Botswana’s social network has become a huge virtual mart for weight loss products. Facebook posts and whatsup statuses have become a popular marketplace for weight loss product hawkers trying to promote this or that “magic product.”
The burgeoning industry is feeding on an insidious national problem – a negative body image.
Dr Poloko Ntshwarang, senior Social Work lecturer at the University of Botswana knows first hand how a negative body image can have far reaching negative consequences on our lives.
“ Women and even men tend to be insecure about the way they look, I know of a lady who once said she isn’t getting married because when men look at her they see a girl instead of a woman so she wanted products that would make her gain weight to look more appealing” , she told Sunday Standard Lifestyle.
The low self-esteem affliction was however a relatively more benign case. Sometimes a negative body imagecan lead to eating disorders, substance abuse and sometimes even suicidal thoughts.
Dr Ntshwarang explained that, “there are different types of eating disorders that are related to body image issues, obesity, anorexia, bulimia etc. One of the many reasons that could lead to a person having body issues could be societal pressure; where the media tells us that in order for one to look good, they need to look a certain way. Men are “supposed” to look masculine while women are to look thin like models which sometimes isn’t ideal. A person could be dealing with stress/ depression which could be brought about by a myriad of things, this could lead to body issues. We know there are kids who bullied in schools for looking the way they are. Parents sometimes unknowingly take part in their children’s body issue woes by the way they refer to children. Sometimes calling them names such as sdudla (fat) and mantsiripane (skinny) aren’t really labels that are positive for kids growing up. When these kids reach adulthood, they battle with these labels hence the diets and the supplements they take all in a bid to look different from what they were told they were.”
Body image is the mental and subjective representation of our appearance. Sometimes this perception is close to reality, but there are times when it is further from the truth. Thus, body image issues stem from attitudes, feelings, and behaviors toward one’s physique. Problems arise when fears and insecurities prevent people from enjoying and pursuing a better life. If worrying about appearance creates feelings of depression, anxiety or alienation, there is a possibility of a more serious issue with body image. Body issue woes are commonly influenced by family, friends, social pressures and media.
This issue isn’t just impacting women, as pressures to obtain an ideal appearance continue, men are beginning to succumb to the struggle of body image too.
Dr Sethunya Mosime, senior Sociology lecturer at the University of Botswana says, “For a long as people have normal human emotions, they are susceptible to eating disorders. It wouldn’t be surprising to find out that Bulimia is a common eating disorder for Batswana because we are a culture that force feeds. But also, it wouldn’t be so easy to hide or keep such from prying eyes because again we are an intrusive culture who still live in an extended familial setting. Nowadays a common thing on WhatsApp statuses is how everyone is claiming to be selling weight loss, slimming, organic products that are packaged nicely to give the illusion of losing weight in short amount of time. Not that our body issues are unfounded, we go to clinics and check for our blood pressures and all that but instead of choosing to be healthier; eating healthy, exercising etc., the lose weight quick industry probes you to take the shortcut that is their products so as to lose weight in a short amount of time which sometimes isn’t really realistic. This prolongs body issues even more.”
A lot of us worry about how we look occasionally, sometimes frequently. Most of us feel there is something about our body that we would like to change. It unfortunately isn’t always easy to accept ourselves and be confident with who we are and how we look. For many of us when walking to work, reflective surfaces distract us. We make small adjustments, we conceal. We like to be seen from particular angles. It is the point at which these concerns become an obsession – when the worry interferes with a person’s life, when they can’t leave the house because they’re stuck looking in the mirror, when relationships fail and work suffers, that’s when it becomes a disorder. Some common signs of body image issues are over-exercising, excessively counting calories, constantly weighing oneself and a distorted body image. Body shame and weight-based bullying causes a significant distress to young people. It also serves as a major risk factor for developing eating disorders.
The ugly truth about body image issues is shocking, and the facts are often disturbing. Body dissatisfaction is a real problem affecting a large number of people, the majority of whom are unaware that there is a body image issue to face in the first place. A lot of people who admit to “normal dieting” eventually develop pathological dieting – an unhealthy food and calorie restriction which easily leads to eating disorders. Through pathological dieting, a person forms abnormal eating patterns that grow into unhealthy behaviors. This becomes a life-long struggle with eating. It is no secret that some women are unhappy with their bodies and often resort to dieting in order to achieve an ideal body shape. Those who are unhappy with their bodies and decide against seeking out healthy methods of losing weight are the ones at risk of developing these disorders. Although body issues are mostly faced by women, a growing number of adolescent boys and men have also joined the bandwagon. Their issues range from drug and supplement use to binge drinking. In addition, boys and men are regularlyexposed to an idealized masculine body type via media and marketing that can influence the development of body dissatisfaction in men. This poses a real threat to mental wellbeing and overall wellness of many people.