It’s getting skinny out there. There’s a two percent chance ANYone reading this article looks like a fashion model, but there’s a 99 percent chance EVERYone has seen a fashion model today. Not in person mind you since it’s a rare sighting – but those tall, thin, airbrushed women surround us. No matter the media, there are few ads or shows that lack an image of the perfect two percent.
The body image conundrum is not “this week’s” headline – the skinny patrol has been at it for decades. We’re certainly not the first generation of women who feel we don’t fit the mold that’s been sculpted for us. It’s likely even the women in Rubens’ time looked at his paintings of “curvy” women and wondered why his subjects never seemed to have the cellulite, spider veins, and stretch marks every mother has no matter her century.
In this century, the average American woman clocks in at 5’4” and 165 pounds while the average Miss America winner shows us what we “should” be – 5’7” and 121 pounds. Not to mention cellulite free and photoshopped a la Rubens should unsightly issues arise (or sag). It’s worth noting, this average Miss America is also slightly underweight by medical standards.
We’re bright people. We don’t “believe” what we see. When the model herself only slightly resembles her own cover shot, how can the remaining 98% of us have any expectation to look like her digitally enhanced image? We know it’s not real, we know it’s not a look we’ll achieve no matter how many squats we do or how few calories we consume. In our heads, we know. It’s our guts (inside and out) that we can’t quite convince. Our guts and our kids.
It’s one thing to be unhappy with our muffin tops in comparison to the ripped abs gracing the magazine racks at the supermarket check-out counter. It’s an entirely different issue when our body dissatisfaction results in behaviors that could harm us – and by setting the example, our kids.
Over the last decade, eating disorders have increased in a big way – disturbingly, the biggest increase is among girls under twelve and women from 35-45. That’s us and our kids! What used to be a teen girl and young woman’s disease is now literally in our laps. While we can’t change the message the media feeds us, we do have the power to redefine the message we carry forward.
Girls with eating disorders say that after the media and peer pressure, the third biggest factor in their struggle with body image and food is a mother who they believe wants them to be thin(ner). Not to pile on another “it’s all mom’s fault” guilt trip…but body image just may be a topic where fake it ‘til you make it rings true.
It is, in fact, too much to ask that we all of a sudden appreciate the roll over the belt or the inner thigh rub. Actually, it’s too much to ask that we learn to appreciate our flub over time. Swim suit season will most likely always make us wish we lived further from the equator – somewhere fleece is appropriate 365 a year. We’ve been told, shown, and sold that we’re not okay as we are. All 98% of us.
We have become so conditioned to the tall/thin beauty standard that we’re not even comfortable seeing “us” in the media. When was the last time you heard about Lena Dunham without the suggestion that she cover up her normal self? What about the magazine covers where actresses, if not stick thin, are relegated to head shots or wrapped in oversized clothing?
We can’t lay these images at the media’s feet entirely – they’re giving us what we want as evidenced by what we pay for. In droves, we’ve tuned into the lose-weight-before-our-eyes TV shows. We can’t help but flip through the magazine with the before and after success pix on the cover. Every month there’s another diet plan, exercise secret, or pill that promises we’ll look just like the newly thin, smiling ear to ear woman on the cover.
How many of us remember all the way back to when low fat was the answer? Then low carb? Now it’s all about coconut oil and freeing ourselves of gluten. It’s impossible to know what we’re supposed to eat to be healthy, and honestly, what are we supposed to do when our real goal is more 36-24-36 than 120/80?
At the end of the day, what we’re supposed to do is whatever we can to make it better for ourselves – and our kids. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) recommends we make every effort to shift our focus from body size to healthy eating and physical activity. The shared attention to childhood obesity could help – we’re all talking about our kids’ health, but it’s still in the shadow of fat kid vs. fit kid. The good news is we really do have our kids’ ears more than the kids lead us to believe. And if we decide to listen to ourselves vs. “those” people, we may eventually be able to chip away at the unrealistic body image pressure weighing down on us.
The NEDA says flat out that silence is the enemy when it comes to fostering healthy image attitudes and habits in our kids. We can’t pretend our way to a good relationship with our bodies and be perfect, yet inauthentic, role models. The NEDA suggests that parents and children engage in honest discussions about body image and eating habits. Eating disorders develop and thrive in the land of ignorance and denial. If parents and children don’t understand the progression, even healthy meal planning can become obsessive and skipping meals can lead to a full blown eating disorder.
Chances are we’re not going to wake up tomorrow, next week, ever, and be thrilled with what we see in the mirror. But if we shift our internal dialogue from “holy pooch Batman” to “baby was on board”, we’ll be better able to appreciate what our bodies DO vs. how they LOOK in skinny jeans (kudos to the sadist who designed and named those jeans).
It’s tough but we’re up for it. Remember what it felt like to be pregnant? Even taking into account the hormones coursing through your body and that 9th massively uncomfortable month, it felt great to be curvy – because pregnant is supposed to be curvy, and full, and soft. A few months of not sucking in the gut is such a relief!
So if we can all start to visualize a new normal – not the 400 pound Biggest Loser contestants and not this year’s twiggy winner. We have to get past the extremes that make the news, and represent the best us that we can. We need to get through the day feeling as good as we can in our skin – and set that ever important example to our kids. As battles go, this one’s uphill, but who among us hasn’t rallied to an uphill cause (daily) after becoming a mom?
Cynda Zurfluh is a mother of three. Her previous life was a corporate blur of meetings and marketing. Her current life, while still a blur, is all about family, writing, and small business consulting. Contact her at [email protected].
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