It’s in the Culture – Adults Connecting Self-Esteem and Weight Loss

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Does your weight cause you to stress out? Do you feel less attractive because you don’t look like the super-models in movies and TV shows? Do you look at yourself in the mirror and think “My hips are too big.” You’re not alone. Wanting to look slimmer is a normal source of motivation for embarking on a diet and exercise program, but many women suffer from low self-esteem and anxiety because of their weight. To be content with your body, you need to maintain a healthy body weight through diet and exercise and you need to transform your negative body image into a positive one.

Culture and the Feminine Figure

Our culture glorifies a cookie-cutter, Barbie-doll image of what a woman should look like that is wildly out of touch with reality. Normal women come in a variety of shapes and sizes that don’t usually match with the images of women we see on TV, movies, and magazines. For instance, fashion models weigh 23 percent less than the average woman.1 Yet, the entertainment industry has adopted an overly narrow view of the ideal woman as someone who is a size 0 and has no hips.

When was the last time you saw a 50 year old woman on the cover of a fashion magazine? Women are beautiful at every stage of life, yet our culture seems to imply that the 18 to 23 age range is the apex of beauty.2 Our society also doesn’t seem to take into account that women go through physiological changes as they age, especially after they give birth and when they hit menopause. Thus, the petite, toned, young women featured in most TV shows and movies don’t represent the average woman.

And this stereotype of beauty puts pressure on normal women, making them feel like they have to be pencil-thin in order to be loved and accepted. These unrealistic standards can cause women to obsess over their weight and develop eating disorders. Eating disorders are most prevalent among high school and college age girls. But according to a study in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, these food related conditions can occur in older women as well.3

Developing a Positive Self-Image

In light of all the social pressure placed on normal women, you need mental exercise as well as physical exercise in order to improve your self-esteem. There is a form of mental exercise called cognitive therapy. It consists of recognizing unhealthy, unrealistic thoughts and exchanging them with positive thoughts about yourself.4

To put this into practice, whenever you feel a wave of insecurity come over you because of your self-image, begin telling yourself that you are beautiful and valuable exactly as you are. You can say it silently to yourself if you’re in public, or out loud if you’re alone.

This may seem a little odd at first. But once you start fighting off your negative thoughts and replacing them with positive thoughts, it will become a normal part of your life. The human brain responds to habit, and our culture constantly sends unhealthy messages to women about their bodies. So if you continually tell yourself that you’re beautiful just as you are, then after a while that message will become hardwired into your mind.

Keeping Records and Setting Goals

Another way to improve your self-image is to keep a record of your daily accomplishments, victories and positive thoughts, whether great or small. If you ate healthy all day, write that down on the list. If you looked good in your new outfit, put it on the list. If you lost two pounds last week, write it down. It doesn’t even have to be health related. If you were kind to a stranger or went the extra mile to help a co-worker, include these things on the list.

Keeping a record of all these daily victories can reinforce your self-image and plant seeds of stronger self-esteem in your mind. So if you look at yourself in the mirror in the morning and are overwhelmed by negative thoughts, pull out your list and remind yourself of specific positive things you’ve done recently.

Also, set positive goals for yourself so that you can focus on self-improvement rather than self-criticism. The key is to make your goals small and realistic so that you can be encouraged as you achieve them. Include goals that relate to your health as well as other aspects of your life. For instance, make a goal to walk 30 minutes after dinner this week. Or strive to ignore the pencil-thin models on the magazines in the grocery store. Setting and accomplishing a list of realistic goals will take your focus off of the unrealistic weight expectations from our society and will allow you to focus on improving your life in a sustainable way.

You are Already a Super Person!

There’s nothing wrong, however, with pursuing a diet and exercise program in order to have a slimmer figure. But constantly comparing yourself with super models is unrealistic and unhealthy. Women who consistently view images of super-models have a lower body image than women who view images of normal, average sized women. Learning to shut out the images of “perfect women” which are so pervasive in our culture will go a long way in allowing you to set realistic expectations for your own figure.

The bottom line is if you want to feel better about yourself, you have to start by developing a healthy body image. Define your beauty and your ideal weight by your own standards, not society’s. And once you reach your ideal weight range, be content with that. Celebrate the uniqueness and beauty of your own body, rather than constantly wishing you had someone else’s. That way you can have a healthy mind as well as a healthy body.


1 Kramer, Gerri. (2005). The truth about eating disorders.New York: Facts On File.

About body image. (2009, September 22). Retrieved from womenshealth.gov: www.womenshealth.gov/body-image/about-body-image/

Mangweth-Matzek, B., Rupp, C. I., Hausmann, A., Assmayr, K., Mariacher, E., Kemmler, G., Whitworth, A. B., & Biebl, W. (2006). Never too old for eating disorders and body dissatisfaction: A community study of elderly women. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 583-586.

Sanders, Diana & Wills, Frank. (2005). Cognitive therapy: an introduction.London: Sage Publications.


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