“I can’t wait to step on the scale and see how much weight I’ve lost in the last 24 hours”, was my first thought as I arose this morning, the start of my rest day this week. Having been through years of fluctuating weight, a C-section nearly four years ago which had pretty debilitating complications thereafter, and dozens of diets and exercise routines since then, I was actually looking forward to seeing that number on the scale. But, instead of springing up with excitement I laid in bed thinking, as I do some mornings when I can afford the luxury of time. Perhaps I was too exhausted from exercising 2-4 hours every day this week, or perhaps I was feeling particularly depressed physically and mentally from counting calories and eating 500-1000 calories per day each day this week, or perhaps I was concerned with my impending sore throat and nasal congestion that woke me up this morning. Whatever it was, I couldn’t for the life of me just get up. As I lay there thinking, I wondered, “Why in the heck am I doing this to myself?” Granted, I’ve logged a 6-pound weight loss in the last 4 days, but at what cost? Then, I was finally able to solidify a nagging thought and feeling I’ve had for years.
Why do we, as women, put so much pressure on ourselves to look (and act) a certain why? Why is that women in the US are held to such unrealistic standards of so-called beauty? In a country that has the highest obesity rate in the world, most of us are (women and men) struggling with our weight, causing eating disorders to spike and healthy body image to plummet. It seems that women in particular, though, are judged very harshly and unrealistically in this country based on their weight and looks. Talented female actors, music artists and television personalities can only become well-known if they fit a certain body type and look. Yet, famous male actors and artists come in all shapes, sizes and looks and I believe they are much more fairly judged based mainly on talent rather than an image they portray. Very few “overweight” or “plus-size” women have found success, however marginal, in the entertainment industry. Queen Latifah, Roseann, and Oprah (who has found great success, but she’s also struggled tremendously with body image and dieting) come to mind. Kirstie Alley tried to entertain audiences with her self-deprecating but funny show, “Fat Actress”, but she failed in that very short-lived endeavor. On the other hand, plenty of men who are considered by society to be overweight, balding, short, and/or nerdy or just not particularly good-looking have found tremendous success in the same industry that shuns women who carry one extra pound of fat.
Oprah Winfrey; Photo credit: atlantablackstar.com Kirstie Alley; Photo credit: fanpop.com
Jason Alexander, Danny DeVito, Kevin James, Al Roker (when he first started out), John Goodman, Michael Moore, Drew Carey (for years until recently), and a whole host of others are prime examples. We won’t even begin to discuss the fashion industry, where the female models who are the most emaciated, underweight and androgynous-looking are touted as the best in their field. [As a complete aside, did you ever wonder why those runway models never smile and always look so pissed-off that you’re in fear they’re going to materialize in your living room right through your TV and chop your head off with a katana? It’s because they never eat enough and if they do, they throw it right up. What happens when you’re tired, overworked and skip a meal or two? You get very grumpy, too, don’t you? See? That explains their attitude right there].
Jason Alexander; Photo credit: goldderby.com Kevin James; Photo credit: ticketcrusader.com
The irony of having the media laud women who are unusually thin, formless and weak creatures as the outer beauty ‘standard’ to aspire to is that most straight men I’ve asked don’t find these women the least bit attractive. The vast majority of ordinary (non-famous) straight men whom you ask will tell you they prefer women with actual feminine curves, and most men aren’t as shallow as to judge a woman by her weight anyway—they will say they look at a woman’s eyes, face, intelligence and personality as the determining factors of whether or not a woman is beautiful. So who, may I ask, is all this impossible representation for? It’s certainly not the average straight male.
This brings me back to my original question. I believe that we have internalized the media and entertainment industry female beauty standards into our own psyche and now we are struggling to reach standards that are not only impracticable, but highly damaging to a woman’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. I’m certainly guilty of this myself. Having lived in this country since I was 13 years old, I had no shortage of daily bombardment of makeup, diet, hair product, clothing and shoe ads. In fact, what struck me when I first started school here was that the girls my age were fixing their makeup and hair nervously and obsessively in the cafeteria while I sat alone being shunned by them. Meanwhile, I had never even heard of much less seen makeup on my mother or any other female family members when I was in my native Eastern European country. That memory of my first American junior high school lunch period has stuck with me throughout all this time and it still undoubtedly plays an enormous role in my feelings of inadequacy, distorted body image, low self-esteem, pressures of conformity and assimilation. Unlike in my native country (which has its own host of issues), I was instantly taught here at a very ripe adolescent age that outer appearance counts for not only popularity, but all sorts of acceptance, likeability and even friendship potential. I learned quickly that what’s on the inside of a person counts for only about 5% and the remaining 95% is based solely on outer appearance. Not a good lesson to learn, I know, but I didn’t know any better.
Therefore, what this means for me in the present is that I, like most women, have to work extra hard–as difficult as it is–to let go of that quixotic and spurious portrait along with the judgement that accompanies it and I have to redefine my own parameters for beauty. Then, I can actually work on being happy with myself and who and what I am today. Only then can I strive to achieve goals that actually fulfill my own needs and help me become my best and highest self.