I recently received a call from a friend. She said, "You’ll never believe the horrible thing my boyfriend just said." I prepared myself for the worst and was already mad at him before she even opened her mouth. "He said he likes my body ... because it's 'healthy!' Healthy?! He said it's a compliment, but do you think he's calling me fat?"
I assured her that yes, he absolutely meant it as a compliment. Then I began to wonder if her reaction would have been different had he called her "skinny" instead. Like most women, myself included, she probably would have been ecstatic and triumphant. Women want to be skinny.
When did "healthy" take a backseat to "as skinny as humanly possible?" Why are women so terrified of the notion of being anything other than thin? And, most importantly, if the men in our lives call us "healthy," why do we hear "fat"? My friend's boyfriend said he liked her body; why didn't she believe him?
From websites devoted to fat-shaming Jessica Simpson, Christina Aguilera and Adele to magazine covers urging us to "lose those last five pounds" to "thinspiration" Pinterest boards, it’s safe to say there's a pervasive message out there: women must be skinny in order to be beautiful.
The pressure takes it toll. It leads to women feeling like they're never enough — hot enough, thin enough, sexy enough — for a guy. But here's the ironic thing: it's not men who are doing the majority of the name calling and fat shaming. It's definitely not men who most recently dissected every inch of gorgeous, curvy Sports Illsutrated swimsuit model Kate Upton's body on the internet, circling her flaws in red and calling her a cow. And it's not men running "fitspiration" websites that advocate month long juice fasts. Women are consistently more critical of other women than men are to women. Why are we so hard on one another?
Health, life and wellness coach Nicole Burley sheds some light on girl-on-girl bashing: "We have internalized the unrealistic idea of 'perfection.' We feel held to an unattainable standard — and, as much as we don't like it for ourselves, we tend to inflict it on other women. When someone like Kate Upton comes along — who doesn't conform to what we've been 'told' is our goal, but who is still considered very sexy and beautiful — it creates a conflict. Rather than cheer, some women tend to double down on a punitive, unforgiving ideal of how we should look."
It's an exhausting place to be, and as the divide between what we're told men find attractive and what they actually do find attractive continues to grow, how do we bridge the gap, shut off the noise and listen to the voices that truly matter? Wellness, Health and Life Coach Tatiana Abend suggests digging deep. "I ask people to identify their most prominent and deepest values in a life well spent. Seeing your most important values clearly can help to shed the notion that that you 'should' be doing x-y-z for beauty. Honoring your deepest values might mean just knowing deeply that not only is it 'enough' but that you are a gift to the world when you do this."
It's unrealistic to think that our attitudes towards beauty, self worth and weight will change over night — especially while we're hearing a confliciting message everywhere we go. And though you can't control the things that have been ingrained in you in the past, you can control the things you choose to believe or listen to now. This might mean distancing yourself from friends who constantly tear you down or canceling subscriptions to the magazines that make you feel like crap every month. Perhaps instead of reading articles that promise to tell you, "The secret ways to get a sexy body any man will love," ask your own man exactly what he loves about your sexy body.
Chances are he won't want to keep it a secret.
What do you think about the concept of body image in today's culture? Do women put too much pressure on one another to be unrealistically skinny?
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