About Me

Saturday, August 10, 2013

On female body image

This post is inspired by the beautiful Miss Conduct, who wrote such an honest and inspiring post on a topic that is somewhat taboo and a challenge to write openly about as a young woman.

When I was 14 I signed with a New Jersey modeling agency. The back of my comp card (a modeling business card) had 4 pictures of me in different poses and settings, all arms and legs, and underneath in small writing: Height: 5'10", Weight: 105 lbs. It also included waist, hips, and bust measurements, which I'm sure you can guess. I was friends with a girl slightly older, about 17, and I remember reading the back of her comp card and seeing "Height: 5'11", Weight: 125 lbs," and thinking wow, she's fat. 

My best friend at the time was also a model and also quite thin, like me. She lamented about her wide hips and how she couldn't model bikinis because of them. Nonetheless, while the other girls brought carrots and celery or nothing at all for lunch, we would go to a local diner and get chicken fingers and fries.

I was never chubby. Not even as a baby. My long legs, arms and everything else started when I was born and the doctors called other doctors in to marvel at the length of my fingers and toes. Through mid-college, I never weighed more than 125 and never wore larger than an extra small or size 2. I ate what I wanted, drank what I wanted and never, ever worked out or did any form of exercise other than walking two blocks from my apartment to get groceries and back. Walking up the stairs always left me winded, but I didn't think much about it. I was skinny. I was always thinner than my friends. I couldn't comprehend why people spent so much time and money at the gym or running on the Commons. Were they crazy, or did they just really like pain? It had to be one or the other.

One of my closest friends in college was overweight, and had diabetes. We never talked about weight; in fact, it's safe to say I was terrified to bring up the subject with her. The only time it came close to coming up was when we went shopping for a dress for me for my 21st birthday, and we went to what seemed like a hundred stores and she patiently watched me try on different dresses in each of them before I settled for a hot pink, strapless, Betsey Johnson number. I was hit with an immense feeling of guilt on the subway ride back to our apartment for not once asking her if she wanted to shop for a dress too, or even just asking her where she went shopping, since we all know plus-size women have very limited options just about everywhere. But I didn't say anything. Our friendship was built on a love of weird movies, celebrity gossip, and a shared love of cooking and baking. And it worked. If I dwelled on it any longer, things would start to get uncomfortable.

Fast forward 5 and a half years: I'm no longer a size 2. The scale hovers between 140 and 150 and I'm usually a size 6, but sometimes a 4 or an 8. I run at least a mile a few times a week and also do yoga or pilates. I also eat until I'm full and indulge slightly more than I probably should with sweets and alcohol.

So when did it all change? At my first job out of college one of my coworkers warned me "Once you hit 25, it all goes downhill." Meaning that you can no longer eat a pint of ice cream at 9 at night and expect it to not leave a mark on your body. And she was right. I got older, wiser. I started reflecting on weight, health and exercise, and my years of dabbling in modeling and the damage they had done.

For one, the average age of a model is around 17. This means that the ideal female body image is based on a 17-year-old girl. Yes, there are older women in the spotlight and out of it that have the bodies of 17-year-old girls, but there are reasons. Basic science tells us that if we eat more calories than we burn, we gain weight. The foolproof way to make sure this doesn't happen: eat less. Super skinny women don't eat what normal-looking women eat. It's that simple. I'm sure there are a handful of women over the age of 21 out there who truly just have a high metabolism and can eat a lot and still be thin, but this is a rare exception. The "age when it all goes downhill" might not be 25 for every woman, but no matter when it is, we're still expected to look like that 17-year-old model.

Although acceptance of larger women as the beauty ideal is slowly starting to happen, I doubt we will ever truly accept them. Too many of us, myself included, are "uncomfortable" with accepting that body type when it's so different from what's ingrained in our minds from birth, and changing that way of thinking is a challenge. I read an interesting article about a plus-size model who said that she didn't realize there was anything wrong with her body as a child. That sentiment is something we should carry throughout our lives, it shouldn't be shut down the moment we open a magazine or turn on the TV. For me, by the time I was 14 I already knew that "fat" was not something I wanted to be and started applying that label to others. How can we work to push the age that that happens back a few years until eventually it's nonexistant?

I'm slowly starting to accept that I'll never be a size 2 again, and that I don't have to be because forcing my body to that ideal through extreme diet and exercise is not something that's on the top of my list at this time in my life. I'm glad I'm still the girl who eats chicken fingers and fries.

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