Beyond the mirror

Dec 022007
Authors: Heidi Reitmeier

As the media continue to define society’s ideal depiction of beauty, the vision of the “perfect body” just doesn’t come true for some women.

And as this mainstream idea of beauty persists, college-aged women are more susceptible to the implied expectations.

While young women try to meet these standards, some find themselves at the mercy of various eating disorders and low self-esteem. In fact, one in 25 college-aged women experience bulimia nervosa while one in 100 develop anorexia, according to Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders, Inc

With this in mind, organizations like the University Counseling Center at CSU work to encourage women to love their body, no matter what shape or size.

“College women, not like many others, have a mediated reality of body image that results from the numerous skewed representations of body image they frequently see,” said Dr. Jonna Pearson, professor in the Department of Journalism and Technical Communication. “It’s not that what you see of me is what you get, but what I’m driven to be.”

Danielle Oakley, assistant director of the University Counseling Center, tells students who develop warning signs of eating disorders or other unhealthy behavior to become critical of the media and the messages it sends about beauty, discouraging the idea that a certain weight will lead to happiness.

Jennifer Amaral-Kunze, founder of Beyond the Mirror, an organization that counsels and educates individuals who struggle with food, body image and disordered eating, uses references to fairy tale stories (i.e. Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty) to demonstrate the difference between reality and fantasy.

Women need to find their own happiness instead of waiting for their prince to come and save them, Amaral-Kunze says.

Pretty on the outside

Americans spent nearly $12.5 billion in cosmetic surgeries in 2005. Among the millions of surgeries, 2.7 million breast augmentations were performed on women 19 to 34 years old, according to American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.

Amara-Kunze believes going under the knife is not the answer to self-acceptance and self respect, rather it’s a continuous personal journey.

“It’s a process because it is about building a relationship with yourself,” Amaral-Kunze said at a CSU presentation earlier this year. “You gain more knowledge about yourself everyday.”

Beyond the Mirror holds individual and group counseling along with workshops to help women, and men, cope with self-esteem issues, eating disorders and recovering from an unhealthy body image.

“It is important to have an agreement with yourself to appreciate, validate, accept and support who you are at this very moment, even those parts you’d like to eventually change,” said Amaral-Kunze. “Accept yourself the way you are, no batteries included.”

The most direct purpose of advertising probably is not selling, but rather, image building, Pearson said.

Rachel Justman, a junior business major, said she believes the way women are portrayed in the media has a negative effect on confidence and self-esteem.

“Realizing that you don’t need to compare yourself to others is a comforting thought, and what makes other people happy does not mean it has to make you happy as well,” Justman said.

Real beauty on the inside

One company is trying to change the face of the media and bring a broader idea of what beauty really looks like.

Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty casts real women in their advertisements to promote the idea that all women are beautiful in their own ways.

“We believe real beauty comes in many shapes, sizes and ages,” according to Dove’s Web site. “Dove . aims to change the status quo . all women can own and enjoy everyday.”

Amaral-Kunze teaches that self worth is not something one must earn, but something that one is born with and must simply tap into. Everyone has his/her own strengths that he/she must realize, she said.

But Amaral-Kunze also said a person’s strength can become a weakness if that person believes it to be true.

Dona Newton, a CSU administrative assistant, agrees with Amaral-Kunze about strengths becoming our weaknesses.

“The balance between strengths and weaknesses is delicate,” Newton said. “It’s an interesting concept to juggle.”

Women struggling with body image should try to focus on appealing features, accept compliments from others and trust they are true, and never use the word “but” or “if” (i.e. “I would like my legs if they were thinner” or “I like my nose but I wish it didn’t have this bump on it”), Amaral-Kunze said.

Bruce Nicholson, a professor in the English department and a self-proclaimed feminist, believes there are three lessons women must learn in order to rise above the influences of the media and a male-dominated society.

“The first lesson to learn is a woman should live to please herself, not her boyfriend, not her husband, not her father, not any male,” Nicholson said. “The second lesson to learn is that it’s alright to aim high when it comes to self-image, but it’s also alright to love yourself in the here and now, and third and most important lesson to learn is self respect,”

Amaral-Kunze agrees that women must find self-respect and finding it will help each woman cherish her own self-worth.

“Everything we do is a part of us,” Amaral-Kunze said. “We must love not only who we are, but what we look like. I’m okay, you’re okay, we’re okay.”

Staff writer Heidi Reitmeier can be reached at

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