Body consciousness is something that no young woman can avoid in this day and age. We live in an era where media is obsessed with the way we look. If a celebrity gains more than a few pounds, it will make front pages of most of the glossy magazines. However, if she loses a few, then the headlines will be full of - usually false - concern.
You can probably think of some examples right now. "Is [x] suffering from anorexia? Pictures show her shocking weight loss!". "[Y]’s Misery As She Piles On Pounds After a Traumatic Breakup. Friends Are Worried!".
And so on and so on. If pushed to explain their interest in someone's personal matters, the reporters will usually say "Well, we're worried about them." As though by putting it in their articles and drawing attention to it, they're not making matters worse.
So women - of any age, but particularly between 18 and 40 - really cannot fail to be aware of their body. If they do, they will be reminded. The real problem with this, apart from the body-shaming which fills the articles, is that we can often be too focused on the wrong things.
Look, I'm not about to pretend that it's a bad thing to be concerned with the way you look. We all are. Even those who make an effort to avoid fitting into a pigeonhole are in a way pigeonholing themselves. It's important to not keep an eye only on what makes your body look good. You need to know what makes your body healthy too.
1. Your Weight Is Not Just About What You Can SeeAs previously noted, media is too often focused on women who are either "too heavy" or "too skinny." Which is an issue all women - all people - should be concerned with.
Another problem is the way it is measured. A popular way to measure someone's body shape is the famous Body Mass Index (BMI). A complicated formula is used to measure whether the BMI is too high (above 25) or too low (below 20). Too high and you're obese, too low and you're underweight.
The problem with the BMI measurement is that it's nonsense. Even the person who invented it, around 200 years ago, wasn't looking to design a measurement for obesity. BMI can’t distinguish between fat and muscle weight. In other words, it's meaningless.
You can be curvy, have a high BMI and not have an ounce of excess fat on you. Or you can be lissome with a low BMI and not be dangerously skinny. What makes your weight problematically high or low is how it affects your ability to live a normal life. If your excess fat means you get tired climbing stairs, it's an issue. If you're so skinny that your heart is weak and at risk of failure, that's an issue too.
2. Blemishes And Anomalies Come In Two FormsThis is another one that the media should be more responsible with. When someone has a small flaw or anomaly, you'll get two different reactions to it.
First there will be the "What's up with that mole/birthmark?" articles which draw attention to it. These are followed by the "Why the birthmark makes [x] all the more beautiful" articles. However, the latter ones are sometimes just "Hey, check out this freaky mole" pieces dressed up in fake compliments.
The cosmetic impact of a blemish or anomaly should always be at most a secondary matter. The first thing to consider should be "is it healthy?" and this is why women should get to know their bodies on a level beyond looking at the mirror.
If you're not 100% lean and you're happy with it, that's absolutely fine. If you have a mole on your face and no one who matters to you finds it disfiguring, then there is no harm. Your breasts can be smaller or larger than usual - it doesn't matter on any level beyond the practicality of finding clothes that fit.
It's not even a matter of celebrating difference, just recognizing that it is there. It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to accept those differences.
A mole on your face can give you character. But you should get it checked if it changes shape or color. The size and shape of your breasts is also a matter for you alone - but if you notice changes in their shape, skin or find a lump, it's a matter for your doctor. And carrying a couple of ounces is no shame - but do check any fatty tissue for masses. If you find them, speak to a professional. It's better to have liposarcoma surgery as early as possible, if necessary.
3. Your Diet Is About More Than Your WeightWe've come to think about diet in a very binary way. If you eat bad things that make you fat, that's a bad diet. If you eat enough good things to help you stay thin, then it's a good diet.
The kicker is that this is a bad way to think about diet. You'll see a profusion of miracle diets in the news with information on how to lose weight fast. However, there are only a few circumstances in which losing weight fast is a good thing. Steady is the way to go if you want to be healthy.
So when one celebrity drops several pounds in the space of a few weeks to win a film role or an advertising contract, it's a problem. Sure, if there is a professional reason behind it and they are monitored by doctors it can work for them. But the stories in the press never mention that this is not a sustainable nor desirable way to lose weight. You will - not may, but will - be denying yourself nutrients that keep you healthy.
By all means, follow a diet plan to lose weight, but listen to your body. You can't be drawn into thinking things are going well because the scales tell you so if you find yourself fainting in a supermarket. But the issues don't even need to be that extreme. If you simply find yourself getting fatigued or having headaches, more often, the diet isn't working. You might be getting thinner, but that's irrelevant if you're getting ill, too.
Further to that, some people are "blessed" with a fast metabolism. This means, usually, that they can eat fatty foods and not gain weight the way most of us would. But a fast metabolism is not a dietary Get Out Of Jail Free card.
It doesn't mean a person can eat burgers, drink milkshakes and quit exercising without worry. You still need the leafy green vegetables, the fruit and water for your body's sake.
4. If You Feel Tired, There Is A ReasonIn the middle of a day, it's not uncommon for us to feel suddenly and inexplicably sleepy. Or it may not be that we are so sleepy, as such, but that we just feel bone-tired. We'll turn to our friends and say "I don't know why, but I feel exhausted. There's no real reason for it; I got enough sleep."
First of all, the amount of sleep we get in a night is just one factor in feeling awake and energetic enough to get through a day of work. Just as important is the quality of sleep, which is governed by a lot of different factors. Are you sleeping in a room, and a bed, which is the right temperature? Are you eating close to bedtime, and what are you eating?
As importantly, what are you not eating? Much of the time, if you are unaccountably tired on a regular basis, it can be down to a lack of protein in your diet. It can be because you aren't getting enough water. If you're living a healthy lifestyle and can't find any other reason, it's time to make an appointment with your physician.
Why? Because, simply, you may have a health issue that means you're not getting enough energy from what you eat. And it's something you can't try to self-diagnose. It could be anemia or a malabsorption issue, and the cause could be benign or severe.
It's not something you can figure out from a quick Google. You need to speak to your doctor and potentially have blood tests to see what's not firing. That may make you nervous, but early detection of any medical issue is the key to effective treatment. Your body not doing what you want or expect, or what it would usually do, is a cause to get checked out.
It is of vital importance to be body aware at all times. Not because the glossy magazines tell you you're doing wrong, but because your body will tell you. Learn to recognize what it is saying, and take action where you need to. It's better for you in the long run.
Lastly, remember that what people see when they look at you is their issue, not yours. Are you able to live a happy, active life and find clothes that look good? Nothing else matters.
Disclosure: This is a collaborative post.