Stop it! I can't take any more. I think this is all going in the wrong direction.
When I heard that Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer had posed sexily for Vogue magazine, I had to ask: what happened to the Women's Liberation movement that was supposed to free us from constraints and stereotypes? What happened to the good old days of women going without bras or shaving our legs? For a very brief time, a significant portion of younger, educated women rejected media ideals of beauty and perfection, and worked on accepting their bodies as they were. The pendulum has certainly swung back the other way — and perhaps to a greater extreme.
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Don't get me wrong. I live in Boca Raton, after all. I'm a girly girl in a lot of ways. I love clothes and makeup and perfume. I got lucky with genetics and have good skin, a slim figure and inherent confidence about myself and my appearance. Still, I work at keeping my priorities straight and not making too big a focus on issues of appearance. I understand that many women do not enter the world with these gifts, and that society subsequently holds them up to shame and ridicule for not having a certain type of appearance.
The media is the message, and it is loud and hard to ignore. In fact, it is a multi-billion dollar industry which exists for the sole purpose of causing women to feel bad about every part of their body so they will spend a huge chunk of their cash on changing it. We need to to do a much better job at helping women to stand up for their right to be accepted and respected as they are and to affirm their bodies and themselves... however they are made. After all, when a CEO is made to believe she isn't desireable enough without a sexy magazine cover, what message does that send to the rest of us?
In my work as a psychologist, as well as in my personal life with friends and loved ones, I listen to the agonizing self-doubt and self-criticism that women experience. I see the incredible amount of time, energy and money that go toward trying to reach some unattainable ideal. I see women in their 50s and 60s working endlessly to try to re-create the bodies they had as teenagers. There are so many better ways we can spend the all-too-brief amount of time we are given.
The fitness movement is a great thing. Staying active and fit is an incredible way to extend our lifespan and vitality. But overweight people and people of all shapes and sizes benefit from exercise with healthier bodies and hearts, even if their weight does not reduce significantly. Compulsive, joyless exercise in pursuit of thinness becomes counter-productive and can add to the ways in which we feel bad about ourselves because we don't have flat stomachs or buff arms or sculptured rear ends. Not many do.
Years ago I read an article in New York Magazine which made a huge impression on me. It wrote of the dirty little secret of many of the professional fitness trainers in New York City who were having liposuction to enhance their image of muscularity. In other words, a lifetime in a gym doesn't necessarily give you an ideal body, even if you are young and extremely fit. Some people are naturally muscular. With great time and effort, anyone, even heavy-set people, can increase their strength and muscularity — but that doesn't always lead to a sculptured appearance. Fitness, strength and vigor are fantastic goals. If a trimmer appearance emerges, that's a nice bonus but should not be the primary goal of exercise.
It is fascinating to me to watch old home movies and see my grandmother in her forties and fifties. She looks so very much older than a 45-year-old woman of today, with her grey hair and rounded figure. She was a very fit woman who bicycled and/or swam laps every day of her life once she retired. I think it's great and fun to achieve a more youthful appearance, which many women strive for at middle age. But, please, let's aim for balance and moderation with this. Women's bodies change at menopause. Very many women will be heavier than they were in their youth, and can still be fit and attractive. This may require a change of fashion sense and some accommodation to a different figure but it certainly doesn't mean middle-aged women have to give up feeling stylish or stunning. I just wish women didn't feel like they had to dress like their granddaughters or have the body of a teenager to perceive themselves as beautiful.
Shouldn't our life accomplishments — be they raising a family, becoming a well-rounded person or even the CEO of a company — be enough to make us feel proud of ourselves?
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