Monday, April 14, 2014

Society and Body Image

No matter who you are, large or small, if you are a woman and look in the mirror, you are likely to be dissatisfied with the image that stares back. We nit-pick even the smallest imperfection making it seem like the proverbial elephant in the room and at times even invent imperfections because society tells us that it is perfection or nothing. Every tv show, video and magazine tells us that women must be a perfect size 6, have perky breasts, a tight tush, flawless skin and hair and not a dimple of cellulite on our body....and stretch marks? Fugetaboutit! At some point us intellectual beings simply shut down and close our minds to the reality that no one actually looks like this Hollywood made up version of a woman. In today's world, perfection is created with Photoshop, good lighting, creative camera angles and a lot of airbrushing. We know this, but when we are looking at Jennifer Aniston, Angelina Jolie or others that society bills as beauty....our intellect runs out the door and is replaced by insecurity and the desire to achieve the impossible. This fixation on perfection has been the starting point of many an eating disorder, unhealthy yo-yo dieting and unhealthy body image in young girls and women which can lead to many other problems down the road. is a made up reality and we fall for it every time.

If you look down through history; art, sculpture, photography and film have shown the ever changing views of society and the shape of women. Up until the late 20th Century, women were depicted with curves and those curves were viewed as feminine, sexy and desirable. Women didn't run to the gym, worry about being vegetarian, vegan or survive on shakes and diet pills. No, they were far too busy raising families, cooking and cleaning to worry about those things. Still they took better care of themselves than today's women do. You would never have caught a woman leaving the house without her hair done, make-up (especially lipstick), a dress and heels.....even if it was just to run to the grocery store. Even to clean, my mom used to have a house dress to clean in and she wore a pretty apron over it just in case someone unexpected came to the door. Yes, women were body conscious even then, but in a very different way. They took pride in their homes, their families and in their looks. There were no "people of Walmart" back then.

In the mid 20th Century (40's, 50's and 60's) society and fashion celebrated a woman's curves. The female icons were stars and pinups such as Jayne Mansfield, Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell. Their curves went on for miles and were accentuated by their all in one undergarment called the girdle. It was simply a modern take on the antiquated corset and it held everything in place without a jiggle from your thighs to your breasts. With a really good girdle, you could go up a cup size and go down a waist size in the matter of minutes....that is if you weren't too picky about breathing. No self respecting woman ever left home without her girdle.

In the late 1960's the curvaceous woman became persona non grata when a young girl named Twiggy came on the fashion scene. Twiggy was a young British model, who overnight became the face of fashion as she appeared on the cover of every magazine in the world. She was tall and thin. With her short pixie haircut and her lack of curves, she had an androgynous appeal to her and suddenly everyone wanted to have that look. Gone were the days of girdles and voluptuous hips and breasts. Now we were celebrating the "stick figure" look. While I am sure it helped the body image of very young girls not yet developed and those whose genes dictated a less than curvy genetic make-up, but for real women, this image was an impossible acquisition. A woman could fake curves with the right undergarments and clothes, but there was no faking Twiggy's boyish figure. You either had it or you didn't. Most didn't.

With the coming of the 1970's and 80's, suddenly the body image issue was taking on a life of its own. More women were getting divorced, going to work, taking care of business both at work and at home and suddenly there was a break down in the family diet. Well thought out family dinners were quickly becoming fast food stops on the way home. Lives were crazy and hectic and breakfast, lunch and supper were replaced with grab what you can.....when you can. Add to this the onset of the Super Model and the world of self image was about to implode.

In the 70's, jeans were still designed with a curvier woman in mind. Bell bottom hip huggers were designed to hug in the right places and accentuate the curves. Jump to the 1980's though and thanks to models like Brooke Shields, Christie Brinkley and Carol Alt, it was okay to be a little curvy which was so nice for those of us with hips and breasts, however it was imperative that we had a 24" waist and this would be defined by jeans so tight you could see the outline of our kidneys. No wonder our body image was so poor back then. We were miserable. We couldn't breath, go to the bathroom or sit down because our jeans were too tight, but darn we looked good.....right? The truth was, no matter how hard we tried, the only ones that looked like Brooke, Christie and Carol....were Brooke, Christie and Carol. And the struggle for the perfect body image raged on.

By the 80's and into the 90's women were far more body conscious than they were health conscious. This became evident with more women sitting behind desks all day. They were no longer running after kids and doing housework, they were mostly just sitting. Welcome to the battle of the bulge that was quickly becoming a war. Then someone realized that tired, overworked and overweight women with poor self body image could be a gold mine. Suddenly gyms and workout studios started popping up all over the place. For an hour a day 3-5 times a week, we could Sweat to the Oldies, try our stamina at Step Aerobics or jump on a treadmill and walk/run ourselves into Super Model form. Unfortunately, adding this to an already hectic schedule wasn't easy and there were thousands of paid in full gym memberships never used. So now we were not only facing poor body image, but also guilt over paying for and not using the gym. If this wasn't bad enough, every magazine now had covers of waif like girls/women with dark circles under their eyes looking as if they just arrived from a starving Third World Nation. They called this Heroine Chic. Now for anyone over thirty and without a drug problem, this was just a passing fad that we chose to ignore. However, for many young girls, this body image set the stage of how they saw themselves for many years to come.

The new millennium in my opinion has been a mix of good and bad and the source of a lot of mixed messages where body image is concerned. At first the message was to love yourself and celebrate who you are regardless of your size. I agree that we should love ourselves, but we are much harder to love if we eat ourselves into heart disease and cancer or can't enjoy our lives because we are simply too big to get around. That being said, we are not all built the same way. If you are going by weight alone, 160 lbs. looks much different on a 5'10" woman than it does on a 5'1" woman. Also, build and muscle have a lot to do with how your weight is dispersed and how you look at any certain weight. You can be active, workout and have defined muscles, weigh 160 lbs and look amazing or you can be sedentary, flabby and weigh 160 lbs and look completely different. I do believe we should love ourselves, in fact I think we should love ourselves enough to be healthy, to be able to enjoy life and most of all be around in the long term for our families.

Right now is probably the most health conscious time in history. People are realizing that our inactivity, poor eating habits and the constant addition of chemicals to our bodies is resulting in obesity, disease and in many cases death. We our basically eating ourselves into the grave and cutting our longevity from about 70-80 years back to 50-60 years. It is really a slow suicide. Even social body image is beginning to change. We are now seeing more of the curvy pinup girl types and less of the stick figure, uber thin models. The average size woman is a 12 instead of a 6 and workouts such as core builders and yoga are working on strength as well as weight loss. We are finally realizing that we didn't put the weight on over night and it won't come off overnight. There is no pill, diet or shake that is going to make you lose 50 lbs in a week, but as long as we buy into the hype, we continue to set ourselves up for disappointment and ultimately to fail. The only way to fight this war and win is to change how we think about and look at food, exercise and ultimately our bodies. We need to make changes not for the short term, but for the long haul and introduce or re-introduce healthy foods and exercise back into our lives. We also need to learn to both embrace and love the real image staring back at us in the mirror instead of being disappointed that Aniston or Jolie aren't facing us.

It is my hope that in the coming years, healthy will be the new sexy. If we are able to look in the mirror and know that our skin is glowing, our hair is shiny, our muscles are tone and we are healthy from the inside out because of healthy foods and regular exercise, then maybe that will shape  a new self image. A real self image! Feeling good and being able to run, walk and play with our kids or simply enjoy life should be our goal. Not....fitting into a size 6, cinching ourselves in so tight we can't breath or starving ourselves to look like a cover girl in an airbrushed photo.

Just remember.....ALL women are REAL women. Each of us is beautiful and unique whether we are short, tall, curvy or thin. ALL women could look like Aniston, Jolie, Brinkley and the rest if we had the teams they do and the computer enhancement that takes away their blemishes, saggy breasts and cellulite. What's more, these women I guarantee you....don't always look beautiful, don't always feel pretty and at one time or another looked in the mirror and wished they were someone else. It is simply the nature of the beast, started when society decided that sexy, pretty and desirable meant all women should look a certain way. Perhaps it is time we told society to shove it and WE decide individually, what we view as beauty. Just think of a world where we saw not only ourselves but each other as beautiful.....society be damned! Oh what a world that would be!


  1. I love love love this blog. You are so right about body image. When I look in the mirror, I either don't really look at myself or I wish I was looking at someone else. Even on my best days I can find flaws and work myself into a trauma. It is society driven and then we take that and like it or not pass it on to our daughters. Until women start loving themselves we will continue to the cycle of poor self image. This blog was so dead on on so many things. Thank you so much for giving words to what most of us know but never acknowledge.

  2. Very well written and you made many good points. All women can be beautiful but because of society and self expectation, that beauty can be marred by body obsession. I have seen it happen a million times. An already beautiful woman sees herself as flawed and then becomes obsessed with every bit of food she eats and every calorie she burns. It is going from one extreme to the other and suddenly that woman is no longer beautiful. She is obsessed and somewhat egotistical or maybe narcissistic is a better word. Her thoughts, her world and her meals are carefully calculated and everything else in life becomes an afterthought. Beauty is God given but obsession which is an ugly business comes strictly from man.

  3. A beautiful woman starts with her heart and is radiated through her disarming smile and gleaming eyes. I have one of those women in my life. And I married her. She has blessed me with 4 wonderful children and many happy years.

    I've never used societies' measure of what makes a woman beautiful. Look within the Godly woman and give her the affirmation and respect she deserves and many happy years will be yours.