Monday, January 8, 2018

Reading the Research: The Role of Body Image in Health

Welcome back to Reading the Research, where I trawl the Internet to find noteworthy research on autism and related subjects, then discuss it in brief with bits from my own life, research, and observations.

In honor of the new year, and my personal distaste for new year's resolutions, today's article deals with an oft-ignored strategy for being happier and healthier.  Rather than chasing after an ideal body type, work with the one you have.

Quoted from the article, which is quoted from the professor who headed this study: "Consider what is really going to make you happier and healthier in 2018: losing 10 pounds or losing harmful attitudes about your body?"

She is not wrong.  Consider the image below.  On the left, the actual picture as originally taken.  On the right, the photoshopped version that was later published.

I chose this particular image because the person here clearly has my body type: the pear.  She is large in the thighs, and probably has pretty strong legs.  The photoshopped version strips her of this, narrowing her hips, shoulders, legs, and middle.  In pursuit of what, I'm not really sure.  Supposedly, beauty. There's a lot more out there where this came from.  Also, depressingly, this is not just a female body beauty problem. 

I used to have some really negative opinions about my body, and still somewhat do.  While I spent most of my childhood relatively oblivious to the beauty industry, the thousands of photoshopped pictures, anorexic models on TV, and perfectly fit movie stars have taken their toll.  My gut reaction, in regards to my body, is to despair, because I will never look like that.

It's not just that I'm having trouble losing weight (I am, and it sucks).  It's that even at my very thinnest, I literally do not have the correct body type.  Like the model here, I am pear shaped.  I have wider shoulders, wider hips, and heavily muscled thighs.  There is no surgery, diet, or exercise that can change the basic facts of my bone structure.  If my goal was to look like the photoshopped picture on the right, I would be forever trying to something I can never be.  

So this article preaches combating that mentality in variety of ways, but all aimed at the same thing: body acceptance.

Oddly enough, for me, body acceptance came in a different way.  A (much thinner) friend of mine commented that if you look at the kind of women found in erotic films and advertisements for men, they are not the idealized, anorexic thin models.  They're like the natural one on the left, much more often.

There's also this musical...thing... which is... certainly a part of pop culture.  A not polite part of pop culture.  Consider this your NSFW warning, I guess. 

Anyway, the opinion espoused in that song has been echoed, much more politely, by an acquaintance of mine over the course of a dozen years.  And perhaps that, more than anything else, has helped me come to terms with the fact that I'll never look like the magazine covers.

All that said, I definitely do need to lose weight before it destroys my knees, and it'd be better for my health overall if I could ditch some of the fat around my waist.  But valid health concerns aren't really what this article is aimed at.  It's aimed at destroying the cruel impossibility of attractiveness that the beauty industry has wrought.  Something for all of us, autistic or no, to keep in mind this year, because, as the article points out, people who feel better about themselves take better care of themselves, automatically.  

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