You are a process, not a product

So, you’re stressed? Follow Calvin’s advice and take a break; stop trying to learn and just concentrate on liking yourself the way you are. This fictitious boy, who is a mere six-years-old, suggests that our sense of self is, perhaps, more important than intelligence.

In today’s society, under the influence of the media, drawing comparisons between ourselves and others has never been so easy. For example, the media’s portrayal of unrealistic beauty standards generates body dissatisfaction, and—in extreme cases—may spark eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia. Pressure to conform to society’s beauty standards is intense, and yielding to it strips us of our individuality.

Over the years, beauty standards have changed drastically, from 1950’s sex symbol, Marilyn Monroe, weighing approximately 140 pounds, to stick-thin models nowadays, weighing 105 pounds. These are examples of the media’s influence on what is commonly viewed as beautiful. Because of such standard, there are girls everywhere skipping meals and starving themselves in an effort to lose weight and achieve the “perfect” body. Trends such as these are particularly dangerous for girls going to through puberty, since they are more susceptible to these images. As the pressure to conform increases, and we hear more and more cases of girls partaking in risky behavior in order to meet these standards, many groups have brought the issue to light and are working towards solutions to combat the growing influence of media on young girls.

One such project is the New York City Girl’s Project, which addresses the issue of body image, educating young girls to believe their value comes from their character, skills, and attributes, instead of appearance. As a multi-faceted project, one of their initiatives is to display posters on buses, phone kiosks, and subways, depicting a diverse group of girls performing activities, such as reading or playing sports. These posters would state, “I’m a girl. I’m smart, a leader, adventurous, friendly, funny. I’m beautiful the way I am.” The campaign also invites girls to share what makes them beautiful the way they are using the hashtag #ImAGirl.

Yet, women aren’t the only gender affected my media images; men also have standards to meet. In a recent survey published in the medical journal Pediatrics, it was concluded that men see the “toned and muscular body as the ideal.” Sixty-seven percent of those surveyed claimed devotion to strict diets and intense gym sessions; 35% admitted to using protein shakes, and another 6% to using steroids. Questions that arise from such surveys: Are we ever satisfied with our image? Will we continue to go to image-altering lengths to meet unrealistic standards?

The fundamental key to a healthier self-image is self-acceptance. We must grow to appreciate and accept ourselves. By no means does this suggest adopting a sedentary lifestyle; on the contrary, physical activity must be an integral part of our lives. But when someone is constantly unhappy with his or her appearance, that is serious issue. Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. Only when we look in the mirror and see our own definition of beauty reflected back to us will we be truly happy, and therefore be open to loving others. American psychologist Albert Ellis used to joke that if Martians came to earth and saw us humans, imperfect by nature, but demanding perfection, they would die laughing. The situation is indeed absurd.

Cultivating self-acceptance is a process that demands tenacity to break self-defeating beliefs and habits. Of this central point in understanding the complexity of self-image, American mental health counselor and educator Jeffrey Guterman said it well: “self-acceptance is about recognizing that you are a process, not a product.”