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Health: Experts advice on how teens can look beyond the mirror

Last week, actress Kate Winslet appealed to young girls not to hanker after being picture perfect. Days later, a UK survey said that 2,000 women obsess over weight loss and image issues. Expert advice on how Indian teens can look beyond the mirror

In a recent interview to a British magazine, 40-year-old actress Kate Winslet addressed younger girls who feel insecure about their looks. "Don't fret if you're not perfect," the actress and mother of three, said, confessing that she often gets photographed in her gowns to show that fuller figures are also to be celebrated. Of late, several Hindi film actresses have gone beyond the stereotype of the glam doll role, where they have spoken out about moving away from a glamorous image and being proud of their imperfections. Vidya Balan and Sonakshi Sinha have proudly flaunted their fuller bodies, Deepika Padukone spoke about overcoming depression, while Kangana Ranaut admitted working on her language skills and overall image because of her small town roots.

	   British actress Kate Winslet faces the limelight on the red carpet for the UK premiere of the film, A Little Chaos, in central London on April 13, 2015. Pic/AFP
British actress Kate Winslet faces the limelight on the red carpet for the UK premiere of the film, A Little Chaos, in central London on April 13, 2015. Pic/AFP

Look at me
A recent survey of more than 2,000 women conducted by Weight Watchers in UK found that one in seven women were regularly self-critical of their body, their personality or their career success on a daily basis. It cited that the average woman criticised herself at least eight times a day and that 46% of women admitted having negative thoughts about themselves at least once before 9.30am.

"The situation is worse in India. Our children are studying abroad. Even my house help and cook go for hair straightening, and are conscious of the way they look," says image consultant Chhaya Momaya. She points out that most young women wake up and look at themselves in the mirror, sans make up. "It is the out-of-bed look that they can't come to terms with, and hence, tend to criticise themselves the most at this time of the day," she explains, adding, "It's probably a demand from the men they are dating or are married to. It has also led to a whole lot of salons and cosmetologists springing up."

Kangana Ranaut admitted working on her language skills and overall image. PIC/SHADAB KHAN
Kangana Ranaut admitted working on her language skills and overall image. Pic/Shadab Khan

Love to hate myself
Lifestyle nutrition consultant Tripti Gupta believes that self-criticism evolves from the lack of self- worth. This does not occur overnight but is the result of lack of acceptance you may have grown up with due to constant comparison, ridicule or simply being unhappy. "It's strange how most women can write more points on why 'I Hate Myself' and few in the 'I Love Myself' category. Being okay with yourself and accepting your looks and image is the first step to begin the journey of loving and discovering yourself," she shares.

Deepika Padukone confessed to having suffered from depression. Pic/AFP
Deepika Padukone confessed to having suffered from depression. Pic/AFP

Clinical psychologist and author Seema Hingorrany agrees that most young girls have insecurity that stems from negative experiences in their childhood. "They narrate incidents about how one of the parents have constantly passed disparaging remarks on their weight, skin, colour or looks. Such people grow up with a negative belief system and weak self- esteem which seeps in their adult self-concept, making them very conscious about the way they look," she reveals. Gupta also points out that there are an increasing number of young girls, starting from as young as 11 years, who are extremely body conscious. They are only looking for acceptance; the mindset that 'fat is ugly', actually emerges from their near and dear ones at home.

Vidya Balan has always been comfortable with her weight and appearance
Vidya Balan has always been comfortable with her weight and appearance

Watching over
According to Hingorrany, the red flags that parents, teachers and friends should watch out for are constant criticism about one's body image, covering small imperfections with make–up, comparison with others on body images, looks and personality, inability to take compliments or saying thank you when the person says good things about their looks.

Amitabh Bachchan and Rani Mukerji stand out in a crowd despite their unconventional looks. PicS/AFP, FILE PIC
Amitabh Bachchan (below) and Rani Mukerji stand out in a crowd despite their unconventional looks. Pics/AFP, File Pic

While Momaya believes that women have always been conscious of their looks and cites the example of Cleopatra, whose beauty rituals are stuff that legends are made of, she also believes that social media has played its part as younger girls are getting conscious of their looks too. "These days, there are makeover apps that everyone can access. They notice celebrity pictures on Instagram and are keen to ape their attire. When they don't fit into them, it disappoints them. Brands play a large role in making people believe that the way to belong to the 'It' group and be accepted is by being fair and skinny," she maintains

Amitabh Bachchan

How to help
"The solution is to get parents and teachers to stop criticising children or negate their body image. Statements like, 'How fat are you' or 'You eat like a pig' that are used by parents tend to erode the child's self-worth and confidence. Children who receive positive statements from parents have a positive outlook towards their looks and body," Hingorrany reiterates. "You have to be sensible about things and not ape blindly," suggests Momaya. "If we, as a society, focus on talent rather than looks and accept people for who they are more easily, it will help. Taking care of yourself is good; wanting to look like someone else is not. What's the point if everyone looks like a stick? Be presentable instead of shabby and let your personality shine. People will appreciate you only if you do so yourself," she summarises.

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