Like clockwork, March rolls around and billboards scream: “Get your spring break body in just two weeks.” Without fail, photos of Greek gods and flawless women with seemingly impossible features follow.
The normalizing of unrealistic, unflawed bodies enforces pressure to meet body expectations which lead to negative self-images for those who internalize them.
Aside from supporting crash dieting, which negatively affects physical health, promoting the acquisition of “spring break bods” implies that if a body does not look like ones in magazines, it does not meet beach standards.
Consequently, this notion plants the seed of doubt and self-consciousness in any person who lacks supermodel qualities. Thinking those qualities define what is aesthetically appropriate can quickly become a slippery slope toward much larger psychological obstacles: crash dieting and binge eating.
Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, and those billboards allegedly promoting healthy bodies may be the cause.
Approximately 47 percent of middle and high school girls reported wanting to lose weight because of pictures in magazines, but only 5 percent of American females naturally possess the body type portrayed in the media as ideal. Young girls are largely trying to reach a body type that is quite removed from reality.
Negative body perceptions carry over to college as well: one in four college-aged women engage in binging and purging to control their weight. Comparing these statistics puts the influence of this skewed view of the human body and its prevalence into perspective.
It is very important to note the general understanding of who is affected by societal body-related pressures is often misconstrued. These issues do not only affect women.
There is no intention to disregard the unfair emphasis placed on the female body and society’s standards for it; women are constantly criticized for various beauty choices and natural features. The all too common criticism from society leads to even harsher self-criticism and lowers self-esteem for women. Even so, the gender prominence in addressing body standards does not mean men are unaffected.
Men are affected by eating disorders more than one might think, as it is estimated 10-15 percent of people with anorexia or bulimia are male. Men are also less likely to seek treatment in fear of being labeled as having a “woman’s disease.”
Men’s “spring break bod” often includes oversized muscles and rarely obtainable abs. Just like women, men should not feel pressure to be big, buff and athletic in order to be a “real man.” Having less muscle mass, more of a sensitive side or other inappropriately labeled “feminine” traits should not invalidate a man’s gender. It is essential to address the prevalence of hyper-masculinity within our culture and how self-image and body perceptions can negatively affect males.
So, ladies and gentlemen, as the sunny season of bikinis and beaches approaches us, slay the two-piece, take your shirt off and show off that beautiful body. To all body types: see you on the beaches.