Four Ways to Fight Our Culture’s Obsession with Beauty

Don’t be too hard on yourself when you struggle with body image.

If you’re a woman reading this, there’s a high chance that, in one form or another, you’ve been the victim of beauty sickness. And you probably had no clue about it, which means you didn’t know how to fight it off.

Renee Engeln, a psychology professor at Northwestern University, is here to help.

Engeln’s new book “Beauty Sick: How the Cultural Obsession With Appearance Hurts Girls and Women,” is the result of the past fifteen years spent studying girls’ and women’s struggles with beauty and body image. According to Engeln, you know you’re beauty sick when “you get so worried about how you look that you have less energy and time left for the things in life that really matter to you.”

We asked Engeln for her best advice on how to fight back against our beauty sick world. Below is the interview.

Watch your body talk

When you feel bad about how you look, it might seem like a good idea to engage in this kind of talk so that you can get reassurance or commiseration from others.
There are three problems with negative body talk:

1. Research suggests that engaging in negative body talk will actually leave you feeling worse instead of better.
2. Women who overhear your negative body talk can end up feeling worse as well.
3. When we disparage our own bodies, we feed into the notion that evaluative commentary about women’s bodies is fair game for others.

Practice kindness toward your body

Hearing platitudes like “Everyone is beautiful just the way they are!” doesn’t really seem to alleviate body image concerns. A more helpful and more realistic goal? Treat your body with kindness even if (or when) you don’t feel beautiful.

Replacing beauty sickness with gratitude

Fill in the blank in this sentence a few different ways, then repeat your sentences until you feel gratitude replacing some of that beauty sickness:
“Today, I am grateful that my body allows me to __________. “

Don’t be too hard on yourself when you struggle with body image

If the struggle to appreciate your body seems overwhelming, that’s because you’re fighting against powerful forces that benefit from women feeling terrible when they look in the mirror.
If it gets to be too much, don’t be afraid to seek professional help.

What matters most to you in life?

Engeln recommends asking yourself: What do I care about? What do I value? What do I want to fight for?  “When you feel the distress of beauty sickness, take a look at that list and consider why those things matter to you. Let those values pull you away from the mirror and back out into the world,” says Engeln.


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