Aditi liked a boy from the time she was in Std 9th. He was smart and intelligent and had a great sense of humour. She tried her best to attract his attention but he was not interested in her in ‘that way’ she felt. She realized that he took a fancy to girls who were slightly tall, thin and had straight hair. He also seemed to like girls who were giggly and threw some sort of airs around her. She understood that she was a simple straight-forward girl who was also studious and serious about her career. She also realized that she had curly hair and was ‘fat’ according to his standards. What a dilemma she went into and so decided to take up the challenge of losing weight, straightening her hair and being less serious than she was. She, with months of effort and a year passing realized what a tough call that was and try as she would she could not achieve her weight loss target and continued to suffer pangs of anxiety. All this stress lead to sleepless nights and loss of hair. And of course loss of inner peace and stability.
Such a story could be true for a boy too who worries about his looks and his body image and harbours fear of being unattractive to girls and be ragged or teased or often get rejected by the girls he takes a fancy to. Who decides how should a girl and boy look and who sets the norms for beauty in their tender minds? Are the parents responsible for it or are parents an equal prey to larger external forces that operate in the world is something to be aware of.
A large number of parents may be very particular about their child/daughter’s grooming and take special care to keep her in good form. That is a good training to the child if done in proper proportion. She can be taught early on in her life to care for the fundamental requirements for keeping her body clean and healthy. They should inculcate healthy body image in the child by pointing the positive points and ignoring the negatives if any. A healthy self image and positive self esteem also comes from a pride in one’s external appearance. Making an unnecessary fuss about one particular aspect may lead to some sense of inferiority and lowered self image. I know one mother who herself obsessed with her own body weight and hence would keep a strict vigil on the body weight of her daughter and make it a constant point to check on it.
Among the external forces we are all aware of the standards set by celebrities, film stars, fashion models, and the entire cosmetic industry that thrives on generating anxieties in the minds of the masses about looking good from hair to toe. It’s a multi-million or billion dollar industry which has everything at stake if people became happy with their original selves!
Besides this sector the social media too shows signs of this malady. Most teenagers are on Face-book and other social media sites. We realize that many youngsters on these sites do up their pictures through photo-shop to look beautiful. Such is the level of obsession with body image and the need to look beautiful.
No one is perfect we know. Almost everyone may harbour a secret frustration with a specific body part, such as a too long and sharp nose, small inset eyes, straight hair or curly hair, small height, and of course the complexion of the skin which is so prominently focused. In spite of the secret dissatisfaction with a body part most people do not get obsessed with it and fall sick and develop what is known as ‘body dysmorphic disorder. In USA the disorder has a presence in one percent of the population which is very high indeed. And that seems to be affecting the spreading globally.
Teenagers must be safeguarded against all sorts of wrong influences by their peers, media or their parents for that matter. We must teach them early on to love their body, care for it by eating well, sleeping well, exercising enough that is required, building stamina and muscles, and exuding fitness. We must teach them that they may be imperfect, they may be terribly flawed for that matter but yet they are infinitely beautiful. Teach them that beauty lies in good physical health and sound mind. Beauty is not a mask to wear but beauty lies in inner strengths and values.