Culture can be defined as the very way we live our lives: the things we do, the beliefs we hold, the customs we share, the art we value, the clothes we wear and the way we interact with people we meet. Culture is all around us.
Since it is all-encompassing, it's hardly surprising that culture can affect the way we view ourselves. But in what ways is this the case? In this article, we'll look at how culture influences our self-perception and self-worth and what effects this can have.
How Does Culture Shape Us?
We are surrounded by culture every day, and our interactions with popular culture in particular—magazines, movies, TV shows, musicians—can have a huge impact on the way we feel about our bodies.
Let's say you take the train to work. It's likely that you'll encounter various images along your way, in the form of advertisements, the book covers of fellow commuters or the images in a magazine you're reading. You might also spend your journey scrolling through your Instagram feed or looking at a website that features images of celebrities.
The images you encounter through these media can have a huge impact on the way you view your body and the way you feel about it. This impact can be either conscious or subconscious.
Conscious or Subconscious?
Each time you read a fashion magazine or look at Instagram, you probably see photographs of models. The typical female model in a magazine is at least 5 feet and 9 inches tall and is usually incredibly slim, with average measurements of around 33 inches (bust), 23 inches (waist), and 33 inches (hips)—a classic 'hourglass' shape.
Any time you see an image of a model like this and say to yourself, 'I wish I looked like that,' you are being consciously influenced by culture and by the images around you.
Even more insidious is the impact on your subconscious that culture can have. Since we are surrounded by images of models with a specific style and a particular appearance on a daily basis, that 'look' becomes normalized. Once this happens, anybody who doesn't have the same type of appearance can seem abnormal or even ugly.
What Is the Impact?
Constantly encountering images of 'perfect' people—images that are often photoshopped and airbrushed—can be hugely impactful on a person's self-perception and self-worth. You may want to go on a crash diet to lose weight quickly, or you may want to get braces so your teeth become straighter. It could also lead to serious mental health issues, including eating disorders and depression.
This can affect people at any stage of their life. Teenagers and young people tend to be more active on social media, and the resulting exposure to airbrushed photos of slim people with straight, white teeth has likely had an impact on the mental health of Generation Z.
But it's not just affecting young people. Approximately 20% of people choosing to have braces each year are adults, showing that this issue is impacting people of a variety of ages.
So, What Can You Do?
The first step to avoiding the negative impact of culture is to educate yourself on the issue. If you're aware of the fact that the images you see can make you feel bad about yourself, you can recognize the impact and be less likely to experience the associated negative effects.
If you do want to change your appearance, consider the reasons why. If you want to lose weight for health reasons, try eating a balanced diet with five portions of fruit or vegetable each day rather than going on a crash diet. Losing weight with the aim of looking like a particular celebrity is probably doing more damage to your mental health than it is doing good for your physical health.