Is Love Your Body Day a healthy way to boost self-esteem?

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In this feel-good era of sensitivity — where dodge ball and tag are banned in schools, everybody has a Facebook page plastered with self portraits, and teachers stop using red ink lest it offend the sensibilities of a slow pupil — a day devoted solely to admiring the beauty of one’s own body seems logical.

This Wednesday, the National Organization for Women (NOW) is encouraging women to embrace their figures — whatever their size and shape — in celebration of “Love Your Body Day.” The group is working to offer women an outlet to love their physical selves and escape the burden of the media’s “unrealistic beauty standard.”

Erin Matson, vice president of NOW Action, told The Daily Caller that this is Love Your Body Day’s 12th anniversary. All over the country on Wednesday there will be NOW-inspired celebrations. The DC NOW chapter, for example, is encouraging women to wear sweats, while other chapters are making posters, having parties, and hosting fashion shows.

Matson said one of her favorite events is happening in Illinois. “University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign chapter has gotten fed up with the shame around food. And so what they’re doing for Love Your Body Day is they’re going to take photographs of women eating and enjoying their favorite food and post them in the quad,” she said.

Dr. Keith Campbell, University of Georgia Psychology Department head, told TheDC that focusing on one’s body is an odd cure for low-self esteem and poor body image.

“What you’re doing is you’re inducing people to focus on themselves as a treatment,” he said. “In the general self-esteem literature, what we find is that when you have people do those affirmations about themselves, when they have to say ‘I’m terrific, I’m good enough,’ those kind of things, people who have low self-esteem, it actually backfires.”

Dr. Campbell recommends honing in on that which makes an individual special. “Probably the better way is to focus on something else that you’re good at, like school work or friends or anything else except for body image. And I think the overemphasis on bodies and vanity has just increased throughout the years.”

According to Matson, Love Your Body Day does not inhibit the appreciation of other aspects of life. The real problem is the media onslaught of idealized images. “It’s important for women of all ages and sizes to focus on loving their bodies and I don’t think that precludes focusing on other aspects that arise,” she said. “But the reality is that we’re bombarded every day with messages that tell us that we are not enough as we are and it is holding women back in all sorts of arenas so I personally–I don’t think that’s a concern.”
Molly Barker, founder of Girls on The Run, an international after school program designed to build girls’ self-esteem, told TheDC that women should focus on the entire package, especially health. “The place where Girls on the Run chooses to put its emphasis is care for the body, so that whatever a girl or woman’s purpose for being here is can be accomplished. So it is about the quality of life, as opposed to the physical,” she said.

Regardless, Matson said that the results of the day tend to be positive for those involved. “I have spoken and seen many women even reduced to tears of joy considering loving themselves,” she said. “And I think you know you can’t discount how important personal transformations are within this campaign.”

Penny Nance, the CEO of Concerned Women for America, said that an emphasis on responsibility and spirituality was lacking in the campaign. “It’s not just about feeling good about yourself,” she told TheDC. “It is important to feel good about yourself but you need to have it in context. Why do I feel good about myself? Well, I feel good about myself because God loves me and I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” she said.

Dr. Campbell says that days such as this just perpetuate the culture’s ubiquitous narcissism.

“There’s the narcissism which drives a lot of the vanity and then you find a lot of the more vulnerable forms of narcissism, sort of the narcissism with low self-esteem that’s involved with eating disorders and people that are compulsively getting plastic surgery,” he said. “And then you have this general issue of the culture that tells women they have to have these perfect bodies that don’t exist and that that’s the most important part of themselves which leads to self-esteem issues, and the solution to that is not, in my opinion, to call attention to people’s body and tell them to love it. I don’t even know what the heck that means!”

First lady Michelle Obama’s office did not respond to requests for comment about the obesity ramifications of large women feeling good about themselves.

E-mail Caroline May