New Year’s resolutions often perpetuate harmful beauty ideals

Katherine Brookman

We have all heard the “New Year, New You” idea, wherein people vow to improve themselves in a number of ways over the course of the year. Whether it is a promise to eat healthier, exercise more often, actually go to class, or get more sleep, everyone has encountered this fad.  

One thing that has stood out to me, especially for women, is that most of these New Year's resolutions are based on body image. Young women make promises to diet, try cleanses, hit the gym, and lose weight. But why has this trend of self-improvement in the New Year turned into an unhealthy need to mimic the bodies of Victoria's Secret models? I myself have fallen victim to this idea and think it is time for a change.  

I am not saying that these resolutions to lose weight are wrong or unhealthy. In fact, I am a huge proponent of healthy living. I believe that it is important for people to eat well and exercise often to maintain healthy lifestyles. Rather, I am concerned with the long-term effects of weight-loss goals, such as extreme diets and over-exercise, for our current generation and those younger than us. These habits can quickly lead girls to develop unhealthy body images. 

Today, women are constantly exposed to what is considered to be the ideal body type: thin figures, long legs, and minimal curves. This false standard is pushed in the media and encourages a stigma towards anything different. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa And Associated Disorders reveals, “the body type portrayed in advertising as the ideal is possessed naturally by only 5 percent of American females.” If only 5 percent of women meet this ideal standard of beauty, then what does that mean for the other 95 percent?  

ANAD provides a great deal of statistics on eating disorders and how the media has impacted female self-perception. In reading these, a few stood out to me: The website states that “91percent of women surveyed on a college campus had attempted to control their weight through dieting,” and “95 percent of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25.8.” If that many girls are suffering from eating disorders, I think that it is left to our generation to make a change. That change begins with starting to calm the pressure on girls to reach this virtually unattainable standard of beauty.    

Recently, there has been a huge push, especially on social media sites, to help grow the idea that being beautiful is being fit – not thin. Australian trainer Kayla Itsines maintains a Facebook and Instagram account in which she encourages her followers to strive to be fit rather than develop unhealthy habits to become thin. The girls who follow her advice claim to be happier and more confident in life. She stands on the idea that women should be proud of who they are and push themselves to become lean and strong and avoid finding beauty in not eating. We need more people like Kayla, people who push themselves and others to be healthy and find their natural beauty. 

In 2004, Dove launched its Campaign for Real Beauty to start “a global conversation about the need for a wider definition of beauty,” following findings that “only 2 percent of women around the world would describe themselves as beautiful.” In a world in which such a shockingly low percentage of women find themselves beautiful, it is no surprise to find that so many of us are struggling with issues over body image. Dove also launched the Real Beauty Sketches, an incredible series of videos in which women were asked to describe their faces to a sketch artist who could not see them. While he drew, these women focused heavily on what they saw as their flaws. He also drew these same women based on the face descriptions given by strangers. Afterwards, he revealed the portraits side by side and the results were stunning. The strangers had described these women as far more beautiful than they had described themselves. 

 The media stereotypes of women today are ingrained in us, but we don't have to continue to buy into them. Something is wrong if only 2 percent of women feel they are beautiful. Strangers should not find more beauty in us than we do in ourselves. Our standards of beauty today are not “too high” as many would say, but are tainted by what the media has defined as true beauty. Above all else, I believe that something needs to change.  

I think this year is the perfect time for such a change, and that begins with redefining our New Year’s resolutions. I want girls to strive for happiness and self-confidence. I want them to vow to be fit, not thin. We need to work everyday to convince ourselves and those around us that they are, in fact, beautiful. With such goals in mind, we can begin to combat this dangerous ideal of beauty that has negatively impacted so many of us. We can make a difference.  

Brookman is a pre-public relations sophomore from Fort Worth. Follow Brookman on Twitter @KBrookman13