Every woman has her Achilles’ heel, not just in the normal sense, but in terms of her body image. Renee Zellweger, in her movie role of Bridget Jones, provides a portrait of this insecurity as Bridget gets dressed under a blanket because she does not want her boyfriend to see her “wobbly bits.” Working in a women’s retail clothing store, where the target age is probably forty years on up, I’ve made some interesting observations. Not surprisingly, this one is the most common: Most women are not happy with at least one part of their body. Lamentations abound from the dressing rooms. On a daily basis I hear, “If I lost weight, this would look better” or “I like to cover my arms” or “I used to wear low necklines, but can’t now.” Women are so hard on themselves. How did we get this way? Yes, I say “we” because I am also guilty of this irrational self-criticism. How many times has my husband heard these words pitifully escape from my mouth as I come out of a dressing room, “Does this make my hips look big?”
Women aren’t born with these insecurities, so how did we develop these along with a streak of vanity? We can guess that societal pressures, plus promotions by the cosmetic, fashion, magazine, and diet industries, all play parts. Here’s a link to an article called Women and Body Image: Ten Disturbing Facts. The author’s first point clearly illustrates how the fashion industry plays a role in shaping our body image. She states, “The average American woman is 5’4” tall and weighs 140 pounds. The average American model is 5’11” tall and weighs 117 pounds.”
In addition, if we aren’t comfortable with our bodies, what messages are we sending to our children? Here’s an alarming statistic in the article: “One out of every four college aged women has an eating disorder.” Consider our daughters who played with Barbie Dolls and other shapely fashion dolls. Do are daughters also have body image issues as a result of seemingly innocent play? Point number nine in the above article states, “At 5′9” tall and weighing 110 lbs, Barbie would have a BMI of 16.24 which is considered severely underweight. Because of her ridiculous proportions (39” bust, 18” waist, 33” thighs and a size 3 shoes!), if she was a real woman, she wouldn’t be able to walk upright – she would have to walk on all fours. Note that the target market for Barbie Doll sales are girls ages 3 to 12.” Beauty and Body Image in the Media, another online article, also makes claims about Barbie, “Researchers generating a computer model of a woman with Barbie-doll proportions, for example, found that her back would be too weak to support the weight of her upper body, and her body would be too narrow to contain more than half a liver and a few centimeters of bowel. A real woman built that way would suffer from chronic diarrhea and eventually die from malnutrition.” This is not child’s play.
Where I work there are no mirrors in the individual dressing rooms and just a few in the dressing area. Although there are women who hate this lack of privacy, it’s a good thing. There is a lot to be said about the camaraderie and commiserating that transpires when women are together trying on clothes. I have witnessed complete strangers laugh and give advice to one another. There’s a positive energy in the air when women support women. I tell my customers who are critical of their bodies, that I can help them look their best just the way they look now. We can’t deal with how they used to look and we can’t wish away the ten pounds they’d like to lose. All we can control is the present. Sometimes when they start picking apart their bodies, I remind them that they are lucky to be healthy. I know it’s weird stuff for a sales associate to say, but I like to put things in perspective. Am I a top seller in the store? Not really, but I do have customers say they’ll see me next week for their therapy session or that I make them feel good. It’s all in a day’s work for me and I like myself better because of that.