The Obsession with Breasts and Body Image

"Nipples are IN!" purred Samantha Jones on a Sex and the City episode. Though Samantha is in a separate league than most people when it comes to expressing herself sexually, she doesn't lie. Nipples are in -- as are the nipples' hosts, the breasts.

The American obsession with breasts is inescapable. Everywhere you look -- television, magazine covers, billboards, movies and advertisements-breasts confront you. You can't avoid them. Actresses accepting awards on Prime Time television dribble diamonds down their chests to invite you to their cleavage. And with the television camera, there you go. Cigarette and beer billboards show large-breasted women in tiny t-shirts having fun smoking and drinking. Magazine covers display beautiful women with tiny waists and large breasts with feature articles on how to get both. It's everywhere!

Unfortunately, most women and men compare themselves to the images they see. Many strive to attain the look they see in the American media even when a particular body type may be physically unattainable for them. How are young women (and men) expected to survive comparing themselves against these prevalent images?

Where Does It Come From? Large, perky, round and firm breasts are just part of a bigger American obsession. The American media is obsessed with portraying the "perfect body." Throughout its many channels, many women and men learn to identify with the "perfect" images displayed. Being thin, having great muscle tone and, for women, having big breasts are what Americans view as perfection. Even magazines that supposedly promote "healthy living" would not have a cover model who needed even a little bit of "work" on his or her body.

Everywhere we look there are ads telling us how to get the perfect body, and many of us give in to them. Approximately 132,000 breast enlargements are performed each year in the US. This surgery is second only to liposuction as the most common plastic surgery in America. According to Dr. Michael Kulick, "Breast augmentation is the #1 surgical procedure performed for women between 19 and 34 years of age." As further evidence that the media push of the perfect body has an effect on the public, "the number of breast augmentations has tripled in the past 8 years," says Dr. Claudio De Lorenzi.

Why It's a Problem Many people admire the models they see. Though we'd like to think that everyone has enough self-confidence to brave comparisons, that's unrealistic. Most people, especially teens and college-age students, don't have the self-esteem to survive such a comparison. "Adolescence is a vulnerable time...as it is a period in which conformity peaks," according to research by J.P. Hill and M.E. Lynch. Unfortunately, many teens strive to look a certain way just to fit in.

The real problem is the way they try to attain "perfection." Thousands of people undergo surgery every year to increase their breast size and remove fat. More and more young women are developing eating disorders in an attempt to change their bodies. "Adolescence is the period of greatest vulnerability to the development of eating disorders," says Dr. H.W. Hoek's research.

Men, too, feel pressure to look strong and muscular. Men will diet and exercise to build strong pecs and "six-pack" stomachs. Men are even increasing their chest size through plastic surgery. Sadly, these approaches to "fitness" and good looks are unhealthy.

Americans spend $30 billion a year on dieting. Women and men are wasting time, money and happiness on attaining the perfect figure. As long as the obsession with physical beauty continues, so will the billion-dollar diet industry. And, worse, people's disappointment will also continue as they attempt to get what their bodies weren't meant to have. Of course, there's nothing wrong with working to improve your body and overall well being, just do it in a healthy way.

How to Survive Though the media is showing no sign of changing this "perfect body obsession," there are many ways to avoid being sucked in to this unhealthy world. Try these tips:

  • Expand your concept of beauty. Beauty isn't only what you see on a magazine cover. Think of people whom you think are beautiful. Try to identify what makes them that way. Are their bodies all "perfect"? Is there no room for improvement at all? Probably not. Realize that there is beauty without perfection. Remember, too, that beauty is more than skin deep. Think of people you admire and why you respect them. Most likely, it's not because of their physical traits!

  • Work on your self-esteem. Identify your special characteristics and why they make you a good person. Maybe you are patient with children, a great artist, a devoted daughter to your parents, someone who makes others laugh or an excellent friend. There is something that makes you a wonderful person. Find it, focus on it and celebrate it!

  • Do things that make you happy. Go for a walk with friends, re-read your favorite book, dress up to go out with your best friend, call your sibling, paint a watercolor, or workout. In your spare time, do what makes you happy. Happiness helps to boost self-esteem.

  • Meet with a nutritionist or read about a healthy approach to living. Eating healthy foods, exercising, getting enough rest and doing what makes you happy will allow you a healthy, happy life. Having this will give you confidence in yourself so when you are faced with the reality that you aren't perfect, you can easily and happily survive it!

  • Realize that the beauty in this world is made from individuals. Thankfully, we're all different. It's our different characteristics that make this world an interesting and beautiful place. Imagine how lame the world would be if we were all the same. Celebrate your individuality!