Tag Archives: underweight

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.