Ask Dr. V, The Beauty Myths

Venus Nicolino holds a Ph.D. in Psychology. Her column addresses Love, Life and Relationships. This week: the beauty myth

Dear Dr. V,

My boyfriend and I are attractive people. I generally feel good about our relationship and myself. However, every time we’re watching TV or reading a magazine, I find myself feeling insecure; like: “Is he looking at the woman in the ad? Does he think she’s more attractive than me?” I’ve asked him and, of course, he says, “of course not” but why do I feel this way? What can I do?

Kelly from LA

Dear Kelly,

The insecurity and worry you are experiencing is something you share with nearly every other woman living in our society. There is not a thing wrong with you (or the rest of us, for that matter). In our market-obsessed culture where everything is fair game to be made into a business, an industry has evolved around making women feel dissatisfied, insecure and unhappy with their bodies. Why? So that hopefully you will go out and purchase goods and services to make you feel more attractive, or at least, so that you can attempt to conform to the twisted concept that passes for beauty these days. The result is an unbearable amount of pressure put on young women to achieve an unrealistic, unhealthy level of physical “perfection.”

You know the image I mean: ninety pounds forever; does not engage in any human-like behavior such as eating or other bodily functions; cartoon-like large breasts; features so perfect they appear unreal — which of course they are.

Even after hours in make-up and being photographed under ideal, controlled lighting, the actresses and models themselves don’t make the grade. Their images are processed like so much lunchmeat on a computer where their necks are lengthened; pores and blemishes are removed from their skin, etc. This literally inhuman vision of womanhood assaults us from movie and TV screens, magazines and billboard ads. All around us is this impossible-to-achieve, unnatural ideal. Women are constantly made to feel as if they are falling short of this warped perfection (and how could they not? NOBODY is perfect; it’s part of what makes us human).

You asked, “What can I do?” A good start would be to check how much power and influence over yourself you give the machinery pushing these lies. When you find yourself feeling insecure because you don’t measure up to the electronically enhanced women, remember: They’re not real. If the actress on the screen were standing in the room with you, she would not look like what you see on the TV. Try to keep in mind that the images making you feel this way are no more real than the monster that lived in your closet as a little kid, and are defeated in the same way. If you decide not to believe in the billboards, magazines and advertisements, you may be surprised to find their spell over you breaking. These feelings of insecurity are a form of fear, fear of not measuring up, fear of not being good enough, perhaps at their root, fear of being left alone. Fear only has as much power over us as we choose to give it. Many times, facing a fear can render it harmless.

You can also exercise more control over your media diet. The same way you’d avoid certain foods that make you ill, if you find that a particular magazine, TV show or what have you that consistently leaves you feeling like less of a person, try avoiding it and see how you do.

In addition, remember that you yourself are a rare find, a true species of one. Make sure to be caring for you as such a treasure is worthy of. Eat a healthy diet. Get plenty of exercise (which will entail turning off the TV — two birds with one stone!). Instead of taking these actions with a negative association, as in “I have to go the gym so I don’t get fat and ugly,” try approaching it from a positive angle, such as “I’m going to the gym to keep myself happy and healthy.” Many people who don’t find conventional exercise regimens compatible with their lifestyle or outlooks find that Eastern physical disciplines such as yoga and tai chi offer fitness for their body and mind. You may find, as many others do, that when you are in good physical health, good emotional and mental health often follow close behind.

On the other hand, I don’t mean to come off as anti-cosmetics or anti-beauty either. On the contrary, I believe we should all do whatever we like to make ourselves look and feel the best that we can, provided of course no harm’s being done to ourselves or others.

The game being played by the media and advertising industry has gone on for decades, and they are past masters at it. Perhaps the reason the advertising is so effective is that it strikes at such a basic and widely held insecurities; “Am I pretty/thin/young/tan/etc/ enough?” With some work and diligence you will hopefully be able to answer that question for yourself with a resounding, bulletproof “Yes!” I hope this time comes for you soon, and you are able to cast aside these manufactured worries so unfairly heaped on you.

With Empathy,

Dr. V

Note: All information in the Ask Dr. V column is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnosis and treatment, please feel free to email Dr. V, or consult your doctor.

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