Disturbing ‘challenges’ perpetuate negative body image

May 19, 2016 — by Caitlin Ju

Junior delivers her thoughts on the A4 Waist Challenge.

A girl poses in front of the mirror, holding her breath and sucking in her stomach. In her left hand, she holds a piece of printer paper vertically in front of her stomach, and with her right hand, she snaps a photo. The picture shows that the 8-inch paper is slightly wider than her waist — success.

This girl is one of hundreds participating in the A4 Waist Challenge, which began in February on Weibo, a popular Chinese blogging site. The challenge has set the new standard of skinny: to have waists thinner than the width of the paper.

Every few months, there seems to be a new body image challenge online, reminding us that despite the strides we have made in body positivity, there remains much to be done before all body types are accepted and everyone feels confident in his or her own skin.

Teenagers often view and participate in these detrimental Internet challenges, only increasing the effect social media has on body image. The constant exposure to body ideals has taken a toll.

According to the women empowerment organization Heart of Leadership, up to 12 percent of teenage boys are using unproven supplements and steroids, 13 percent of girls ages 15-17 have an eating disorder and 90 percent of high school junior and senior girls say they diet regularly.

Students at Saratoga High are among those extremely susceptible to the challenges’ effects and have recognized the lasting impact of these social media challenges.

Junior Daviana Berkowitz Sklar called the A4 Waist challenge “ridiculous.”

“It promotes body standards that are unrealistic for most people,” Berkowitz Sklar said. “It just contributes to negative body image and unhealthy habits.”

Senior Ai Marie Asai said that instead of spending time comparing their bodies to pieces of paper, teens should simply exercise and stay fit.

The unhealthy ideal perpetuated by these challenges has surely contributed to teens’ unhappiness about body image. Heart of Leadership reported that more than 90 percent of girls between the ages of 15 and 17 want to “change at least one aspect of their physical appearance, with body weight ranking the highest.”

Though it is perfectly normal to want to change physical appearance, many of these teenage girls are seeking to attain the “media ideal of thinness,” a standard only met by less than 5 percent of the female population, according to Health Trek.

Several other negative body image fads have been circulating the Internet with similarly damaging effects and messages. The thigh gap, the revered space between the inner thighs on ultra-thin females, became the obsession of many teenage girls last year. In a survey last year, Today Health and Wellness found that 40 percent of women have said they would feel more confident with a thigh gap.

Likewise, the “belly button challenge,” extremely popular in the summer of 2015, involved people wrapping their arm behind their back and around to touch their belly buttons. Those who could touch their belly buttons were deemed skinny enough, though flexible people with long arms could more easily touch their belly buttons.

The dangerous culture of body shaming continued from the A4 Waist Challenge to another challenge known as “iPhone 6 knees” in early April, most common in China. Women place iPhones on their knees, and if they are able to cover their knees with their iPhones, according to the challenge, it proves their legs are “skinny.”

Despite this negativity in social media, efforts have been made to change body standards. Fashion blogger GabiFresh started the viral #Fatkini movement in 2012 that called for women of all sizes to post their selfies in bathing suits.

She went on to design plus-size bikinis for her line Swimsuits for All. Influential celebrities like Demi Lovato, Tyra Banks and Adele post about their stretch marks and personal struggles with self-image and eating disorders.

Lady Gaga has used her platform to launch her Body Revolution Movement and vocalize her struggles with bulimia and anorexia. Additionally, plus-size models frequent runways, and in February, for the first time in 50 years, a plus-size model — Ashley Graham — graced the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit.

Despite the progress in body positive campaigns, the social media challenges remain consistently popular. Instead of ignoring these challenges as mere fads, we have to take it upon ourselves to openly discourage body image ideals that are practically impossible and unhealthy to attain.

Individuals may continue to create these silly challenges, but through celebrity and educational discouragement and more realistic advertisements, we can give people the tools to not internalize these challenges. Only then can we be one step closer to acceptance of all body types, even if their waists aren’t as skinny as a sheet of paper.

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