Body Image

What’s in the body anyway?  Nothing but masses of organic molecules arranged in varying degrees of symmetry?

Illustration: blaque.kat/Tumblr

Illustration: blaque.kat/Tumblr

Any advanced species ought to be able to look past the material in search of visceral and exciting things like the mind, personality, character. Yet, somehow, many years after man moved from having to hunt for breakfast, this age, men continue to head to four block walls fitted to lift weights and pay for this work. Women have not escaped either. Even with the knowledge that breast size has nothing to that breast size has no limitation on breastfeeding, plastic surgeons are living in luxury to enhance this feature.
It really makes one wonder, why the stress for a pleasant body image?

Unlike other aspects of being, physical appearances cannot be masked unless we subscribe to wearing burkas and other such coverings.  Thus, we are constantly being assessed and judged by our looks by friends and strangers alike. 

Regardless of what we think, we are always aware of being assessed and judged by our looks in many situations, especially by strangers. With the advent of personalised fashion, efforts have been made towards presenting ourselves as we like to be perceived. Clothes aren't without their limitations, therefore, how we see ourselves under them come here. From the arrangement of our facial structure to the colour of the skin that sheaths over bones and the shapes it takes, every aspect of our aspect of our appearance possess some type of meaning. To the observers, meaning may vary depending on their social standards and personal tastes. The ' social standards' may or may not be hinged to social and cultural exposure, recent dictations of what is beautiful and attractive by popular media.

But more than just beauty and sexual attraction, we are in the habit of assigning certain features to assumed characters. For example, African women that wear their natural hair with pride are often assumed to be afro-centric and confident even if they just happen to prefer that style or couldn’t be bothered to relax their hair. A groomed man is often assumed to be more in touch with his feminine side than a rough looking man who might be just as metrosexual but prefers the aesthetics of a Viking warrior. With this, we can see that although we feel someone is attracted to us by just our looks it can be a lot more than just sexual attraction.

Photo: Lynette Luna

The problem that broods when we stare at ourselves in the mirror stems from a desire to shape the body into the look we desire. Although this sounds unhealthy, it is a natural function to want more or better. Obsessions of these desires can lead to problems we eventually need to resolve.

We can tell ourselves that we need not conform to social standards and that it is the observer’s mistake for expecting us to, but in reality, being absolutely content in this mind state isn't easy. If we are honest with ourselves, we find that we are very much perpetrators of holding others to certain beauty standards. It is not an attitude we exhibit actively, rather a passive subconscious trait. It is best explained in cases where we have assigned assumptions to people within few seconds of seeing them. We either find them attractive or not, even when we know nothing about their character.
To compound the issue, these first impressions go on to influence the filter we judge people by. For example, if a person’s posture and looks suggest to us that they would be snobbish in nature, we start seeing them as one and tie whatever they do or say to snobbery; we are guided by this confirmation bias.

Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.
— Confucius

So we cannot escape being 'victims' of our looks, a trait hinged mostly on our luck in the gene pool and society we are born into. What do we do from here? Simply accept our fate in misery if we fall on the unfortunate side of the attraction scale?
First, we need to remember that one's look is only one aspect of a long list of attributes that contribute to people’s overall perception. Other simple things like our body posture and the default facial expressions also tell tales about us.

But how can one be confident when they feel so much is already going against them? To start with, we have to admit that we cannot all be perfect specimens, and regardless of how often the media tries to parade their idea of beauty, beauty exists on a spectrum. There are people that adore the parts of our looks that we might disapprove of. Also, our familiarity with our features and our obsession with wanting to look better places us in a position where we think the situation is dire when really, we aren’t doing badly at all. 

 Our yearn for wanting to look better should be solely satisfied on our terms and happiness. In the story of a man, his son and the donkey, we get to see how opinions are just opinions. They are fleeting and ever changing. It is not a lie that confidence in our image takes time to build, so it is necessary to do away with any notion that tells you otherwise.

Focusing on building our inner confidence teaches us to see ourselves as more than just bodies. This gets us to a point where we can carry on improving our looks from a healthy perspective as opposed to the dangerous obsessive standpoint. We can save ourselves from the spiralling cycle of self-loathing and pity and cultivate appreciation. There are also other parts of our self we need to stop neglecting.

We should keep at heart that we are the most important beholders of our beauty. And the ideal that inward beauty reflects outwardly, and is most relevant, no matter how banal and overstated, is to be strived for.