Body image an issue for everyone

By Amber Cox

Body image issues affect almost everyone at some point in his or her life, according to a counselor.

Rider’s Health and Fitness Week included a Body Image Seminar on Tuesday, Feb. 23, in the SRC Group Exercise Room.

Amy Wirth-Nolan, a Rider graduate, presented a PowerPoint show addressing the issues of body image, eating disorders and exercise.

“Body image isn’t just how we see ourselves,” she said. “It can be gender, it could be culture, or the stereotypes and groups you align yourself with. It can be almost anything.”

In college, one of Wirth-Nolan’s roommates developed an eating disorder.

“She would hang those magazine pictures of Jessica Simpson, Jessica Alba, on her wall and say, ‘I want to look like that,’” she said. “To me, I was like, ‘You could never look like that because you’re not them.’ It was her drive to become those celebrities that she admired.”

Over the centuries, there has been an evolution of body image. In the 1600s, heavier was more attractive because it meant that a woman was more fertile. In the 1900s, the corset became popular. Women would break their ribs and be in extreme pain to portray a thinner body image. In the 1920s, women were seen as healthy, not too thin and not too heavy. In the 1950s, there was an outpouring of Hollywood glamour and Marilyn Monroe became a huge icon. However, there has been controversy over her actual size; it is unknown if she was a size 12 or 8. In the 1960s, Twiggy was idolized and thinness became idealized. Today, photos are manipulated so the images people see in advertisements are not the actual person.

“It’s amazing what they can do,” Wirth-Nolan said. “Basically they manipulate an entire body. It’s important to stress here that what you’re seeing is not realistic.”

In the 1980s, models weighed only 8 percent less than the average American woman. Today they weigh 23 percent less.

Advertisements and articles in magazines saying, “I lost 20 pounds in five days,” are not healthy for the readers because, according to Wirth-Nolan, it is only healthy to lose one or two pounds a week.

Wirth-Nolan made it clear that men have body image issues too, not just women. The number of American males with eating disorders is close to 2 million.

“Women hold about 20 percent more body fat than men for child-bearing reasons, and in reality, only one in four men can actually obtain a six-pack based on genetics,” Wirth-Nolan said. “Men may associate eating disorders only with women, so even if they have body image issues or an eating disorder, they don’t think they do. They think it only happens to women. They’re not trying to get skinny; they’re only trying to bulk up.”

On average, children see 400 to 600 ads per day.

“At one point this was you, being bombarded by magazine covers, billboards, signs on buses, TV commercials,” Wirth-Nolan said. “We have to look out for the younger generations as well, because they have no idea that what they’re seeing isn’t real out there. Children are getting more negative images of body image than positive all because it’s teaching them that you should want to change your body.”

Today some children start dieting at age 8. In 1990 it was age 14.

“Right down the street in Princeton at their Eating Disorder Unit, they have taken in children at age 8, and it’s really hard to get in there so it’s really shocking,” Wirth-Nolan said.

Wirth-Nolan left the audience with the idea that body image of one’s self can depend on the day, but being thin isn’t the answer to a fulfilled life.

“Being thin does not mean being happy, being in control, being healthy, being better, being perfect, being smarter, being successful, prettier, powerful, or stronger,” she said. “A lot of people do think, ‘Well, if I just lose weight I’ll be happier,’ or ‘It will get rid of all my problems’ or ‘I’ll feel better.’ In reality, that’s not the case.”

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