I, like most women, have struggled with self-image for as long as I can remember. I have always had a bit of a distorted view of how “fat” I was. Even though I wore single digit clothes in high school and college I still thought I was overweight because I didn’t, in my own eyes, appear as slender as other girls around me.
Looking back on those days I realize just how small I really was. I may bigger boned and more muscular in many ways than other girls, but I was not fat.
Being a girl and growing into a woman is hard.
Girls and women are almost without an exception experts at being judgmental and comparing ourselves to others. We can always find something wrong with ourselves when we are looking against others.
With a few years of life experience, and hopefully some extra wisdom, I’m now working with college students. If you listen with attentive ears to the conversations had by most young women in college you hear the voices of comparison and doubt about themselves and fear of not measuring up. Fear to be too much or too little. This comes across in hypercritical spirits about classmates or obsessions with celebrities or other unrealistic views of beauty.
Some are lucky and breeze through life without ever having this problem. Most are not so lucky and many are not brave enough to talk about this fear. As an older woman I know that my friends and I, while wiser to the influence of the world, still fear that we don’t fit in and desire to be considered one of the cool “kids”. We are constantly looking for ways to feel better about ourselves and often do so at the expense of others.
I see this in the women around me because I know it’s true about myself.
I read an article today highlighting a popular clothing company and how their CEO intentionally sends the message that women over a size 10 are fat. He doesn’t think women that size can be cool, popular, or have friends. (He also hires them men who work in his home from a modeling company.)
Abercombie & Fitch has been a popular clothing line for a long time. I’ve never been a fan because of their ridiculous advertising that clearly pushes sex not clothes. Even more so now their downright hateful disregard for women and unrealistic picture of what beautiful women look like is so disgusting to me.
It is no wonder that in a culture that approves of such a message or ideal:
91% of college women have dieted and 22% of them consider themselves always or often on a diet. Additionally 95% of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25.8. (All stats from the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders website.)
The age group struggling with the majority of the eating disorders is the prime target to A&F’s advertising.
Is A&F alone responsible for poor self image and growing rates of disordered eating? No.
Are they complicit in such things through their purposefully disillusioned advertising that discriminates against the majority of women? Absolutely. (The average woman in America is a size 12-14.)
I think the solution to women being freed from the need to compare themselves to others and poor self-esteem starts with us helping each other. Women need to band together to be a source of encouragement and support rather than a source of undue criticism. We also need to band together and tell companies like A&F that what they are portraying is not just unrealistic, it’s wrong. We need to show them we aren’t going to buy it.
PS- I love college students, specifically college aged women. I am in no way trying to demean them. However, I often find myself heart broken over the internal wars so many are facing because those around them, either through media, advertising or even family/friends, set for them a ridiculously unrealistic and unachievable ideal. The only way to change this for their future and for future women is to be honest about it.