The One Where I Talk About Body Image.

10 Sep

I honestly don’t think I’ve ever met a single woman who is happy with her body, with the notable exception of women whose bodies have just been reduced in some capacity. For example, I’ve known people who have taken up activities like yoga or kickboxing, not because they wanted to lose weight but because they wanted to reduce stress, or feel stronger, or maybe they were just bored. But if they let something slip about any related weight loss, or if you happen to bring it up for some reason, they can’t hide how delighted they are to be occupying a smaller space in the world.

I’ve often wondered before why we have this assumption that thinner is prettier. But then it occurred to me today, we don’t necessarily have that assumption at all… I mean, most of us don’t look at someone who is very thin because they are sick, and think “…Hot,” do we? I think there’s a certain combination of leanness and good health that is truly considered to be covetable. I also think that perhaps our opinions of what constitutes “good health” have become really skewed, and that’s where you start having problems.

I’m not talking about eating disorders necessarily, because eating disorders are a beast of a different nature. The same way your brain can compel a person to pluck out the hairs on their head one by one in times of stress (trichotillomania) or eat things that just aren’t food (pica, which is, I suppose, an eating disorder in itself), so too can it condemn you to a life in which you believe you must be thinner. I’m not trying to argue that societal pressures don’t contribute to the problem; I’m just saying there’s a difference between the girl who won’t eat for days because her dance teacher calls her “thick” versus the girl who just says “shove it” and keeps on eating normally (and perhaps finds a new dance instructor in the meantime). Right now I’m talking less about eating disorders and more about the things that pretty much every girl I’ve ever known says or does.

For example, how many twenty-something average-height average-weight women have told you that they want to lose 10 pounds “for their health”? Nobody’s trying to argue that being overweight is necessarily healthy, but guess what? Neither is being underweight. Neither is yo-yo dieting. And most young people, unless their weight is a substantial problem (over or underweight), are going to be okay in the health department. So when a perfectly average sized friend says to me that she wants to drop 10 pounds “for her health,” call me a jackass, but I’m going to call her out on that. If you want to lose weight, be my guest, try to lose weight… just don’t lie about your motivation, because I’m not buying it. You buy a gym membership for your health. You start buying organic for your health. You don’t decide, at age 21 and 130 pounds, that you’re going to lose 10 pounds for your health. Sorry!

You hear so much about how the beauty industry poisons young girls’ minds by emphasizing rail-thin bodies, but I don’t really get that. Sure, I’d like to see more body diversity in magazines, but it doesn’t make sense to blame skinny models for womens’ seemingly collective low self-esteem. I mean, models are also freakishly tall but at a mere five foot five, I don’t believe I can’t wear the clothes I like because I’m too short; I believe I can’t wear them because I’m too big. And I’m not particularly big, when all is said and done.

Personally I think what we really need to do is lay off the fashion industry a little bit and start going after the diet industry. The fashion industry wants to show you frivolous, pretty things and wants you to believe that a particular garment or brand can shape your whole identity. The diet industry is much more sinister and cuts much deeper. The diet industry wants us to believe that getting thinner, no matter what size you are to begin with, is easy. The diet industry wants us to believe that “thinner” necessarily means “healthier.” And what’s more, the diet industry wants us to fail… because think how much money they would lose if people actually did succeed long-term on these fad programs and fake “food” (they say you shouldn’t speak ill of the dead but yes, I’m referring to one Dr. Atkins). And so much of dieting and weight loss is caught up in the notions of “success” and “failure.” Make yourself smaller, you’re a winner! But if you fail in doing so… well…

Success. Failure. These are concepts that have far more bearing on what we think of ourselves than superficial words like “thin” and “pretty,” wouldn’t you think? Now you’re not just “untraditionally attractive,” but you’re a failure too. No wonder we’re all so down on ourselves.

Ultimately, I really don’t think that our perception of what is beautiful is what got messed up, because sure, yes, many slender people are beautiful. And just as many slender people are unattractive, as well. Just like you will find beautiful and unattractive people throughout all different demographics, so too will you find them amongst the idealized slender bodies. Just because other shapes aren’t being represented and that’s not fair doesn’t mean that slim people aren’t attractive. The only type of person I feel truly safe in saying is unattractive is a person who is genuinely unhealthy, be they too fat or too thin or somewhere in between. I think attractiveness really adds up to the sum of your parts, and the skinniest body in the world isn’t going to do you much good if your skin is grey and your hair is falling out. I just think that unfortunately, nobody has a clear concept of what is “healthy” anymore. We’ve learned to equate thinness with good health and success, and that’s where we’ve gone wrong. Good health amounts to so much more than just the measurement of your waistline and whether or not you’re an “apple” or a “pear.” What does that even mean, anyway? Last time I checked, I was still a person.

Thin does not mean “healthy.”
Chubby does not mean “ugly.”
Stop thinking of yourself in terms of a piece of fruit.
Stop thinking of yourself in terms of a size.

Is your heart pounding reliably? Do you breathe in and out without thinking about it? Do all your parts seem to function pretty normally, more or less? Do you eat plants every now and again? Can you wiggle your toes? Are you reasonably happy with what you see in the mirror regardless of what Janice Dickinson would say? Then you’re good. Seriously. You’re good. And you’re probably also a lot more attractive than you give yourself credit for.

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5 Responses to “The One Where I Talk About Body Image.”

  1. Hella Stella September 10, 2009 at 1:33 pm #

    I like this.

    • beeks September 10, 2009 at 5:29 pm #

      Thanks!

  2. Adam M September 12, 2009 at 4:14 am #

    You know, as a gay guy I find this topic fascinating.

    Because the same thing applies to men but only gay men and straight women really obsess over it the way you describe, you know what I mean?

    So I watch women worry and worry and worry about this.

    And I always say that girls shouldn’t rely on other girls or straight guys to tell them whether they look nice in a certain outfit or whatnot because have their own ideas about how they’d like a girl to look and girls have their own ideas about how they’d like other girls to look. But gay guys will tell you if you really look hot or you look slutty because a girl showing too much skin for example looks “great” to a straight guy but a gay guy knows she looks embarrassing. Or a girl might not like what you’re wearing because it’s not something she would wear even though it may look great on you. But gay guys are able to size it up without those hang ups.

    The same applies for the weight thing.

    I really think it’s what Oprah used to say before she got back on her dieting bandwagon. It’s about reaching your ideal size. You know, the idea that your DNA programmed you to be a certain size to be at your ideal shape to attract a mate and bring out your features. And if you go below it you lose that accent and if you go too far above it you lose it as well.

    Look at Starr Jones. She was meant to be large. She was so beautiful at her normal size. If she went radically over it you would notice but you never thought she looked bad, right? But she has that ridiculous stomach stapling thing and she loses a million pounds and she looks freaky! Because she was built by nature to be large and curvy and it didn’t work on her when she lost all the weight.

    Or if you look at the girls on Friends. OK they were light at the beginning and then Jennifer Aniston and Courtney Cox lose a ton of weight on top of that. And Lisa Kudrow kind of stayed where she was. Suddenly every woman in the world wants to go on The Zone (because that’s what they used) but when you watch the show, Phoebe ends up becoming the one you notice because she’s so pretty (at her normal size, which yes is not very big but my point is she didn’t shrink down further like Jennifer and Courtney). And now that Jennifer Aniston is aging a bit, she still has the “hot” size but she’s aging very quickly and you notice it. Whereas if you watch the later episodes of Friends, you have to look very closely to see that Lisa Kudrow is older than the rest. If you really scrutinize the screen you’ll see it. And you barely notice it because she looks great.

    I understand what it means as a man to attracted to a thin mate. I don’t know the reason but I know it works. It goes to whatever the instinct is that leads people to believe that thin=hot. But as a gay man I am very aware that I don’t carry it over for women but I know straight guys do. I can’t explain the biology of it.

    But I think it’s true that there’s some subconscious equation people make. And it seems that people are willing to sacrifice “looking pretty” or “looking sexy” or “looking nice” or “being radiant” or “being alluring” to instead be “hot” in the sense that hot means thin.

    I don’t get it.

    There are some women it looks great on. But I mean check out an episode of The Real Housewives of Manhattan or whatever and look what the obsession does to your neck.

    Or do you know what’s a really great example? If you watch Gossip Girl and Nate’s 18 or whatever sleeping with a lady in her 40’s? Now I’m a big pervert so normally something like that would put me over the top. But even though the lady is obviously naturally sexy, she’s trying too hard to be thinner so that her bones all poke out and it’s disgusting. She probably looks like a million dollars at her normal size (again, doubtlessly not that much larger).

    But my point is when you’re gay and you look at these starving women you don’t see them as sexy. I know that there’s a weird gene that triggers straight men to see them that way. And I know that many women have a genetic trigger that makes them jealous of them and feel threatened by them when they see them (not universal and also partly cultural for our time and part of the world) but when you’re gay you just see a nasty pile of sadness. Especially when they wear really big accessories or enormous high-heeled shoes they can’t walk in and you’re wondering how they’re able to propel themselves forward without breaking a hip.

    Being attractive is so individual and it has to do with knowing yourself. But unfortunately it means that you have to have a checklist of what your good traits are so you can play them up and know if you’re accenting them the right way and people (especially girls) are trained to believe they don’t have any and they should be copying an ideal and so they strive for these looks that aren’t natural to them and they weren’t built for.

    What if everyone had confidence and self-worth instead of a look?

    I just want to shake people when they confuse girls who look “hot” and girls who look “sexy”.

    I mean is Paris Hilton hot or is she sexy? She’s hot. And that’s in the sense that if you have a checklist of what makes someone hot she meets the criteria. Is she sexy? Of course not, she’s a mess. One of the things that makes boys qualify girls as hot is their belief of how likely it is that they’ll have sex with them. That’s why when you wear a ridiculously slutty outfit that looks like a nightmare on you, if you ask a straight guy he’ll always say you look great with a dumbstruck obsession on his face… he doesn’t know the difference between looking “great” and looking “hot” if you make him stare at your girly places he thinks you look great no matter how ridiculous you may look to other people. Knowing that Paris Hilton will have sex with anyone makes her “hotter”. But would you ever describe her as sexy?

    I think it’s true what you said that when you mention to a girl that she looks like she lost weight she takes that as the most important compliment a lot of the time because of the belief that being thinner equals prettier. But when you’re watching someone make that connection you know that’s not necessarily the case. That’s a leap people make.

    The fact of the matter is how you feel on the inside reflects to your outside. No matter how much someone weighs, if they love themselves and feel good about who they are as a person they find a way to bring it to the outside and they glow and have a sort of spiritual radiance that people respond to. But if someone loses all the weight on Earth due to self-loathing, no matter how much “hotter” they get they’re always just going to be desperate looking.

    Think about whether you’re heavy on the inside and if you are, free yourself of what’s weighing you down. If you can do that the rest flows on its own and you’ll become who you were meant to be on the outside and people will love it.

    There’s a beauty tip you can’t buy in a dietary supplement aisle.

    Think about it: when you look back at pictures of yourself twenty years from now, will you be worrying about whether you looked too big on those pictures or whether you looked happy?

    • beeks September 12, 2009 at 1:50 pm #

      This was the best comment ever. I have absolutely nothing to add except that I think it’s all true.

  3. Justin September 13, 2009 at 1:54 am #

    My personal view on it all is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Now, I do not find stick women attractive. I think they all need a nice big sammich! Curves, and a healthy weight are the way to go. I really wish mainstream media would pick up on that. The world would be a better place.

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