Imagining a Body Positive Google
This is one person's story; everyone will have unique experiences on their own path to recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors or symptom use. Please use your own discretion. And speak with your therapist when needed.
by Liza Miller, a college student studying psychology with an emphasis on Gender and Women's Studies.
Tucked away in a dark corner of my room, I typed my burning question into Google's search bar: "am I too fat?" What flashed before my eyes was a slew of tools (BMI calculators, tables, and charts) that could mathematically answer my question, and an endless supply of articles that could tell me how to lose weight if the answer was "yes."
This was my experience as an eleven-year-old, and it is the same experience shared by so many other young girls who funnel their most embarrassing questions and fears into Google searches, and in turn receive endless images of Barbie-shaped bombshells and horrific strategies for obtaining this impossible ideal.
The problem is that search engines are highly competitive environments for websites that are all trying to be featured as one of the top hits. In the weight loss arena in particular, attention-grabbing titles are crucial, and web pages that advocate slow and gradual tips for improved health cannot grasp viewers' attentions as well as the pages that give them the oversimplified, impossible answers they were hoping to hear: "You can have a perfect body before your beach vacation next week!"
As a result, Google is dominated by these kind of extreme weight loss articles so much that they begin to seem normal and feasible. The search term "how to lose weight fast" churns out results of how to lose weight quickly and easily. No exercise, no dieting, REAL results! Backed by science! (Cue world's biggest eye roll.)
What if Google didn't look like that? What if girls who entered searches about losing weight were instead greeted with reaffirming messages that accepting and loving your body exactly how it is should be a much bigger priority? And for those people who wish to accomplish health goals for the right reasons (improving what your body can do, not what it looks like), what if the websites in the top hits were those that suggested moderate and gradual efforts?
I imagine a "body positive Google" might look something like this:
Search engines are our biggest and worst teacher. They teach young girls warped social norms as if they are facts, and it perpetuates the idea that thinness is synonymous with beauty, and beauty comes before everything. These are the misrepresentations of reality that can contribute to body image issues and eating disorders. So, let's fire search engines from their teaching position. Let’s remember that online search results do not reflect real life. The key to change starts with changing our foundation of knowledge, and our foundation needs a serious makeover with a lot less makeup.