I have trouble sometimes sharing my personal body image story. I’m afraid of sounding like Regina George from Mean Girls: “I want to lose five pounds.” In the movie, she is a victim of many practical jokes because to everyone else she is thin, so her statement sounds more like the whining of a spoiled, superficial rich girl. However, we all have our insecurities thanks to our culture, and this is mine.
I have never had an eating disorder, nor have I ever been what anyone would call fat, but I have grown up with the idea that being ‘fat’ is something to be avoided at all costs – so any area of my body that is not toned, I obsess about because in the true definition of the word, anything that is not muscle is fat.
Now intellectually, I know I’m wrong. My BMI is well within healthy standards, and my fat percentage is average. I have an hourglass shape that in the 1940’s would have been perfectly acceptable. However, I grew up in a culture that worships young, beautiful, heavily retouched models with the shapes of 12-year-old girls, so my natural shape is not ‘good enough.’
I’ve read the articles about how models are photoshopped and don’t really look like that. I’ve read articles that men prefer women with meat on their bones because of breeding purposes, and these things do help. But still, there is an atmosphere that no matter what you look like or how much you work out, you need to look like a pop star to be attractive and thus have worth.
Now, as I’ve mentioned, I know that society’s view of beauty is wrong, as I know many of you do, too. The problem is that we see that image reinforced everywhere all the time. It’s not just that we get comments on the street or watch tv ads and shows that display every woman with a toned, flat stomach and long, thin legs. It’s not just that pop stars and really anyone in the public eye looks the same.
It’s the fact that we internalize these ideals because we see them all the time and then fall short when we look at ourselves. Most stars, even if they are at a healthy weight, are at the lowest tier of their BMI range, and they have lots of time every day to work out. Think of how you would look if working out was part of your job. Unfortunately, most of us have other things to do besides work with our personal trainers, so we’re lucky if we can run on a treadmill twice a week.
In college I was called “fat” by a boy once, in fact the only time someone called me that to my face, because I turned down his advances. I had gained the Freshman 15, so while I was not fat, I was bigger than I had ever been. I’m also not very tall, so that gain caused me to go up a pants size. I was embarrassed about it, and to have some jerk call me that out of bitterness at that age really undermined my already shaky sense of self-worth.
I’m ashamed to say that I have not yet completely shaken off the feeling that people see me that way, no matter what the scale and my eyes say. I still find myself looking in the mirror, turning every which way to see what my abs look like, making sure I have not gained that weight back, that I’m not fat, even though that was years ago, and that guy was a passing fling.
This situation continued for years, at least ten, until I moved to New York and started working in a luxury store. We sold overpriced goods to rich people and celebrities who didn’t have anything else to do besides waste their money. Sometimes, models would come in and spend money on my floor, and I did what a lot of people would and compared myself to them.
I’ve met a few Victoria’s Secret models and other lingerie models, and that’s finally when I started feeling a little better. With my own eyes, I saw that they looked like me for the most part. They had hourglass shapes and were not as toned as they were in their ads.
I’m sure they weighed at least five pounds less than I do and work out all the time, but they were at least 2’s or 4’s. They were not waifs, and they were even of a comparable height to me. Breaking this barrier did more for me than all the self-help articles I had read about loving yourself. The models that made me feel bad couldn’t even live up to their photo’s ideals (I knew better than to compare myself to the runway models because we’re not even the same species).
Once I shattered the illusion of the bra model, I started thinking more about body image as a function of science. If I wanted to lose my five pounds, I had to control the amount of calories going in so they didn’t outpace the number of the calories I needed to expend. I needed to be healthy, but I also was eating more calories than I needed.
I went to a dietitian and started using a calorie tracking app called Lose It, which helped me see what I needed to eat to lose the five pounds while still being healthy. I did eventually lose the five pounds, which I gained back, but I feel like that experience was one of the more positive ones in my journey toward being happy with my body.
I think I still have a ways to go toward accepting that five pounds is not something I should obsess about. I know now that acceptance is something you do unconditionally. You either love yourself or you don’t. If you don’t, you need to figure out what you need to do so that you can love yourself.
Breaking yourself out of the mindset that your perceived attractiveness is what makes you matter is hard because as I’ve mentioned before, it’s everywhere all the time.
You can’t do anything about what other people think or say, but what they think or say is on them, not you.
Often, they are saying those things because of some other reason – like the guy I met in college. He was upset that I turned him down. His feelings were hurt, so the only way he knew how to make himself feel better was to convince himself that I wasn’t that great and not worth having anyway. The problem was that I let his words convince me of that, too.
Rather than spending our time being upset that we don’t look like faked photographs, we should try to convince society to change its photographs.
That’s not what we want. It’s not going to make us buy more products. They are the ones who are wrong, not us.