the end of the show that they have become new people and that they will now live happily ever after.

I have a couple of problems with this type of sentiment. First of all, it’s the implication that to feel good about yourself and to be truly happy, you’ve got to look the part. Since when was every drop-dead gorgeous woman ridiculously happy and living a dream-come-true life? And secondly, since when was adopting a healthy lifestyle synonymous with “happily ever after”? That has a ring about it that sounds very much like unattainable.

Everyone knows that “happily ever after” is a fairytale, not reality, so when we relate it to living a healthier lifestyle it becomes just as unattainable as a fairytale life would be. If we put a beautiful body and a healthy lifestyle up on a pedestal like that, we’re bound to be disappointed and crushed, and it’ll be that much more difficult to go about changing our way of life for the better.

You’d think that we would understand by now that being conventionally beautiful (think Hollywood) isn’t the be-all-end-all. That there’s more to life than fixing hair in a certain way and applying make-up properly and airbrushing our brains out. Clearly, as a society (and as individuals too, no doubt), we’ve got a long way to go.

I admit, I’m a sucker for magazines and TV shows that advertise themselves as promoting health and fitness. But, as Leah McLaren pointed out with How To Look Good Naked, a lot of these shows are just demeaning and suggestive that “while women should learn to love themselves just the way they are, the way they are is not quite good enough”.

Shows like X-Weighted, The Biggest Loser, and The Last 10 Pounds Bootcamp all share the same mentality of pointing out these peoples’ figure flaws, explaining how they can transform them, and then order them to follow rigorous training schedules and drastically-altered meal plans to achieve the great goal of looking as “perfect” and “beautiful” as possible.

Body image issues affect most everyone in today’s society, but it seems that while these shows claim to be celebrating our bodies the way they are, they’re really just contributing to that concept that, again, “the way they are is not quite good enough”.

These shows also seem to fail to focus on the concept of being healthy in general, and instead place the emphasis on looking good. I think that it’s necessary to turn that emphasis around. Being healthy in general will have the effect of making you look better, there’s no doubt about that. But just because you look good doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily healthy. So I must pose the question, if you have to choose between being both healthy and looking good, or just looking good, which would you choose? It’s a bit of a no-brainer.

Vanity is natural, and most people accept that they aren’t pleased with something about themselves that they would like to change. But please, please remember that it’s MUCH more important to be feeling your best than to follow fad diets or ridiculously intense, over-the-top workout regimes or to take diet pills. The impact they’ll have on your health will be a very large and negative one.

Put your overall health first and the rest will follow suit! It’s unnecessary to take those pills or follow those diets because simply being healthier in all aspects of your life will have the positive effects that you’re looking for (without all of the scary side effects that come with fad diets and pills).

To quote Leah McLaren again, “It’s winter, I look bad naked and you know what? I’m fine with that.” Hurray for accepting and embracing our flaws!

What do you think about these kinds of TV shows? How do you feel about the health / body image connection in our society? Share in the comments section below!

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