Beauty Ideals: Is thin still in? The following question is directed to all the female readers. If someone walked up to you with a smile on their face and said, "You look so strong," how would you take it? Now, imagine the same person walked up to you with the same big smile on their face and said, "You look so thin," which would you rather hear? I'd be willing to be that - if you're reading this blog - you have an interest in your health - thus stronger is better than thinner (hopefully). However, if you're the general public, "thin" still earns a lot of points in people's favor.
I think it was the summer before my freshman year of college when I watched MTV's Kennedy interview pro beach volleyball superstar and model, Gabrielle Reece. I can't remember exactly why Kennedy interviewed Reece, but I do recall one bit of dialogue. It went something like this:
Kennedy to Reece: blah, blah, blah about modeling and volleyball..."You are so thin."
Reece to Kennedy: "I'm healthy," then further commented on the importance of that emphasis. The way she quickly corrected Kennedy was not in a way to deflect from a painfully thin body we often see in models. Reece, in my humble opinion, has always looked strong. She happens to be gorgeous and an incredibly talented volleyball player, so it seems apparent the modeling jobs followed her - not the other way around. Anyway, I admired Reece for her quick correction. This was the early 90s, and waif models were the ornaments of magazines everywhere. It was the first time in a long time (maybe ever?) that I'd observed a model wanting to be associated with her abilities rather than an unhealthy weight.
I have no doubt that a great many of you have worked your tail off to lose unneeded/unhealthy body fat and have been told by people that you lookthin. Please don't take this post as something directed to you. It's not. You deserve the accolades. Good for you for getting your body into a healthier place. I hope you're also recognized for being healthier and stronger, too! Coming from someone who values athleticism and health, I've worked with a lot of people who are talented triathletes, swimmers, runners, etc. Some of whom get mighty lean, but the focus isn'tonbecoming bone-thin, it's about getting faster or stronger at a discipline. Things go awry when people take aim at an image, a look, a number - attainable or not - that becomes the be all and end all of their happiness.
Ironically, our culture, built upon unattainable ideals, standsjuxtaposed to an ever-growing population of people whose waistlines inch wider and wider. On one side of the road, a fast food restaurant sells 32-ounce soft drinks loaded with sugar for under a buck. But on the other side of the road stands a storefront dedicated to "helping" people lose weight by charging $20 a month to participate in a program that teaches its members the fine art of negotiating calories consumed based on their activity. I can eat this candy bar if I walk an extra two miles tonight. The same person goes home, eats a healthy dinner in hopes of losing a few unneeded pounds, opens up a magazine and is immediately reminded that her body isn't good enough. Maybe she can shrug it off, recognizing that the model in the ad gazing back at her is airbrushed beyond recognition, or maybe she decides she'll start eating better tomorrow, and heads into the kitchen for a little ice cream.
Of course, in a perfect world, it would be easy just to tell everyone to get over their issues and be healthy. In my opinion, that's blaming the victim. We're all little parts of a really big machine that, as a whole, has no real interest in you or me. Ideals are dynamic and can change. Long ago, beauty was the vision of a plump, pale person. A voluptuous physique was a sign of wealth, and pale skin indicated that you weren't a worker, spending your days in the fields. Not so long ago, fuller-figured women of the 40s and 50s were objects of desire. No one can say for certain in which direction our beauty ideals will turn, but I'm hopeful it will veer toward the center of the level, creating balance on both ends.
As a personal trainer and health writer, I'd be remiss if I didn't throw a little modern-day culpability somewhere. Right now, in 2012, it's neither responsible nor safe to produce foods that have no business being in our bodies. Our food laws need a drastic overhaul - from what goes into the foods we manufacture to how we target market the unhealthy foods brought to the table.
What are your thoughts on beauty ideals in the United States? How do you think foods available, and food marketing plays a role - if any - in creating the perplexing dichotomy of our largely obese, but thin-obsessed culture? Leave a comment and let me know what you think.
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Traci is a nationally recognized health and fitness expert who has been featured on The TODAY Show and Dr. Oz. Traci is available for corporate speaking events and wellness coaching, as well as private training. Contact Traci here.