The following is the first in a six-part series written by the female trainers at Climb Nashville. Sharing our thoughts and experiences is intended to start conversations both within ourselves as well as in our homes, our social circles and our community about the struggles so many women face - self-doubt, self-criticism, body shame, food shame and learned helplessness.
None of us is perfect. Each of us is beautiful. Let’s make our most painful internal dialogues external and shed the weight of negativity toward ourselves. After all, would you criticize anyone else as you do yourself??
In college I wrote a research paper on the cultural expectations that women face regarding their weight. It’s something that I was very interested in because not only has it affected me but almost every female I have known in my life. Today, you can’t get away from magazines, actresses, or even Instagram’s pictures of what seems to be the “ideal” figure or look. The not-so-subtle message is that you aren’t considered beautiful if your body shape is different than this modern standard. I really wanted to understand how and why this is such an issue for women and where it all began. That's why researched the subject and I want to share with you what I learned.
Researchers have found that a dysmorphic body image starts for women at a very young age. When we are young, many girls are given a Barbie doll. And the moment a young girl gets her Barbie she idealizes that doll. I know for myself, I always wanted to look like Barbie. But how can one achieve a Barbie look when doing so is physically impossible? If Barbie’s measurements were real, she would be 5’9” tall, have a 39” bust, an 18” waist, 33” hips and a size 3 shoe. These proportions are so unrealistic that she would literally have to walk on all fours!! (Katz). Yet this is how body image issues begin, with unrealistic expectations for a body that is either impossible to achieve or attainable by only a very few.
The fashion industry is another major contributor to body image issues. In the 1950s, the ideal body type was curvy and voluptuous. Marilyn Monroe was a very popular figure at this time with a dress size much closer to an 8 than a 2!. Once the 1960s rolled around, Twiggy became the first model who had what the industry called a “boyish figure.” That look caught on and very quickly things changed as the ideal look morphed to be extremely skinny. Achieving this look became so important that extremes in behavior such as anorexia and bulimia became commonplace.
Interestingly, the fashion industry settled on this ultra‐thin look for models because it concluded that if the models were too beautiful or buxom they would be too distracting. The theory assumed that buyers would focus too much on the model instead of the designer’s clothes! An award‐winning stylist and author even affirms this point in an interview that healthy, curvy women would actually “upstage” a designer’s clothes (Ruper).
To be very real with you guys, I have had my own struggles with body image and weight. I remember in high school having negative comments made about my size. And I was an athlete who played three sports and was in no way overweight! To this day I still remember what was said to me and how from that moment I decided something was going to change. I bought an elliptical and hopped on that machine everyday for a whole summer, cut out sugar completely and only ate salads. I lost weight and was looking thinner than I had, but it was an unhealthy behavior driven by what I felt others thought rather than truly being overweight.
Perhaps you can relate to this. During that time, if I allowed myself to eat a cookie, I would hop back on that elliptical machine and work off those calories. But soon I realized I was extremely unhealthy! To come to that point of being so obsessed with how I looked or what I ate was no way to live. I soon became more gracious with my food and backed off from this obsessiveness about working all the time.
In college, I was in a serious relationship and my boyfriend was not the healthiest person to be with. I was criticized for what I would eat, shamed if I made a dessert, and was disapproved of because I didn’t work out as much as he thought I should. Luckily that relationship ended, but it left a lot of scars! After it was over I realized I wanted to be a strong, healthy woman, not for any man, not for anyone else, but for me.
The reason I workout out today is because it gives me joy and makes me happy that I am taking care of myself. It’s not for anyone or any specific goal, it’s simply that I want to take care of myself and I want to be the best I can be!
I encourage all women out there, no matter what size or shape you are, recognize that you are beautiful just the way you are. You don’t need the approval of anyone! Don’t try to reach the unrealistic standard that society holds out as perfection. That standard is virtually impossible to achieve and typically represents an unhealthy focus on self that fails to produce true happiness. Be the best you can be and that’s all that matters!
Ruper, Stefani. "Two Shocking, Dehumanizing Reasons Runway Models Are So Thin, And Why We Should Never Aspire To Look Like Them." Paleo for Women. 12 Mar. 2014. Web.
Katz, Neil. "LifeSize Barbie's Shocking Dimensions." CBS News. 21 Apr. 2011. Web.