Self-Worth From Within: Five Women Breaking the “White, Thin-Ideal” Mold

By Rebecca Jaspan MPH, RD, CDN, CDE

Is your self- worth tied to your appearance?  Is your confidence determined by the number you see on the scale?  Do you feel held back until you reach your goal weight?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, know that you are not alone.  We live in a world that bombards us with images of white, thin, able-bodied women on social media, in fashion magazines, and online shopping models.  For many, what we see is not representative of us or the people we know.  This can leave us feeling alienated and even like we need to change our bodies to fit this commonplace “mold”. 

At LCWNS, we help our clients find their self-worth from within.  Focusing on what is inside and learning to see ourselves as more than just a body is a key step in recovery.  When we focus on our appearance, this can hold us back from doing the things we want to do.  You may tell yourself a narrative that you’ll never be successful until you look a certain way.  At the same time, we choose how to curate our social media feeds.  We encourage our clients to diversify their social media, fill their feeds with different body types, races, and genders.  Fill your social media with people that give you positive energy rather than triggers for comparison. 

While there is certainly a disproportionate representation of one specific population, there are people who are working hard to change this scene.  These five women are excelling and inspiring in their fields while defying the “white, thin ideal”.  Whether they have more fat on their bodies or different color skin, these women are diversifying the image of what a highly successful female looks like.  When you believe in your inner self-worth, you can truly accomplish anything regardless of your appearance.

1. Lena Dunham

Lena Dunham is an actress, writer, director, and producer best known for her award-winning television series Girls.  Having struggled with body image herself, Dunham uses her platform to promote body positivity.  On various occasions, Dunham has described on Instagram how much happier she is at a higher weight than when she weighed less because she healthier both mentally and physically.  She has inspired her fans by showing that all body shapes can be celebrated.

2. Mindy Kaling

Another body positive advocate in the TV space is Mindy Kaling.  She is an actress, writer, producer, and comedian best known for her role in The Office and creation of The Mindy Project.  Coming from immigrant parents from India, Kaling explains that she never saw a family like hers on TV when she was beginning her career, which inspired her writing.  While Kaling as heard her share of “backhanded compliments” and people telling her she subscribes to “different” ideals of beauty, she champions body acceptance.  She admits to feeling pressure to look a certain way, but expresses that she can’t change her body and accepts herself the way she is.  She has proven to those who have told people who look like her can’t be on TV very wrong indeed. 

3. Tammy Duckworth

Tammy Duckworth is the Senator of Illinois and a former US army lieutenant colonel.  She served as a helicopter pilot in the Iraq War.  In 2004, her helicopter was hit by a grenade and she suffered severe combat wounds, including loss of both of her legs and some mobility in her right arm.  Despite these injuries, Duckworth obtained a medical waiver to continue serving in the army until she retired in 2014.  Duckworth is the first Thai American and first female double amputee elected to Congress as well as the first senator to give birth while in office.  Duckworth didn’t allow these adversities and limitations in ability and appearance to prevent her from ascending to a public figure role.

4. Serena Williams

As a world-famous professional tennis player, Serena Williams is breaking down barriers in the sports world.  She has won 23 Grand Slam titles and ranked number 1 in singles by the Women’s Tennis Association eight separate times.  She has also won four Olympic gold medals.  Despite her incredible athletic talents, Williams has been subject to criticism for her appearance, sexism, and racism, and she is on a mission to change that dialogue for younger women.  She advocates embracing natural beauty and having unwavering confidence.  Williams was told she was too muscular or not pretty enough to be a tennis player and she ignored those negative comments and turned inward to loving herself and her body. 

5. Brene Brown

Brene Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston and author of five #1 New York Times bestsellers.  Her TED talk, The Power of Vulnerability, is one of the top five most viewed TED talks in the world with over 45 million views.  In her work, Brown talks extensively about shame and its relation to body image.  And Brown herself defies the “thin ideal” we so frequently see in public figures.  She says “what we think, hate, loathe, and wonder about the acceptability of our bodies reaches much further and impacts far more than our appearance.  The long reach of body shame can impact who and how we love, work, parent, communicate, and build relationships”.  She speaks about the pressure women feel to measure up to culturally-defined standards of perfection manifesting in a lack of self-worth and the importance finding self-worth from within. 


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