Mirror, Mirror…

Reflecting on body image and acceptance

One day while browsing Tumblr, I came across a blog post from Humans of New York, a website that showcases the daily lives of strangers around New York City via photograph. One of these pictures was especially striking; it was of an NYU student named Stella Boonshoft, posing in her underwear. The picture, taken from her personal blog, is a testament to self-love and body acceptance. Stella, standing proudly and smiling, is celebrating her body, the way God made it, imperfections and all. The picture garnered national attention, not just on social networking sites, but on national television news networks such as NBC, which aired a Today Show segment on Stella.

Body messages

As a young person admittedly influenced by the media, I understand the pressure out there. We are bombarded with billboards, commercials, and magazine covers advertising that thin is beautiful and the means to a happy and successful life. The media influence on body image is especially strong now, in the New Year, with gym membership deals and weight loss programs attacking consumers from every angle. As a communications major, I’ve been studying the effects of media on our country, and the media play a larger role in influencing consumers than I previously thought. The media don’t just persuade us to buy the latest fashions or try the newest diet pills, but they manipulate our confidence levels and allow us to become self-conscious and make us hyper-aware of our inadequacies.

It’s disturbing to see the media openly criticize people who are overweight. I’m tired of media outlets making fun of curvy women such as Christina Aguilera and Jessica Simpson, calling them “pigs” and “whales,” diminishing their accomplishments just because they are not a size zero. It sends a terrible message to consumers — if you do not fit the media stereotype, then you deserve to be ridiculed because you are a lesser human being.

Obviously, that’s not true. All people are equal and beloved in the eyes of God. In a world filled with uniqueness, it’s disheartening to see the media portray one specific body type as “ideal.” No matter what your shape — curvy, thin, and everything in between — you need to learn to accept and love your body as it is. I tend to call upon some advice that I heard as a young girl whenever I start to criticize my own body: Your body is a temple and meant to be cherished because your body is the only one you have. Why waste time self-loathing the imperfections and instead enjoy your body and your life for all that it offers? It is impossible to love others unless you truly love and accept yourself first.

It is difficult though, to look beyond the exterior in a world consumed by image, stereotyping, and fantasy. Photo-shopped images of celebrities and models create an unattainable physical ideal within society. Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter inundate us with images and give us plenty to compare ourselves to. They allow users to create an alternate persona and become their own body message curators. We need to keep in mind that what is truly important is inner beauty and the nature of our character — something that can’t be manipulated on a computer screen.

Body bullying

Although self-love and acceptance are both necessary, we also need to keep in mind the acceptance of others. For years, Stella and countless others have experienced what I call “body bullying” — being made fun of because of weight or body shape. This is damaging to self-esteem because the people you know and interact with on a daily basis are personally criticizing you.

Remember the Golden Rule — “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” We are all deserving of respect and love, and acceptance is a way of showing that. We should embrace all body sizes, races, genders, orientations, and beliefs and learn to value the differences we find, not pass judgment on them. We should all strive to have the courage and self-esteem that Stella Boonshoft has. Instead of focusing on weight loss as a New Year’s resolution, realize that being healthy in mind, body, and spirit is more important and realistic. In a society that emphasizes perfection and competition, there is a need to exercise love and compassion, not only for ourselves, but also for everyone around us.