Over the past few weeks, I’ve been increasingly mindful of the avalanche of information coming from all media-types about weight-loss, in light of New Year’s resolutions. As I thought about ways to describe this phenomenon, of information overload, avalanche seemed suitable as it’s described as, “…a sudden arrival or occurrence of something in overwhelming quantities”.

Not surprisingly, body-image isn’t always first thought on our list when we catch up with friends. While authentic conversations about how we feel inside our bodies aren’t priorities, the passive messages seem to barge their way into every part of our lives. Has there been any conversation around your office about “being good”, which is some indication that refraining from eating the birthday cake brought to celebrate a colleagues special day is a sort of moral victory.

The unfortunate thing, is as small as these messages seem, they can have an almost instant impact on our lives and experiences. While it’s normative for us to all feel insecurities with our bodies or habits, guilt and shame have no role in how we should be interacting with food. If we think of guilt being a feeling that “I did something bad”, shame could be translated as a sense of, “I am bad”. When guilt becomes shame, it drives us, as people, farther and farther away from each other. A scholar and researcher on shame (perfectionism, authenticity, other topics)Brene Brown, defines it this way, “…the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection”. That’s not the way we want our co-workers to feel, is it?

There is a billion dollar industry that is fed by our insecurities, which no longer affects women alone. In my light reading on the subject of body-image issues, I came across alarming statistics. A TODAY /AOL survey, highlighted by Melissa Dahl, indicated that men spend more time in a given day worrying about their appearance than their health, families or career success (2014). In the same survey results, 63% of men said they always feel like they could lose weight, 41% worry others will judge their appearance and 44% of men feel uncomfortable wearing swim suits.

With the unrealistic images being perpetuated by our culture, it is no surprise men would feel like they don’t measure up. Big muscle dudes that spend 5-6 hours at the gym and eat meticulously strict diets, are lining our magazine shelves. I try to use humor to highlight the disparaging messages men are covertly exposed to in pop-culture, noting something like, “that dude’s biceps are bigger than my head!”. You may have heard stats on the unrealistic expectations set by the body-shape of the classic Barbie. I find it empowering to realize that it is not a problem affecting only one gender, race, ethnicity or culture.

What can be done about all this? Well, I believe we all need to be part of creating a body-positive culture. We all have talents and we all have words. Use yours to lift up, not put down. Consider how realistic some of the images we see are, with regard to body image. Remember that there is an industry is counting on our insecurities and don’t be afraid to talk about these things with friends. I think you’ll be surprised how common these experiences are.

References:

“Avalanche.” Dictionary.com. N.p., n.d. Web. Jan.-Feb. 2017
Dahl, M. (2014, February)Six-pack stress: Men worry more about their appearance than their jobs. TODAY. Retrieved from
http://www.today.com/health/six-pack-stress-men-worry-more-about-their-appearance-their-2D12117283