When I was 17 years old, I had a profound, reality-shattering realization: I was simply born in the wrong time and place. I should have been born in Renaissance Italy. To be exact, I should have been in Florence, Italy, circa 1486, the year that Sandro Botticelli painted The Birth of Venus.
Let me explain. Have you ever seen the painting of the goddess-of-love-incarnate on her foam-flecked half shell? Just take a peek at those pastey white, soft curvy thighs, without tone or tan. Got 'em. And that soft lower belly curve? Mine, baby. The rather flat, but wide, large, white butt? Yup, mine too. And the flowing brown hair? All mine! Gosh, there I would have been a real STUNNER.
And that was the point of my profound realization: Every society, from cavewomen to our own modern times, has had an "ideal" of beauty. And not only that, but each and every single ideal has been different (when and where should YOU have been born?). Indeed, most of these ideals seem quite ridiculous to us today: The Ancient Aztecs favored cross-eyed women, or the Chinese who practiced childhood foot-binding for centuries, or, heck, look at the Victorian, rib-breaking, daintily fainting, corseted conception of beauty.
We, today, are yet another "ideal" obsessed culture, with impossible, unattainable visions of "beauty"—no less ridiculous than the societies of yesterday. Let the statistics speak this truth: Only 1 in 40,000 women has the natural body type of a model, and so $109 million is spent every day in the United States on diet or weight loss products. We are in the midst of not just a culture, but a cult of the obsessed. And somewhere in your life—whether it be a friend, a sister, a mother, or yourself—surely there is a girl trying, trying, trying to reconcile this "ideal" with her absolute, human realness.
So when I moved into my freshman dorm room, rosy-cheeked and nerve-wracked about my friend-making ability, I hung a cheap copy of The Birth of Venus strategically by the full-length mirror. Let my roommate think I was arty and sophisticated, but it was my link to body sanity in this culture gone mad.
I am 20 years old, and I was raised the daughter of an energetic women's health-care provider whose specialty was issues of weight, food, and body image. I was, I believe, by classic definition, predetermined to be "body sane." And yet something seemed to have gone terribly wrong, because at age 15, there I was (night after night, as I squeezed out of my jeans and slipped into my PJs), staring down at my thighs in the bedroom mirror, scheming up ways to tighten them, shape them, and shrink them. Except, here's the thing: None of my many exercise or food restriction brainchildren ever seemed to quite make it to fruition. I never wanted to run up the hill behind my house (not once and definitely not the 10 times a day that I had so carefully mapped out on the margins of my 9th grade planner). I never managed to skip lunch for more than four days, or eat less of the healthy, buttery, delicious dinner put on my plate. Instead, I obsessed. And, as anyone who has been there can tell you, body obsessions are a daily, time-consuming, energy-sucking, totally disempowering DRAG.
Here are three body truths I have learned (because in order to be body sane, you need to find the body truth). These are for teenage girls—and for anyone else who needs them for that matter—because sometimes it can be kind of overwhelming, no matter how strong we are (and I am quite a strong young woman).
1) Fat is not a dirty word, or a synonym for lazy, dumb, or mean. Fat on someone's body (be it belly, boobs, or butt) is not an excuse for a stranger to comment on your "health" or "developments" (your body is yours). Fat is not an emotion either ("I feel so fat today") or a way of skipping the process of discovering what you really feel. Fat is a natural part of the body. Fat is a nutrient that we all need to eat. Fat is human, healthy, soft, sexy, and squeezable. And, speaking from all of my 20 years of experience, I have yet to kiss or date a person who doesn't LOVE my fat.
2) Skipping meals to "lose weight" is counter productive and in fact usually has the exact opposite effect. Instead your body goes into starvation mode; it thinks you are entering a famine, a time (like the Dark Ages or something!) where there was simply not enough food to go around. And so, to protect you and your daily body functions, it slows down your metabolism, the rate at which your body processes food. You are actually more likely to gain weight. Regular, balanced meals (yes, carbohydrates, proteins, and FATS) are the best plan for having a healthy, strong, well-fueled body. It's simple science. Spread the word (some girls really need to hear this one).
3) You, me, and all of us lovely animals, have a genetically inherited body shape, size, weight, and natural cycle. Whether you think about it as your "set point" (the natural weight range that is your body's healthy state) or just the fact that, hey, like it or not, you look a heck of a lot like your biological parents. Perhaps then, our job is just to accept it, and even learn to love it.
Let's fight to be body sane. We need it, our friends (and moms) need it. Our world needs it.
© 2013 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies