In the past few years, a movement has gained traction to promote a healthy body image for women. Dove, for example, started an advertising campaign celebrating natural beauty that featured “average” women in their underwear, presumably not Photoshopped or retouched.
The basic idea is to encourage women to embrace their body type for what it is rather than attempting to make themselves fit the mold of the infamous “supermodels” who are so scorned in today’s female-oriented magazines.
The concept is a good one. No one should try to force their body to be anything other than what it naturally is. This movement becomes problematic, however, when the attempt to move away from the supposedly covetable rail-thin body type creates a new image that not everyone can live up to.
There is a small, somewhat forgotten minority out there that, no matter how hard they try, will never achieve the “curvy” body type so celebrated in today’s media. It’s understandable—the majority of women in America are likely more concerned with losing weight than with gaining it, and they should be encouraged to keep themselves healthy rather than starving themselves to fit an image. But for women struggling with being underweight, the constant portrayal of their body type as “unhealthy” can be very detrimental.
Take magazines like Cosmo, for example. More than once, this magazine has run a feature on “Loving your body” or some similar theme. Often in these stories, a picture of a small-boned, thin actress will be placed next to a picture of someone like Kim Kardashian with a glaring red statistic pasted on top, saying “76 percent of men say they prefer Kim’s curves!” and usually accompanied by quotes from men about why they wouldn’t touch the skinny actress with a ten foot pole. Cosmo’s intent is honorable, but they fail to think how women who look like the skinny actress will react to this content.
A common perception is that women who are overly thin must be dieting too hard or exercising too much. Indeed, some of the women shown in magazines have lost dramatic amounts of weight in a short period of time. This is not healthy for anyone. But there is a somewhat forgotten minority who eats the right amount, exercises the right amount and still struggles with a weight problem.
As someone who identifies with this minority, I cannot pretend to understand what a struggle to lose weight is like. What is important to understand, however, is that gaining weight is also a struggle. Shoving one’s face with cheeseburgers and milkshakes absolutely does not work and is not healthy. Calories must be counted, exercises must be done; gaining weight requires constant effort and thought and, if not done properly, can be attempted in an unhealthy manner.
Although the attempt to lose weight and to gain weight cannot be compared, I’m sure, I feel that it is high time that both efforts be recognized in society. Speaking from experience, complete strangers feel absolutely no shame in coming up to someone who is underweight and asking them if they are anorexic or telling them to eat a cheeseburger. I humbly assume that the same person would not approach an overweight co-worker or fellow student and ask them why they eat so many cheeseburgers.
The perception is that people who are skinny either are doing something detrimental to themselves to achieve this result or that they are clearly so confident with their body type that nothing can hurt them. Both of these are blatantly untrue.
We’ve almost got the right idea. Women do need to learn to love their bodies for what they are, as long as they are healthy. Emphasis on the healthy. By attempting to make women feel comfortable with their bodies, society has created a new covetable image that not every woman can live up to. Instead, we should focus on making sure that every woman is eating right and doing what is best for her body—no matter what size she may be.
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