Body Image: It's All Commercial Brainwashing...

by Sarah Myles

Is there anyone in the world with a healthy body image? Is there anyone that is truly and honestly fine, content and accepting of every aspect of their physical appearance? I’ve certainly never met them – and I’m talking about men as well as women.

The idea of body image has been discussed a lot recently - partly because it is a new year and people make their annual weight loss resolutions, and partly because of the current PIP breast implant ‘scandal’. According to practically every news outlet in the world, the French company Poly Implant Prothese manufactured implants containing industrial grade silicone as opposed to medical grade silicone. This has sparked a massive panic among recipients of those implants, who are rightly concerned about the implications of industrial silicone leaking into their bodies.

It is thought that up to 400,000 women worldwide could be affected. It should be noted that this estimate was for women only – there has been no mention of the men that have probably received these implants (PIP were known to have manufactured chest, testicle and buttock implants, too).

400,000. That’s a big number. Clearly, a percentage of these will be women receiving implants during reconstructive surgery, but the rest will be for cosmetic purposes. Imagine the size of that number if you add in all the other cosmetic surgery procedures undertaken around the world everyday.  This brings me to my question: what is wrong with our society that people around the world develop such negative body images? My answer is hardly earth-shattering: it’s the media.

Television, film, animation, magazines, adverts – we are continually bombarded with images and suggestions that being anything bigger than skeletal is a massive personal failure. The media has always dictated what we should perceive as beautiful, handsome and attractive, leading to a society where we feel pressured to aspire to that. That pressure can lead to (or exacerbate) self-esteem issues, anxiety, depression, eating disorders and a host of other mental health issues.

Ultimately, the motivation for this agenda is financial. These people are beautiful, and if you buy this car, you can be just like them. Buy the right shoes, dress, hair colour, underwear and you can have the perfect ‘Sex and the City’ lifestyle, too – but only if you’re thin enough to get into them. Take this diet pill, join this club, buy this gadget. The cosmetics industry works in exactly the same way – telling us we need to be “flawless” to be acceptable, and the only way to achieve that is to buy their products.

And now here we are, with the end result of decades of commercial brainwashing. Thousands of women and men have chosen to have their bodies surgically enhanced in order to feel better about their appearance. The consequence of that is that, in the end, they all look the same.

I’m not happy with my appearance. I’ve been fat, thin and everything in between. I’m getting older, I’ve had two kids, and I have a mental illness that can affect my appearance in about 10 different ways. Some days, I hate that and want to be perfect and accepted like those shiny people who don’t seem to have any problems. Other days I just think “This is what I look like – if you don’t like it, look somewhere else.”

In the end, however, I’m realising that it starts with self-acceptance in exactly the same way as everything else in life and mental health alike. Looking for confidence and self-esteem outside of yourself just won’t stick – it has to come from a place deep inside. Once that’s been found, the armour against commercial brainwashing is so much stronger.

The rest is worrying about what other people think, and who can control that?

Sarah Myles