The Misconceptions about Beauty and Weight in Women
By Nancy Ouhib, MBA, RD, LD / November, December 2012

Every woman in the United States participates in a daily beauty pageant, whether she likes it or not. Surrounded by a popular culture saturated with images of idealized, airbrushed and unattainable female physical beauty, women and girls cannot escape feeling judged on the basis of their appearance and weight. As a result, many women feel chronically insecure, overweight and inadequate, as these perfect beauty images apply to an ever-shrinking pool of women. Physical beauty comes in all shapes and sizes and weight loss should depend more on health than physical aspects.

From new levels of spending on cosmetic alteration to health risks and to the emergence of a 'mean girls' culture, the lifelong burden of an unattainable beauty and body image is taking a terrible toll in all areas of women's lives, from economic well-being to health to interpersonal relationships. With a few exceptions, the diet, cosmetic and fashion industries are often too willing to exploit these narrow beauty standards placing even more pressure on women to be lifelong consumers of beauty products, cosmetic surgery and failed diet programs.

These misconceptions have far reaching implications for the economic well being of women. Money spent on cosmetic and non-surgical aesthetic procedures continues to increase drastically among all women, including girls, teens and women of color. Research shows that in the workplace, women are impacted professionally and financially if they do not adhere to particular standards of beauty.

The health implications that impact women of unrealistic beauty attainment and weight are substantial. Through chronic and unhealthy dieting, using smoking as a weight-loss aide, taking unnecessary risks during cosmetic surgical procedures, and absorbing unsafe chemicals through cosmetics, women are placing themselves in dangerous health situations to attempt to maintain some token of their idealized physical selves. Women and girls are at risk for lifelong health problems -- and the problems are starting at an earlier and earlier age.

The beauty and weight obsession is continuous, contributing to widespread cultural messages and norms that are negative and harmful for women and girls, which in turn create interpersonal dynamics that are damaging for women. Media portrayals of women -- through advertising and characters who are thin, airbrushed and perfect -- contribute to norms that reinforce this image of beauty. With girls being so impressionable, they will do anything to make themselves popular or accepted. This desire often times grows from childhood into adulthood, with weight loss becoming a battle for their entire lives. Mentally and physically this does a tremendous amount of damage to these women. It turns insecure girls into insecure adult women who are, often times, diagnosed with health conditions such as anorexia, bulimia, diabetes, heart disease, intestinal problems and more. Forty percent of eating disorders in the United States are diagnosed in the 15 -- 19 year old age group.

The end result of this onslaught of social pressure is numerous misconceptions. I am not thin, so I am not beautiful. If I do not eat, I will lose weight fast. You have to lose and excessive amount of weight to make a difference. Only women obsess about losing weight and being thin. If I am thin, I will be popular. Plastic surgery can fix any flaw. And finally, plastic surgery is not addictive. None of these misconceptions has any validity and there are companies that have tried with their commercials to clarify that beauty is truly within the eyes of the beholder. The Dove Campaign encourages women to embrace individuality, beauty, happiness, honesty and wisdom from the inside out by showing women of all sizes in their advertisements. Hanes advertises women of all sizes encouraging movement, flexibility, and 'being real' your own way.

Life is made up of so many diverse people. We see it in our everyday living, working, shopping, etc. We see all the different shapes, sizes and colors and we know that it is ridiculous to spend every waking hour obsessing over weight and beauty, but we still do. Everyone has his or her own perception of beauty, so where you think you are unattractive may be where someone thinks you are the most attractive. With that being said, focus on being you. Be your own inspiration and never let what anyone says negative about you outside affect the inside you! If you want to lose weight, eat three small meals a day with healthy snacks in between and establish a daily exercise routine that keeps you functioning and looking your best! True beauty is more than skin deep.

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