The influence of body image in our society

In many societies, people associate the perfect body image with success. Their perception of what a person should look like in order to be successful is heavily influenced by the media. Some of our contributors share how important body image is perceived to be in their countries and what that perception is influenced by.

From Nuria, our contributor from Costa Rica.

In Costa Rica, most people worry about their body image because the media is constantly telling us how we “should” look in order to be “accepted” by society. The ideal woman is supposed to be thin, tall, with nice hair, and should have a beautiful proportional face. Being skinny is not an option because then people criticize her; on the other hand, being fat would be worse. For a man, he needs to be neither too thin nor heavy and he will look more attractive if he has a muscular body and a nice face.

The TV and radio commercials, the numerous ads everywhere, the Internet, the magazines…the media has a very big influence on people’s concept of beauty and how we can achieve it. However, it is all fake! How many people do really have the “perfect” face and body? Should we really go after it? Nobody is perfect and we should all accept each other the way we are. The media is always going to put pressure on societies, so we should be the ones changing our attitude towards this. Otherwise, people, especially children and teenagers, will continue being negatively affected by it and will face eating disorders and low self-esteem.

In Costa Rica, and in many other countries, chauvinism plays a huge role in the way women are perceived. We are the ones who get most pressure on how we should look. The interesting fact here is that men are not the only ones who criticize them but women as well, and sometimes even more than men. I have experienced this myself; last year I gained about 2 or 3 kilos after some time abroad, and then when my female cousins saw me, they immediately told me: “Oh, you’re a little fat now”. I was shocked! Even if I knew I had gained some weight, it was not 10 kilos, but that was the very first comment they made. Then, to compensate the negative comment, they said: “But you look so nice like that…yeah, you look better”. Yeah right! That is a typical comment heard in Costa Rica.

Men also suffer from this social pressure, but not as much. Women are usually the ones worried about body image. Last year, a friend of mine started dating a chubby guy, but she did not like him that much at first…and it was all because of his weight! Then she got to know him better and now she is in love with him! It is really incredible how body image can define our decisions in many aspects of our lives.

From DeeBee, our contributor from France

Body image is very important in France, especially in big cities and in particular in Paris. French women have the reputation of being slim and most look after their weight.

Most French people I know think that life is kinder to those who are slim. They believe they are more successful in their personal and professional life as they feel more confident about themselves.

The first impression is very important, either when interviewed for a job or meeting someone new. Being slim and toned is assimilated to a healthy look.

From LeX, our contributor from Malaysia

Generally, I think in most of the cases, it happens in urban areas. While in villages, not as much as you think. I could talk about South Korea and Malaysia.

In South Korea, image is extremely important, either for guys or girls. It could happen to the degree that a job could be offered to the people with average qualifications but good image, rather than great qualification and average image. This is one of the reasons that plastic surgery is very common and popular in South Korea.

While in Malaysia, it usually happens only in urban cities but not to the degree like in South Korea. In a city it is important, gym is a luxury business as well as beauty shops. But not in the villages or small cities.

From Mitrajit, our contributor from India

People from India prefer to be fairer where as in European cultures more people want to get tanned. That’s the nature’s truth of the opposite dilemma.

From Lucy, our managing editor

Appearance and body image are important in the UK, but maybe less than in some other cultures. From my perspective the emphasis has switched in recent years from being thin to being healthy – for many people being in good shape (doing sport) and healthy eating are now more important than dieting to lose weight. One thing that persists is wanting to be tanned – whenever there’s a bit of sun, you will see British people trying to get a tan. Hair colour can be an issue too. Redheads (people with red hair) are often teased in England. I’m not even sure why.

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About the author

Ana Astri-O'Reilly
Ana Astri-O’Reilly is from Argentina, where she lived until five years ago. She currently lives in Dallas, USA with her British husband, but they move a lot. Previously a translator and English and Spanish teacher, Ana first started writing to share her experiences and adventures with friends and family. She speaks Spanish, English and a smattering of Portuguese.
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