Most of us begin life with a fairly natural amount of self-love, an appreciation of the way we look and the way we are.
But somewhere along the way, more likely around adolescence, we begin to worry about our body image. Suddenly we have doubts about the shape of our thighs, the size of our breasts and about practically every other aspect of our anatomy.
Adolescence is a time of doubt and emotional discovery, and for many, a time of deep despair and alienation. For many teenagers, the struggle to be accepted by peers and the opposite sex can become an almost consuming passion.
We are regularly bombarded with fantasy promises of health, wealth and happiness if we achieve the right shape. Those cat-walk models are reed-thin, and high-school girls worry about their looks.
For centuries, women have played the body game, a game they cannot win because the rules keep changing. A woman who feels her body is unacceptable needs to face the fact she is playing the game.
Many women insist they dress to please themselves, but in reality most of our adornment springs from our anxiety to measure up to contemporary standards of feminine beauty.
Today’s standard might be thick hair, manicured nails or a statuesque body sculpted to perfection by exercise — whatever, for most of us these goals are unattainable.
Even if you do decide to dedicate yourself to fashion, devoting hours each day to exercise, watching your diet and maintaining a super-slender body, there is no guarantee you will be happy with your efforts.
We may recoil in horror at the traditional Chinese custom of foot binding, or the facial tattooing of the Maoris, yet we cheerfully submit to leg waxing, chemical peels, collagen injections, stomach stapling and a myriad of surgical procedures to preserve and rejuvenate our ageing anatomy.
The dictates of fashion are stringent enough, but how many of us dress to please the man in our life or to entice a prospective partner?
Sadly, women are conditioned to the stereotyped image of the ideal woman, an image no more real than the plastic shape of our daughters’ Barbie dolls.
The message is that all doors will be opened to us if only we are trim, taut and terrific. The truth is, women were created by a much higher and wiser power than an advertising executive.
Our feeling of worth should come from within, not from our mirror, yet many women struggle all their lives to live up to an image to which they are not suited.
Body image and self-esteem are so closely linked that experts believe that one way to feel better about your looks is to nurture not just your body, but your whole person.
A good diet and sensible exercise should be used to enhance the body you were born with, not to create a totally new one.
In the past few years, more and more people have questioned basic assumptions about the relationship between diet and weight.
The newest evidence supports the theory that each person has a “set-point weight” that his or her body prefers and attempts to maintain, even if it is outside the standard recommended weight.
The message is: look at diet and exercise as a way of keeping you healthy rather than as a means to make you happy with yourself.