When you look in the mirror, what do you see? Your perception of
how your body looks forms your body image. Interestingly, a
perfectly-toned 20 year old fitness model could have a very poor body
image, while an average-shaped 50 year old man or woman could have a
great body image. Regardless of how closely your actual figure
resembles your perception, your body image can affect your self-esteem,
your eating and exercise behaviors, and your relationships with others.
Read on to learn…
So, Why are so many people unhappy with their bodies?
In American culture (and particularly in southern California), there is
a lot of emphasis placed on body weight, size, and appearance. And, we
are conditioned from a very young age to believe that self-worth is
derived from these external characteristics. For example, being thin
and/or muscular is associated with being “hard-working, successful,
popular, beautiful, strong, and self-disciplined.” On the other hand,
being “fat” is associated with being “lazy, ignorant, hated, ugly,
weak, and lacking will-power.” These stereotypes are prevalent in our
society; and they are reinforced by the media, our family and friends,
and even well-respected health professionals. As a result, we often
unfairly judge others and label them based on their weight and size
alone. We feel great anxiety and pressure to achieve and/or maintain a
very lean physique. And, we believe that if we can just be thinner or
more muscular, we can be happier, more successful, and more accepted by
The media sets unrealistic standards for what body weight and
appearance is considered “normal.” Girls are indoctrinated at a very
young age that Barbie is how a woman is supposed to look (i.e. no fat
anywhere on your body, but huge breasts). NOTE: If Barbie were
life-size, she would stand 5’9” and weigh 110 lb. (only 76% of what is
considered a healthy weight for her height). Her measurements would be
39-18-33, and she would not menstruate due to inadequate levels of fat
on her body. Similarly, boys are given the impression that men
naturally have muscles bulging all over their bodies. Take a look at
their plastic action-figures (like GI Joe Extreme) in toy stores. If
GI Joe Extreme were life-size, he would have a 55-inch chest and a
27-inch bicep. In other words, his bicep would be almost as big as his
waist and bigger than most competitive body builders’. These body
ideals are reinforced every day on TV shows, movies, magazine covers,
and even video games. At UCLA, where the crowd is young and the warm
climate promotes use of revealing clothing, the exaltation and
expectation of extreme leanness is even more exaggerated.
And the media’s portrayal of what is “normal” keeps getting thinner
and thinner for women and more muscular and ripped for men.
Twenty-five years ago, the average female model weighed 8% less than
the average American woman. Currently, the average female model weighs
23% below her average weight. Similar trends are seen with men. The
average Playgirl centerfold man has shed about 12 lbs. of fat, while
putting on approximately 27 lb. of muscle over the past 25 years.
With these media images and body ideals, it’s little wonder that women
and men feel inadequate, ashamed, and dissatisfied with how they look.
Only about 5% of women have the genetic make up to ever achieve the ultra-long and thin model body type
so pervasive in the media. Yet that is the only body type that women
see and can compare themselves to. Similarly, all boys see is a body
ideal that for most men is impossible to achieve without illegal
anabolic steroids. There is a physiological limit to how much muscle a
man can attain naturally, given his height, frame, and body fat
percentage. Unfortunately, however, the action figure heroes on toy
store shelves and male fitness models on magazine covers and ads
Family, Friends, and Romantic Partners
In college, you may feel great pressure to be thin or super muscular in
order to be accepted by your peers and attractive to potential romantic
partners (especially in Los Angeles, one of the most weight, diet, and
fitness-crazed cities in the world!). If you’re living with a lot of
other students (especially women) in a sorority/fraternity house or
residence hall, the pressure may be even more intense. In these group
living situations, you may be surrounded by negative “body talk”…in the
bathroom, in the dining halls, in your dorm room…there’s no escaping
the comments (“Yuck! Look at my thighs…I’m so fat! I really need to
go on a diet!”). All these comments can make you crazy! They can make
you start worrying about your own weight and make you start feeling
self-conscious about your own body, even though you never worried about
Your mother, or other family member, may have done the same thing while
your were growing up by making constant comments about her own weight
(or yours) and enforcing lots of food restrictions on herself (or
you). Early on, you may have gotten the message that you need to be
thin in order to be accepted and loved by your parents.
If you’re an athlete, you may feel tremendous pressure to lose weight
or body fat so you can make a specific weight class (i.e. wrestling,
crew, boxing), race faster (i.e. running, cycling), or look more
attractive to the judges or audience (i.e. gymnastics, dance,
cheerleading, figure skating). The pressure may come from you, your
teammates, your coach, and/or your parents. In any case, the message
is clear, “you need to have a certain body to perform well and be
considered a good athlete.”
Weight and height
measurements are routinely done at health clinics; and you are often
assigned a certain label (“underweight, healthy weight, overweight, or
obese”) based on these measurements. Your clinician may even encourage
you to lose weight, to see a dietitian, or to consider drugs or surgery
based on these numbers, without even asking about your eating and
exercise habits or considering your level of fitness. The clinician,
of course, has good intentions. After all, clinicians are taught in
their medical training about all the perils of the “obesity epidemic.”
And, they are reminded again and again that obesity is a “disease” that
can (and should) be aggressively treated with drugs.
While weight measurements may actually reflect bad
eating habits, a sedentary lifestyle, and poor health and fitness, they
don’t always. In fact, there are many large, “overweight” (but fit)
men and women who eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and enjoy
excellent health (as indicated by their optimal blood pressure, blood
cholesterol, and blood sugar levels). And, there are many “healthy
weight” men and women who don’t.
If you have been a victim of this type of weight prejudice by the
medical community, it’s understandable that your body image and
self-esteem would suffer. After all, you are being told by one of the
most powerful and respected members of society that you are
“diseased.” The guilt, shame, and self-loathing associated with such a
label does nothing to support healthy eating, physical activity, and
good health; and, in many cases, it does just the opposite.
Is it possible to achieve the “ideal body?”
In desperate attempts to achieve the “ideal” weight and shape, many students turn to disordered behaviors
such as restrictive dieting, a variety of fat burning or muscle
building products, exhaustive exercise, and/or cigarette smoking. They
may starve themselves because they hate their bodies, eventually
overeat because they get over-hungry, feel incredibly guilty after
eating, and then try to get rid of the unwanted calories.
mind that your weight and body composition are determined by a number
of factors. Some of these factors (such as your calorie intake and
level of physical activity) can be manipulated. But other factors
(such as your body type,
bone structure, the way you store fat, and other genetic variables)
cannot be manipulated. Most people simply lack the raw materials to
build the “ideal” body, regardless of how strict they are with their
eating and exercise regimens.
Consider this, only about 5% of American women have the ultra-long
and thin body-type that is seen almost exclusively in the media. Women
who attempt to achieve this body type (but lack the genetic material to
do so) are setting themselves up for years and years of yo-yo dieting,
weight fluctuations, disordered eating, and depression.
Similarly, the body ideal projected to boys and men in most muscle
magazines and cartoon action figure heroes is impossible to achieve
without illegal anabolic steroids. In most cases, if a man claims to
have achieved this ideal with hard training and strict diet alone, he
probably didn't. There is a physiological limit to how much muscle a
man can attain naturally, given his height and body fat percentage. In
other words, it’s physiologically impossible to gain unlimited pounds
of pure bulging muscle mass while maintaining an ultra lean, ripped
body (with only 3-7% body fat)--even when following the “perfect”
training and diet program. Once you reach your maximal muscle mass,
any further gains will come from both muscle AND fat. So, men who have
greater muscle mass/size tend to have higher body fat percentages as
well (e.g. 10-15%).
Thus, it is important to be realistic when determining how you want
to look to avoid sacrificing your health and happiness for an
Is the “ideal body” really your key to health, success, beauty, & happiness? Health & Fitness
What does a number on the scale really tell you about how healthy or
fit someone is? When you step on a scale, the weight that you see
doesn’t tell you anything about your body composition (i.e. how much is
muscle, bone, or fat). Keep in mind that muscle is denser and weighs
more than fat. So, if you are very physically active and have more
muscle, you SHOULD weigh more.
In addition, weight (or even body composition) isn’t the best
indicator of health and fitness. Your eating habits, exercise
patterns, and metabolic measures (like blood pressure, blood
cholesterol, and blood glucose levels) are more important indicators of
your health. And, your fitness level is better measured by your
cardiovascular endurance, muscle strength, muscle endurance, and
flexibility--not by your weight and body fat.
Compare these two female students. Which one is healthy and fit?
is “obese” based on her height and weight (she stands 5’2” and weighs
180 lb, Body Mass Index = 33.). Despite her weight, she is training
for a triathlon, exercises hard for 6 hours per week, and fuels her
body with about 1800-2000 calories from wholesome nourishing foods.
She is trying to lose weight, but realizes that restricting her calorie
intake too low will impair her health and exercise performance.
is underweight at 5’2” and 96 lb. (Body Mass Index = 17.6). She
consumes fewer than 1000 calories a day, smokes and drinks diet sodas
and coffee all day to suppress her appetite, and barely has the energy
to walk to school, let alone work-out.
Compare these two male students. Which one is healthy and fit?
is 5’6” and 142 lb. He runs around the track and climbs the Drake
stadium stairs for about 30-45 minutes 3 times per week, and he lifts
weights for about an hour 2 times per week. He eats a high fiber diet
(with plenty of fruits, veggies, and whole grains) and also makes sure
to eat adequate protein from chicken, tuna, and low fat milk products.
He just had a wellness exam at the Ashe Center and was told that his
blood pressure and cholesterol levels were optimal.
is 5’6” and is extremely muscular at 170 lb. He is in the weight room
6 days a week for 2 hours each session. He never does cardio because
he’s afraid of losing mass and size. Ron eats a very high protein
diet, stays away from starch and sugar, and supplements his diet with
designer whey protein shakes, ECA stack (before workouts), and creatine monohydrate
(after workouts). At his last wellness exam, he was told his blood
pressure was elevated (probably related to the stimulants in the ECA
stack and lack of cardio exercise), his blood cholesterol was
borderline high (probably related to all the partially hydrogenated
oils in the sports bars he eats, as well as his very low fiber intake),
and his blood creatinine levels were high (from all the protein in his
good friend or a good parent. What characteristics does he/she have?
Now, describe a good doctor, lawyer, or teacher? What are they like?
As you imagine these model people, what part (if any) does body weight
or percent body fat play in determining their quality or
effectiveness? Probably not much.
Beauty & Attractiveness
Imagine a pair of twins standing across the room. One is
smiling and dancing and exuding a sense of confidence and openness.
The other is standing with his/her arms crossed and has a disgusted,
angry expression on his/her face. Which one would you think was more
uncommon for people to think that they would be so much happier if only
they could lose weight or have a more muscular physique. After all,
our society equates thinness and extreme leanness with happiness.
Logically then, people turn to diets as the solution to all their life
problems. Unfortunately, however, weight is not the problem, and dieting is not
the answer. True happiness comes from within. It comes from nurturing
your soul and spirit with healthy relationships, communication,
boundary setting, and relaxation. While finding true happiness internally
can often result in better self-care of the external body (i.e.
healthier eating and physical activity patterns), focusing only on the
self-care of the external body will do nothing to heal the inside pain.
What can you do to improve your body image?
De-emphasize weight. Don’t get hung up on numbers. Weight doesn’t tell you much.
• Is it muscle, bone, or fat? Muscle weighs more than fat.
• Weight isn’t the best indicator of health or fitness. Your eating
habits, exercise patterns, and other lifestyle choices are more
• Weight doesn’t define who you are or what you are worth as a person.
There is no such thing as one
“ideal body weight” based on your height. Each one of us has a healthy
weight based on our body type, bone structure, muscle mass, genetics,
what weight we feel our best at, and what weight our body tends to want to maintain at.
There is a physiological limit to how muscular you can get naturally.
• Many of the supermuscular male bodies you see in the media are just the products of drugs. It is not possible to be that muscular and that lean without chemical assistance.
• Instead of thinking of it as a limit, think of it as your personal best.
• Realize that you cannot change your body type. Learn to love and respect your body and to work with what you have.
• Invest time and money in yourself, rather than the diet and
supplement industry. Spend your extra money on flattering clothes,
fitness equipment, haircuts, massages, and other personal
indulgences--not on diets.
• Stop weighing yourself.
Focus on how your clothes fit and how you feel. If you keep trying to
achieve an unrealistically low body weight for you, you’re setting
yourself up for failure, depression, disordered eating, and decreased
quality of life.
• Stop comparing yourself to others.
• Celebrate your body and the marvelous things it can do when you are
fit and well-nourished. So often, we take these things for granted.
• Move and enjoy your body. Go walking, swimming, biking, and
dancing. Do yoga, aerobics, and weight training…. not because you have to, but because it makes you feel strong and energized.
• Surround yourself with people who have a healthy relationship with
food, weight, and their bodies. It will make a difference in how you
feel about yourself. Also, remember to set a good example for others
by refraining from “fat talk” when you’re with friends and family.
• Stop your negative thoughts and statements about yourself. Focus on
what you love about yourself. Compliment yourself. Talk to your body
the way you would talk to a good friend.
• Reclaim your own inner
strength. Focus on the unique qualities and personality traits that
make you a special and successful person.
• Nurture your inner self. Enjoy things you find relaxing (e.g. music,
bubble baths, fragrances, candles, massages, reading, writing,
napping), be close to nature (e.g. garden, sunsets, beach, stars),
and/or seek spiritual connection (e.g. prayer, meditation,
inspirational reading, reflection). Feeling good on the inside is key
to feeling good on the outside.
• Examine the degree to
which your self-esteem depends upon your appearance. Although it may
seem natural to wish you looked like a fashion model or a body builder,
basing your happiness on this desire may lead to failure. Unrealistic
goals can prevent you from exploring ways to enhance your life.
• Broaden your perspective. Talk to people you trust, read books about
body image, or write in a journal. These activities may help you to
recognize emotionally destructive thoughts and put body image into
• Recognize that “fat-ism” is a form of
discrimination similar to sexism, racism, and classism. Assumptions
that body shape determines attractiveness, personality, and success are
incorrect and unjust. Combat discrimination when possible. Question
assumptions and generalizations which promote the belief that one
“type” of person is better than another.
Hey, I’m Adam
Visit us on Facebook! or email me
“We’ve created a place on the internet for you to ask the questions
you’ve always wanted to ask. So take a look around, then let us know
what you think about it. You might make a really good point about
something, then see what others think about it as well. It’s getting
involved, and sharing ideas about all kinds of subjects.”
I'm Adam. I joined this web site because I really appreciate what In
Search of Me Cafe is trying to do. When I was faced with tough choices
I never really had a lot of people to talk to. Often I was embarrassed
asking for advice on awkward stuff from my friends and family. I think
if there had been an In Search of Me Cafe when I was making tough
decisions it would have really helped me.
enough about why I like this site so much. I have always liked to party
and I love chillin’ with my friends. Obviously partying can lead to
some tough life choices; I had my first alcoholic drink when I was 13.
That may seem pretty young but I grew up in Europe where the legal age
was 16. Yes I know... that’s still underage.
I was underage. It’s easy to drink when your friends drink. Needless to
say, from the first drink till now, I have experienced a lot. Partying
was probably the best tool in learning about me which may seem strange
but I really learned a lot about how I treat my friends and
relationships, how I trust …you name it. Good times and bad I have
gained valuable life lessons. If you ever need to talk about stuff or
you have a question you’re burning to ask or if you just wanna share
stories. Go ahead and holler. I won’t judge and it’s pretty hard to
faze me. I’ll give you my honest opinion and you never know, you may
have an experience that’ll teach me some things too.
Hey, I’m Taran
Visit us on Facebook! or email me
“Every teen has to face the same type of problems and try to figure out who they are. This is a place where you can do that.”
Hey, I’m Maddie
Visit us on Facebook! or email me
“Up until this year I was picked on a lot and it really brings down
your self esteem. Kids don't think about how they're really affecting
other people with their words and eventually the other kids' self
esteem goes down and down and they start to believe what the bullies
are saying. After a while you just start to give up and think, ‘Oh,
what's the point. I suck anyway’ and your grades and everything else
Hey, I’m Chelsi.
Visit me us Facebook! or email me
Each morning I see in my mind what I’m working hard to obtain. I
know I can achieve anything I set my mind on by putting in the time
& effort needed. I believe one can learn from every experience. I
like to ‘take the best and leave the rest’!“
a rule I don’t like talking about myself. However, I want you to know
a little about me, the “teen” likely not much different than you and
thinking a lot of the same things and having similar questions etc.
I try to treat everyone with respect and kindness, just as I would
hope to be treated! Hopefully I can help answer questions you may have
or concerns you don’t want to discuss with an adult… you know
Here’s a bit of what I like to do…. I love
hanging with my friends at the movies or the mall, and staying in with
my family. I love music, sometimes when I’m upset or “heartbroken” I go
in my room and just listen to music. It just lets me cool off and just
not have to think.
Although I’m only 13 on paper, I’m
told I’m much wiser than my years. If there is a problem, I am the
first person anyone calls. I may be nice but, if someone hurts anyone I
know (whether I like ya or not) they are in trouble… haha. They call me
“the haha queen” because I can make any situation funny.
hope after hearing this little bit “about me” you want to ask me your
questions, and if you just want to chat, I’d love to. I like meeting
“And it's now, now or never when we're chasing our dreams.” -Mercy Mercedes
“I'd like to make myself believe that planet Earth turns slowly.” -Owl City
“Do you know what's worth fighting for? When it's not worth dying for?” –Green Day
What my friends have to say About me - Chelsi♥ ……
like talking to you because you can always make me feel good about
myself and make me happy no matter what. I like you as a person because
you really are a great friend and I thank you for being there for me,
and you’re just fun to be with.” -Jessie
hard.. To put into words.. The uncanny ability you have to put a smile
on my face and that’s just online, from reading the nearly poetic
replies. Where as over the phones it’s near impossible to explain the
warmth that washes over me when I hear your voice. For some reason when
I heard you for the first time. Chelsi you inspired my first poem I wrote … -Sean
Hey, I’m Brittany
Visit us on Facebook! or email me
“When people go to parties just to hang out, other people come and
bring drinks or cigarettes, and try to get you to do it. They keep
trying and trying to get you to drink or smoke, and you might be
tempted do it because you want to be known as a cool person.”
Hey, I’m Trent
“I have cousins my same age and younger who are Haitian and Filipino,
which allows me to connect with other cultures. Even with different
styles and different issues, these other teenagers still have some of
the same dramas we have here in America, such as peer pressure.” Hey, I’m Trent
Hey, I’m Forrest
“You can post video blogs on this site -- voice your opinions about
topics here as well as responses to what others are saying in their
blogs. So it kinda builds upon itself.”
Hey, I’m Connor
Hi, I’m Connor Cottle. I’m 17 and a junior at Fernandina Beach
High School in northeast Florida. As an only child, my friends are
really important to me, so I’m either hanging out with them or texting
them when we’re apart.
I spend my free time on the tennis court, the golf course, and at the beach. I volunteer
frequently around my community and enjoy every minute of it.
am also the Lead Youth Advisor of the In Search of Me Café program and
I’m involved because I like how connecting teens all over the world can
help them help themselves.
I’m always around if you need any advice or if you just want to hang out.
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