It’s a sad fact that American women feel worse about their bodies than women of almost any other nationality in the world. Don't believe me? A recent study found American women, on average, saw themselves as 18 percent less attractive than non-American women when asked to rate their features.
In a country where it seems opportunity is everywhere, why is it that American women view themselves and their bodies in such a negative light? What can we learn from more body-positive countries? What do they do differently from us and how can we change our values to become happier with ourselves?
When political research firm YouGov polled people in 25 countries regarding body image, they found Indonesians are the most positive about their bodies overall, with 78 percent claiming they're happy with their weight and shape. Residents from Saudi Arabia (72 percent), Oman (70 percent), and Qatar (70 percent) are the next happiest.
By contrast, only 57 percent of Americans said they were happy with their bodies.
It's easy to assume this disparity is due to the vastly different culture for women in countries like this versus our own in the West. Yes, women in Muslim countries wear an abaya in public, covering the body save for a woman's eyes. But in covering up, there's a lot less pressure to be thin, wear the latest trends, worry about getting old, or apply the right makeup.
I'm not advocating for a national American dress code here so much as I'm pointing out that when there's little compare yourself to in public, there are no "standards" of beauty and perfection to hold yourself up against. Of course dressing like this is counter to our own culture, which greatly values choice and freedom of expression, but some might say this freedom has been abused, leading to such low numbers when it comes to female self-esteem.
Modest clothing isn't the only factor to consider here; only a few of the countries that were more body positive than the U.S. subscribe to the same strict Islamic law as Saudi Arabia, and a study of British Muslim women found only a little difference in body positivity between those who did and did not wear a hijab.
So what else could it be?
In that same YouGov survey, 17 of the 25 countries had more than half of responders say celebrity culture has a negative impact on young people. Interestingly, in countries like Oman, where body positivity was high, people were more likely to agree that celebrities can have a positive effect on body image. In contrast, two-thirds of Americans said they thought celebrity culture was damaging to young people.
Similarly, in the UK — where body positivity was reported as only slightly higher than in the U.S. — a massive 74 percent of respondents agreed that celebrity culture was damaging.
It’s clear we need to think harder about the way our culture affects body image and find more ways to challenge the status quo. Why not start by supporting the people who are already doing so? There are tons of body-positive fashion and beauty bloggers out there, and it's time they got noticed for the positive changes they're trying to make.
Take, for example, Georgina Horne, a plus-size fashion and beauty blogger who’s written about body positivity for UK publications and is frequently featured in lists of top UK fashion bloggers along with other plus-size bloggers. Or Stephanie Zwicky, whose site Le Blog de Big Beauty is one of the most popular beauty blogs in France.
In the U.S., there's Chastity Garner-Valentine, who's appeared on Oprah and in the New York Times. Or Emily Nolan, a Miami-based blogger and model who promotes radical honesty and healthy body image. They're out there, we just need to find and support them so their (and our) voices are heard, and so we can start to make a change.
Let’s face it: We’re not going to see all American women suddenly donning a hijab for the sake of body confidence, but what we must do is change our attitude toward beauty and create our own role models where the mainstream fails us.