Have You Lost Weight?
I love television; it’s always been a part of my life and was a big part of my childhood and an ongoing element of family bonding. Morning cartoons before school, evening sitcoms during dinner, nighttime drama until bedtime. When I wasn’t in school or outside playing, I was watching TV. Since there was no DVR or DirectTV back then, commercials weren’t optional.
Certainly as long as I can remember, TV (and media in general) has been telling me skinny is better, but I really don’t know when I first decided my body wasn’t perfect. I’m not going to pretend I remember looking at my Barbie doll and saying “Oh my goodness, she has the perfect body.” I may or may not have noticed that she had two perfectly identical breasts since I didn’t have any of my own yet to compare them to. I’m sure it was a series of moments.
Every time my mother went on a diet, my father commented on a thin or pretty woman’s body on television (or in real life), and I flipped through my YM Magazine, I probably slowly began to notice that my newly developed boobs weren’t that big, my stomach not that flat, my legs not that long. I’d watch my favorite Disney movie, The Little Mermaid, and want to be just like Ariel.
The desire to have the perfect body continued throughout adolescence. In the sixth grade, I remember my best friend at the time telling me, “I can’t wait for you to get your period, so you get fat.”
Be thin, be tan, be tall, be sexy. Have long lashes, shiny hair, upright breasts, flat stomach. Wear heels, panty hose, girdles. We just eat up the constant messages and it becomes normal. I still buy mascara, wear a push-up bra, and have gone on every crash diet out there. I can’t imagine not shaving, plucking, waxing multiple parts of my body. I consider teeth whitening, wear skinny jeans, feel pale in the winter, and certainly wouldn’t go out on the town without painting my face and straightening my hair.
But certainly it’s gotten better, right? I mean, you have companies like Dove talking about “Real Beauty,” Lane Bryant’s plus-sized “I’m No Angel” campaign, and the first ever Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue’s Plus-Size Cover Girl. The question is though: when did it become all about our bodies, women’s bodies? Somehow, talking about, scrutinizing, and judging our bodies, for better or worse, is just fair game.
We’re told not to judge a book by its cover, yet are barraged with commercials about achieving the perfect beach body. Health and wellness is all the rage, but in the next breath it’s all about makeovers and celebrity weight loss. We hear about “Real Beauty” at every size but we internally have our own swimsuit competition every time we go to the beach.
It’s certainly not all media’s fault but we are bombarded with these messages; we internalize what they’re telling us and it spreads like disease into our lives and our relationships with other people.
I’ve struggled with body image issues most of my life, but I’m a confident work in progress, at a fairly healthy weight, and I feel mostly pleased when I look in the mirror. The fact is, though, that I’m very aware of my body. Not necessarily in the sense of my health, but my weight. I’ve had people comment on my weight gain and meant it as both a compliment (“you were too skinny before!”) and an insult (“with all that running and being vegan, I’m surprised you’re not a stick!”). It’s all fair game.
Have you ever been the one to compliment another woman’s weight loss? I have. I mean, what’s wrong with that? All that dieting and self-deprivation; shouldn’t we praise that? “Great job on only eating one piece of bread today!” What if I weigh less than you do and I talk about trying to lose weight? Is that healthy discussion or subtle criticism?
What if we all pulled the plug on the targeted advertising and competition? What if we weaned ourselves off of Spanx? What if we thought twice before commenting on a woman’s weight or even our own? If we loved ourselves and focused on healthy eating and healthy self-image instead of pounds on a scale and sizes in the closet, what would that actually look like? What if we talked about each other’s accomplishments rather than breaking down our individual body parts? Maybe we’d actually start to feel good. Maybe there would be less eating disorders and more self-love. Maybe we would respect our own bodies and all feel like winning contestants. Maybe each new generation of girls, women, men, and boys would be less obsessed with women’s bodies and those girls and women would feel more confident and less judged.
Audra Fuest is 38 years old, living and working in NYC. She currently works in the hospitality industry with writing and activism as her side gig. She is passionate about gender equality, positive body image, animal rights (she is a vegan), and running.
April 30, 2016