Last week, E! News tweeted a picture of Amanda Bynes tanning poolside in a bikini. Immediately afterward, hundreds of tweeters responded with essentially the same comment: “Wow, she looks great! I’m glad to see she’s doing better.” It’s great that Bynes is being showered with compliments and well wishes while she is undergoing some serious psychological issues and significant changes to her personal life. However, implying that she, or anyone else for that matter, has recovered on the basis of her physical appearance is not only wildly inaccurate but also potentially harmful to her psychological health.
It’s tempting to assume that a person’s physical appearance mirrors his or her level of sanity and control because body image is used in the media to determine someone’s mental state. Bridget Jones finds solace in the company of a bucket of Ben & Jerry’s and gains weight while melodramatically coping with the pain of being 30 and single. Gwyneth Paltrow is still as thin and beautiful as ever when she strongly resurfaces into the public eye after announcing her split with Chris Martin after 10 years of marriage. The media shows the innermost emotions of characters and even celebrities through portrayals of their body image. However, this tendency places an overemphasis on appearance over substance and adds even more pressure for women to strive for society’s idealized goal of physical beauty. Not only do women feel pressured to hit the treadmill and count carbs to attract a significant other; they also do so to be taken seriously and appear psychologically and emotionally sane.
Unfortunately, this idea that body image represents an individual’s mental state is as inaccurate as it is shallow. For example, some girls cope with really bad breakups by getting all dressed up and going out with a group of friends. They like to give off the impression that they are feeling confident and ready to move on when, in reality, they are still mourning and simply trying to find a distraction. Even more common and damaging, some women cope with stress and grief by obsessively working out and even skipping meals. Although these women will quickly and effectively shed pounds, it is a result of emotional distress, not control and sanity.
In Bynes’ case, although it is possible that she might be feeling better, placing even more emphasis on physical appearance might be damaging. Body image is a big deal to Bynes: she used to tweet old pictures of herself and publically shame herself for being“too fat.” Now that she is out of rehab and trying to make significant changes to improve her life, the last thing she needs is to be reminded about how much society values thin and fit bodies. Congratulate Bynes on her emotional and life achievements, what really matters and truly indicates her mental state.