Body Image may not seem like a business principal, but so in many ways it is.

Studies show that people (specifically young women) often opt out of many activities and opportunities when they don’t feel confident about their appearance, and the largest offender; body image.  A preoccupation concerning weight and appearance can keep a person’s mind away from creating new ideas, or excelling in their industry. When individuals don’t feel happy or satisfied with their appearance, it can quite literally hold them back from life.

Self- esteem issues certainly aren’t limited to women alone, however numerous studies, publications, (and probably a poll of your own friends) reveal women have arguably more pressure than men to look a certain way.  To add insult to injury, less than 5% of the female population is even capable of achieving the current media ideal of thinness.

Standards of beauty have in fact become harder and harder to attain, particularly for women. The current media ideal of thinness for women is achievable by less than 5% of the female population.
Approximately 91% of women are unhappy with their bodies and resort to dieting to achieve their ideal body shape. Unfortunately, only 5% of women naturally possess the body type often portrayed by Americans in the media.
In recent years, women’s body sizes have grown larger (Spitzer, Henderson, & Zivian, 1999), while societal standards of body shape have become much thinner. This discrepancy has made it increasingly difficult for most women to achieve the current sociocultural “ideal.” Such a standard of perfection is unrealistic and even dangerous. Many of the models shown on television, advertisements, and in other forms of popular media are approximately 20% below ideal body weight, thus meeting the diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa (Dittmar & Howard, 2004).

Add this to a culture that has come to blatantly worship appearance, and you’ve got a perfect storm:

In court, attractive people are found guilty less often. When found guilty, they receive less severe sentences.
one US study found that taller men earned around $600 per inch more than shorter executives.

To make matters worse, we seem to have a severely incorrect and misplaced worship for thinness in particular:

The study, by Katherine M. Flegal and her associates at the C.D.C. and the National Institutes of Health, found that all adults categorized as overweight and most of those categorized as obese have a lower mortality risk than so-called normal-weight individuals. If the government were to redefine normal weight as one that doesn’t increase the risk of death, then about 130 million of the 165 million American adults currently categorized as overweight and obese would be re-categorized as normal weight instead.

JK Rowling

Educating ourselves about what “healthy” really is can be a huge benefit; albeit we may find it increasingly harder each year.  The health/diet industry rakes in an estimated $20-40 billion a year, preying on our programed desires to look like someone we will likely never resemble. Sifting through piles of propaganda, we may be able to find a shred of truth:

How did we get into this absurd situation? That is a long and complex story. Over the past century, Americans have become increasingly obsessed with the supposed desirability of thinness, as thinness has become both a marker for upper-class status and a reflection of beauty ideals that bring a kind of privilege.
Don’t expect those who have made their careers on fomenting panic to understand that our current definition of “normal weight” makes absolutely no sense.
If it’s so ingrained in our thinking, how do we fix it?

Well, first we have to give up on this phony notion that we somehow know how to make fat people thin. We don’t. Every discussion of this subject should start with an acknowledgment that we don’t know how to turn fat people into thin people.

I’m all for encouraging people of all sizes to be active and avoid eating-disordered behavior. Physical activity and nutrition are good things. What I’m not for is stigmatizing people and haranguing them about their weight. It doesn’t make them thinner, and it doesn’t make them healthier.

It’s like that old aphorism that defines insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. That’s where we are with weight in this culture.

With all this info, it’s no wonder to find that women are very likely to have a preoccupation with their bodies, and tend to say “no” to opportunities in life and business far more often than they need to.  Coached through our youngest years of it’s importance, the fear of not being physically appealing enough is a formidable adversary. 

In addition to weight dissatisfaction and eating pathology, studies have shown that women who view slides of women pictured in many mainstream magazines and advertisements show increased levels of depression, stress, guilt, shame, and insecurity (Stice, Schupak-Neuberg, Shaw, & Stein, 1994).

However, through a bit of education, a lot of open communication, and some good old fashioned revolution, we can change the way we live, and what legacy we pass on to future generations.  Keeping a few things in mind may go a long way:

  • Know that your body is an instrument, not an ornament. 

Your body has the same purposes as anybody- to allow you to interact with the world in ways you so choose.  It’s purpose is not to be pleasing for others to look at.

  • Keep in mind that your female body isn’t “for” baby making.  

You’re in no way less of a woman/human if you choose not to, or are unable to have children.  Mainstream seems to think our female bodies have 2 fundamental purposes: be sexy and bear children (and for God’s sake, loose that baby weight within 3 months with our $29.95, five step plan!).  Whether you do or don’t, can or can’t have children, your body is not your enemy. Your body, every last bit of it, is “for” whatever you want it to be “for”, like eating chocolate cake, or riding a motorcycle, or both.

  • It’s not your job to look good.

Often times, women I meet at The OWN share stories about times they were made to feel like “looking good” was a big part of their job requirements (even in situations where they weren’t working with customers).  In our state, you can pretty much get fired for anything, but if you get fired for not looking the way your boss wants you too (especially for no apparent reason), you've got better things to do than work for or with them.

  • You need 0 permission to look the way you do.  

Wear makeup or don’t, sport long locks or cropped ones, choose your own clothes; wear leggings, jeggins, tunics, crop tops, blouses, visible bra straps, or whatever else you please at any age you’d like. Nobody owns you.

  • Try a media fast.

For a few years, I didn’t watch commercials, I changed my ad preferences online to not view diet ads, or clothing ads, or really ads at all (try adblock), and I avoided magazines like the plague.  It changes the way you look at yourself and other women.  I promise.

  • Talk about it, find a forum, and begin to realize we’ve been living in the matrix.


None of this was ever real.  Women’s bodies have become par for the course for money making industries, and it’s always been a game.  Talking about it with the women in your life may help normalize the issue of being, well, normal. 



Over the past year and a half, I've been immeasurably blessed to meet women who have bucked the pressure to be at war with their bodies, and they've got a lot to show for it.  Keep fighting the good fight, ladies.  

Oh, and for good measure, here’s some of my personal favorite places to go when the journey of loving your body gets rough:

The Fat Nutritionist

Beauty Redefined

Health At Every Size

AuthorSamantha Ellis