Then I go to the grocery store and pass those @$#% fitness magazines that puke shame all over me again. Captions like "Love Your Body," "Get the Body Ladies will LOVE!" or "It's Time to get Ready for Swimsuit Season!" particularly get to me. I try not to linger on what I refer to as "soft porn:" men with washboard abs, bursting pectorals, rippled backs, chiseled biceps, firm butts, and sculpted legs - free from body hair and always perfectly tanned. The only wrinkles you see are those required by their smug expressions and confident smiles. So the message that I really get from these eye-candy covers is "Love Your Body! (As long as you look like you could beat the crap out of anyone while never breaking a sweat from your airbrushed face)"
Usually, body shame is associated with women. It's obvious the most marketing for aesthetic improvement is directed toward women (particularly young women). In some respects, women have it much more complicated than men do. Men just look like they have to be tough and weakness-free. Women have to fit inside a continuum that emphasizes beauty as the main indicator of an individual's worth. The world expects women to be slim (but not too skinny), fit (but not too masculine, and confident (yet constantly trying to improve their looks). Skin needs to be clear, waxed, and tan.
So who benefits from all of these unrealistic expectations? Surely it's not our youth, nor the elderly. The answer lies in the money trail. Let's look at some statistics:
The Hair Industry: $38 billion
The Diet Industry: $33 billion
The Skincare Industry: $24 billion
The Makeup Industry: $18 billion
The Perfume Industry: $15 billion
The Cosmetic Surgery Industry: $13 billion
(Wikipedia search by Brené Brown, 2007)
Coming back to the fitness magazines, it is important to note that, with these magazines (as well as those catering more to women), the majority of the profit is not made from subscriptions. It's from advertising space. For men, it's the protein shakes. The power bars. The gym memberships. The workout gear. Athletic attire. Old spice cologne. Budweiser. For women, it's the mascara, the eyeshadow, the diet pills, the tanning salons, the clothes, the curling irons, the cookbooks, the Botox. Therefore, it is not in the best interest of these magazines to publish articles and pictures of people in their realistic form. That doesn't sell. No one wants to look at ugly people, right? So skin is airbrushed, stray hairs edited, legs stretched, contrast on muscles increased, color enhanced, etc.
On a side note, a few weeks ago a friend and I went grocery shopping. As we passed a section of "plus-size" women's underwear, something caught my eye (which is rare, seeing as I'm not exactly way into women). One of the packages of underwear displayed a woman in a bra and panties, exposing her midrif. Something was off, however. It took me a few seconds to realize that her body had been digitally stretched horizontally in the middle of her body. For a plus-size woman, she had no rolls or fat whatsoever. Her belly-button was wider than life, but it was softened through Photoshop. Essentially, the marketers took a fit female model and stretched the middle of her body to give the impression that she was "plus-size" without the negativity of apparent fat.
Part of my journey with SSA is the acceptance of myself and the realization that I struggle with envy, particularly body envy. I want so badly to be accepted, to be part of the masculine bandwagon. I lack confidence, and so I lust for things that would give me that confidence. I have to remind myself that buying into these social marketing myths is not going to get me that confidence. It's only going to give more weight to Satan's lies. Chasing after unrealistic and often unachievable goals never leads to happiness.
For more information on shame research, I heartily recommend I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn't): Telling the Truth About Perfectionism, Inadequecy and Power by Brené Brown.