The women wearing bathing suits had the hardest time focusing on the test. They also got the lowest scores. They were retested after dressing in sweaters and slacks. They scored much higher on the second test.
Why were they so distracted? No one else was around to comment on their bodies. It was their own perceptions of their bodies and how they looked. They were tugging their bathing suits for better coverage. These women were very distracted.
This translates to the culture women are facing today. Body image issues, bullying, and impossible beauty standards promoted by the media lead to a feeling of shame for having a female body.
Origin of Physical Ideals
A lot of advertising is directed at young girls. Beauty contests promote young girls looking like miniature, sexualized adults. The ideal of femininity is formed early. Every little girl wants to be like another girl who is just a little older than she is.
Girls going through puberty get the idea they have to be perfect and slim. The onslaught of social media images the younger generation consumes reinforces this ideal.
This shifts when a woman enters adulthood. Around age 25, a woman typically wants to look a bit younger.
Susceptibility to the combination of social media and advertising is a double whammy. Advertising makes you feel insecure. Why would you buy diet and beauty products if you’re confident?
Many women develop eating disorders in mid-life to reach a physical ideal. They sculpt and shape their bodies to try to achieve the perfect size.
Advertising was once geared toward people who were dissatisfied with their bodies. It has become so persistent that those who were once very confident about their appearance now question their own beauty.
The last part of the brain to develop is the frontal cortex. Located right behind the forehead, this part of the brain gives executive function. It's responsible for planning, organizing and strategizing your life. It helps with decision making. The frontal cortex doesn’t quit developing until age 25.
Women go through physical changes to prepare for motherhood over several years of their young lives. Hormones are very active. Different areas of the body develop to prepare the body for procreation.
Women going through this brain and body development are trying to sort out relationships with themselves and others. This is a very vulnerable time for a young woman’s self esteem.
Ways to Build Esteem
- Consider what message you’re giving to young women when you discuss how unsatisfied you are with your own appearance.
- Stop focusing on weight loss as a reason to praise someone. If you feel compelled to say something to someone who has lost weight, focus on how happy or energetic she looks. Don’t mention pounds.
- Don’t glorify eating disorders as a means to reach a perceived physical ideal. The despair and concern about one’s body is paramount throughout the culture.
- Cut down on your time involved in social media and leafing through magazines.
- Stop comparing yourself to photoshopped ideals. Advertising is designed to make you buy a product that you’ve been convinced to believe you need.
- Don’t bash other people’s appearances.
- Stop the negative self-talk. Build yourself up. Be kind to yourself. Treat yourself like your own best friend.
- Give your energy and attention to things that are meaningful in your life. Live your dreams.
- Beauty shows when you like yourself.