Sunday, February 2, 2014

Healthy, Beautiful, Real Women

Millions of people aren’t happy with the way they look. The National Eating Disorder Information Center estimates that up to 40% of 9 year old Canadian girls have dieted to loose weight- even when they were at a healthy, normal weight. There is a new group of trailblazers storming the Internet, newspapers and television who are trying to combat society’s current views of what an attractive body looks like. These fiery souls come with the tag lines “real women have curves”, “healthy is the new skinny” and other similar sentiments. While this can be seen as progress in a society that has long equated a woman’s worth with her ability to maintain a thin physical appearance, the argument is damaging and flawed. The argument is flawed because it shames thin women, leading us to believe that thin women aren’t healthy or real, and again this attitude places sole focus on a woman’s physical appearance. Does this new school of thought mean that in order to be “real” a woman must be curvy?

When I dissect the idea of women innately despising their bodies (or at least parts of their bodies), I am personally left with two root causes. The media plays a huge role in the current issue, however, for the purpose of this article I will focus on the idea that women have been taught by other women to dislike their bodies. Ask yourself this question: Is there a time in your life when you have ever watched a woman lovingly admire herself in the mirror and make a comment such as “Wow, am I ever grateful for this hot body”? Chances are you have had experiences closer to the ones I encountered growing up, where a woman I admired would look into the mirror with distain and immediately criticize her own body, or ask me if she looked fat in her outfit. I even witnessed women who were extremely thin telling themselves they looked fat (How annoying, especially when I weighed a good 40 lbs more than them. talk about a slap sandwich). But I see now, those women truly believed they were fat due to the sickness we breed in North America surrounding body image.  It is these experiences of viewing our mothers, sisters, cousins and grandmothers tragically disapproving the image staring back at them in the mirror, that colour the way we think about our own bodies. These experiences teach us how to hate our own body. So, let’s give our girls a fighting chance at self-esteem and allow them to see us compliment ourselves the next time we get into a bathing suit, or stand in front of the mirror in our skivvies. This small act repeated will give girls permission to embrace what they have, and see themselves as perfectly imperfect.

What about shifting the focus to personal characteristics when discussing what makes a woman “real” or beautiful? How about we change our statements to focus on traits/ values/ characteristics/ virtues when discussing what makes a woman stand out? Tag lines and company names like “healthy is the new skinny” and “real women have curves” are just playing into the old this body is good and that body is bad thinking that got us in a headspace of self loathing in the first place. Ultimately, instead of trying to balance the scale between what is reasonable vs. unreasonable in terms of our own expectations of ourselves, we need to step off the scale completely. So, here is an idea and a challenge: Let’s stop trying to validate women based on their curves or lack thereof. Let’s show our daughters what an act of self love looks like.  Let’s have the courage to step naked in front of a mirror, like what we see, and admit it. Most of all, let’s have the nerve to not give a damn about what others think or say about our appearance; because if you ask me, it doesn’t get more healthy, beautiful or real than that.

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