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Through a Glass Dimly: Our Self-Image Problem and How to Fix It

by Mellissa Thomas

Let’s be honest. Not all women like themselves. In fact, most don’t, especially those in the U.S. Beauty’s definition has so been distilled to facial features and lady lump dimensions, that the only beauty left of beauty is the word itself. While we adore looking through glamour, beauty, and women’s magazines and websites, we inadvertently soak in the pervading paradigm of thin supremacy. According to social action site About-Face.org, thinness has become not only the symbol of beauty, but of success, self-control, and wealth.

While fashion is fun, do we really consider its consequences?


Under the Influence

Dove’s website shares that only 4% of women worldwide call themselves beautiful, and Kappa Delta Sorority’s Confidence Coalition relays that 90% of women want to alter at least one aspect of their physical appearance.

Not surprisingly, this has been an issue for decades now. Even studies in the eighties revealed that only 5% of the women in the U.S. have the super-slim body types in those ads and photos (which are mostly made slim through Photoshop these days), and that body “ideal” is actually 13-19% lower than a healthy body weight.

The problem seeps into other areas of everyday function as well. In a 1998 study, college students were asked to try on and evaluate either a sweater or a swimsuit, then consequently took a math test for ten minutes while wearing the garment. The study revealed that the young women wearing the swimsuit performed more poorly than the ones wearing the sweater, while the young men in the study saw no cognitive changes.

A 2007 experiment saw 10-17-year-olds pitching a softball at a distant gym wall. The girls who objectified themselves were more self-conscious, and therefore threw more poorly than the ones who didn’t.

It’s no wonder we see so many girls slump into mental illness and eating disorders: depression, anorexia (not eating at all), bulimia (binging then purging), or binging. We can all agree something’s wrong when 81% of ten-year-olds fear being fat.

However, while the evidence is stacked sky-high against the media for our prevailing self-image problem among women, there’s one key cog in the machine that makes or breaks a young woman’s destiny.



Our Image Problem Solution

One plus one.

It really is that simple: all it takes is a relative, a friend, a church member, a professional counselor, or a stranger willing to mentor.

There is power in having just one person in your corner, or, better yet, being that one person in someone else’s corner. Our current image problem goes deep: low self-esteem due to taunting in school, bullying and cyber-bullying, and a dysfunctional, abusive, or broken home can leave a girl reeling, seeking to fill a gap she doesn’t realize she has without knowing what to fill it with. It is those deeper issues that manifest into body hatred, and ultimately cause young girls to engage in risky behaviors in an effort to feel wanted.

Having at least one source of encouragement makes a huge difference — and not just digitally. There are plenty of inspiring quotes all over the Internet, but they make a lasting impression when sincerely spoken from a person’s lips, accompanied by a shoulder rub or hug. Young girls and women the world over need affirmation. Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign has been offering something like this for years now, incorporating women of all colors, ages, and shapes in their ads and on social media.

Here’s how partnering up rectifies the problem:

1) A positive partner helps overhaul a young woman’s life for toxic habits, people, and thoughts.

2) Once those are identified, a partner can help her set goals to free herself of them, leaving room to grow and appreciate herself. That can be a long and perhaps repetitive process, but reaps infinite benefit in the end.

3) The young woman’s held accountable. The partner makes sure she stays on track to meet her goals, constantly reminding her of the truth when she’s tempted to give up or revert to self-loathing.

4) Ultimate apotheosis: the partner brings the young woman to a point at which she understands that fashion is an art form and is to be enjoyed as such instead of being taken literally, especially given the now very obvious photo editing (like the Buzzfeed video above). Once that separation is successfully made, she’ll be free to love herself.

Want to help? Search for women or girls’ support groups, such as About-Face.org, Girl Scouts of America, Confidence Coalition, or your local YMCA/YWCA, and volunteer. Share your personal journey and the steps you’ve taken to improve your self-image.

Looking for help? First and most importantly, speak up. Ask friends or family to help you on your quest. You can research the organizations listed above, but the key is to stay local. To have an idea of who to look for, research someone who’s doing what you’re passionate about. If that person is a celebrity or someone seemingly unreachable, find someone who’s doing the same thing locally and reach out directly via email or social media (frequently commenting on the things they share and on blog posts).

You may have to do that with more than one person you wish to reach, by the way. People are busy, but that doesn’t make you unimportant. It simply means you have to push for progress.

So while the media shows no plans to change its image of skinny perfection any time soon, the good news is it doesn’t have to end there in a girl’s or woman’s mind. She needs only look away from the magazine or ad for a moment to see, with help, who she really is and that who she really is offers far more than the image she compares herself to.


What are your thoughts? Do you know someone who is struggling with this, perhaps you’ve experienced it yourself? Let’s chat in the comments.


Jennifer Lawrence image courtesy of The Unknown But Not Hidden blog.



Mellissa Thomas headshotAbout the Author:
Orlando Fashion Magazine Chief Editor Mellissa Thomas is a Jamaica-born writer. She’s a decorated U.S. Navy veteran with Entertainment Business Masters and Film Bachelors degrees from Full Sail University in Winter Park, FL.

Thomas co-authored her latest book, “Faded Diamonds,” with master social workers Camille Burke and Stacey Pacouloute. The novel chronicles five young women’s internal struggles with self-hatred, abuse, and mental illness; and releases on Amazon.com and all digital devices January 25, 2014.



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