We, as a culture of Americans, do some pretty dumb things. I, personally, had a doctor reposition my teeth with wires and pull ten permanent teeth to give me a more aesthetically pleasing smile (aka: six and a half years of braces). Others pay doctors to inject their faces with trace amounts of botulism poison to erase lines in their face because they fear the natural change in their appearance that comes with aging; essentially paralyzing their face to temporarily halt the progression of facial lines. And others, unsatisfied with, say, their nose, pay doctors to hammer it, remove bone or put in an implant to change its shape. In short, we are a culture insistent upon changing ourselves to fit inside some cultural norm, either real or imagined, that we have been taught that we must strive to achieve—despite the fact that it is often unattainable. We have become a culture where the pressure to be the “ideal” (whatever the hell that is) is louder than the pressure to be yourself; to be the person you were born to be. People go to great lengths to prove that what they don’t like about their bodies is, in fact, true. They complain about their bodies with others—often turning into a sick “I’m more messed up than you” competition. Fault-finding in one’s own self has almost become the national sport. These same people are also willing to pay loads of money to change themselves to be what they feel society is pressuring them to be; ignoring their own thoughts about themselves, while adopting the brainwashed mindset of society. In a culture so encouraging of individualism, why do we constantly strive to all look and think alike…and why do we feel we have to conform to society’s view of “perfect”?
Recently, I found myself sucked into an episode of 20/20 while editing photos. This episode focused on “extremes” in human behavior. One segment featured a man who got paid by various companies to have their logo tattooed on his face, another showed a woman who was unsatisfied with her LLL breasts and wanted larger implants, and another focused on something that I find so appalling I felt the need to make it the subject of this post… the Ketogenic Enteral Nutrition diet aka the “feeding tube diet”. What. The. Hell? I watched in horror as the only doctor in the country described how people, desperate to lose weight, willingly hooked themselves up to naso-gastric feeding tubes which pumped a mere 800 calories per day for ten days, while being forbidden from eating, and limiting themselves to drinking only water, black coffee and unsweet tea. Not only that, but they pay $1,500 to do so. It is being advertised as the “serious new weapon on the war on obesity”…which is pure bollocks. The segment started with a woman’s daughter talking about how fat she thought her average, if not smaller than average, mother was. After the magic of the feeding tube diet, the girl hugs her mom and tells her how pretty she is now. This just further emphasizes the cultural idea that thinness equates happiness, that everyone has to become society’s ideal and that anyone not representing the ideal should be ashamed. It also taught the little girl the misguided idea that fat equals ugly, and that she will only be loved if she is thin. Is this really the world in which we want our children to live—a world in which their value is only measured by outward appearance and not by the size of their heart or the power of their mind? What is not explained in the segment, however, is the lasting side effects of this nonsense which include: liver stress, kidney stones, bacterial infections, aspiration pneumonia, choking, and bone density loss…all in the name of vanity.
What are we doing? As a society, it has become more culturally accepted to starve yourself by paying for a $1,500 feeding tube diet rather than learning how to eat healthfully. It has become a goal of everyone (whether or not they choose to admit it) to lose weight and look “attractive” by today’s standards of beauty. It has become the norm to bash our bodies, ourselves, our characteristics…everything about ourselves that isn’t deemed culturally acceptable in today’s world. We have become so ashamed to just be ourselves that we adopt the personas created by society simply to fit in. I wish I had some big revelation to offer as to how we can shift the cultural paradigm to embrace individuality in all aspects of life. I wish I had answers as to why we are so uncomfortable in our own genes. And I wish I knew why I’ve let myself fall into the same ruse. Unfortunately, I don’t have answers. What I do have is a voice. A voice that is going to start standing up for itself. A voice that won’t complain at every perceived personal flaw. A voice that will not let society determine my self-worth. A voice that, albeit shaky and still learning to trust, will learn to embrace who I am as an individual and be proud of myself. We need to stop this culture of self-deprecation and shaming of those who do not fit the cultural ideals. The first step to achieving this is with you. Set a model for those around you—start a revolution, love yourself.
“Our eating disorders have taught us to see our beauty through the deliberately distorted lenses of the media-marketing-driven culture we dwell in, and the equally compelling propensity for the disease that dwells within us. However, that does not mean we have to stay in that uncomfortable, unhappy place, trying to wedge our brilliant unique beauty into the sharp-edged little cookie-cutter mold that fits none of us well.Some of my best days have been the days when I could begin to see something beautiful in not only myself but in absolutely every other person I met as well. Believe it or not, this is a learned art.” Shannon Cutts