I’m having an average day, when my mailbox is pinged with the headline: “Fall’s Dreamiest Dresses for Under $25!” So I excitedly open the newsletter from Forever 21. Little did I know that it would precipitate into a full blown body-image meltdown in a matter of seconds.
The newsletter features a pretty brunette in a pumpkin-colored fit & flare dress; her waifish figure delicately shaping the fitted part of the dress, tapering off to a billowing skirt caressing her impossibly toned and skinny thighs.
Scroll down and surprise! More emotional triggers: a fair blonde in lilac underwear and not a sign of cellulite, muffin top, stretchmarks, or loose flab anywhere on her perfect body.
Here we go again, as if I don’t have enough reminders that I should be skinny.
Growing up in a Korean community, I was constantly scolded by neighborhood ajummas who reminded me that Korean girls should look like this:
Years later, I’m in a completely different community and yet the reminders are constant. Working in the heart of NYC – the visage of early morning joggers glistening with success, sinewy yogi women in overpriced Lululemon spandex, and accomplished office workers with hyper tone legs poking through their pencil skirts – is a given. It’s practically the symbol of ultra hip NYC.
The skinny hype isn’t just a Korean or NYC thing. It’s practically enforced as a de facto rule across media. Clothes, tech, that new smokeless cigarette, even fancy hipster water, are all modeled by a skinny person in ads bombarding us everywhere.
Even we are enforcing it by judging overweight people, fretting publicly about our jean sizes, and even on social media, where kids share pics of skinny bodies with the hashtags, #goals #thinspiration #thinspo.
Don’t mistake my words – I’m not saying skinny is bad. People with that body type have their own set of insecurities and problems that we may not understand. They are not the root of our problems and they certainly should not be guilted by the presence of their plumper peers.
This isn’t about #skinnyhate.
But the “skinny is default” construct is omnipresent; perpetuating self-hate, shame in our hopelessly “unskinny” bodies, and envy of girls who meet that standard. Sure, the “skinny is default” construct has a point to an extent. It’s not healthy to be obese, to be overweight, and to have clogged arteries. Somehow, that truth is blown up to the extreme that now everyone wants to be skinny.
The painful truth is that everyone has a different body type. Some are naturally thin and some are (like I) naturally big. My perpetually flabby arms and increasingly cellulite-y legs, despite years of intense swimming, running, and martial arts, attest to the sobering truth that some bodies can’t bend that way. Yet my unhealthy cognitions take me to a dangerous place:
“Well, when you starve a group of people, they all look the same.”
While the statement itself is a vast undermining of third world suffering to serve my self-absorbed first world problem; it’s a dangerous indicator of the skewed thought processes and desperate behavior that I (and other body-conscious guys and gals out there) will undertake to look the “same”.
The alarming prevalence of Body Dysmorphia and eating disorders, especially among impressionable kids, is not a joke. The statistics provided by ANAD are terrifying. We are so collectively obsessed with skinny that it’s destroying lives. It’s destroying teen lives – you know, that super delicate stage when everything else is already uncertain and stressful enough.
It’s destroying my life; here I am choking back tears and destructive thoughts while obsessively pinching at the blubber marring my body, all because I saw a skinny model on a stupid newsletter. And I’m not alone.
It’s not unusual for me and other people hating their bods, to look in the mirror and cringe, to yank at excess skin, and hysterically fantasize about flaying off the unwanted parts, like chipping at a shapeless block to create perfection.
And the funny part (not really), is that to an outsider, we probably look fine. In fact, they may even find us attractive (surprise, surprise!) and normal, in the relative sense of the word, and perfect in our own way.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the very same people look at themselves and think the same that we do about ourselves.
It’s a bizarro world in which we strive to attain a certain aesthetic and deny our innate beauty, while accepting others’ unique beauty.
So putting on that “outsider’s perspective” hat, I see that I’m not hideous and “too big” like I feel all the time.
But I am not skinny and that is the truth. But that’s not a good or bad thing. It’s a state of being.
Perhaps I’ll never be as skinny as the girl in the pumpkin-colored dress and maybe I’ll never have legs that are skinny enough to be a #thighgap #thinspiration. But maybe there’s someone else out there, envying the curves I desperately wish to lose. It’s all relative, a grass-is-greener sort of thing.
We can make healthy changes to our lifestyles to at least achieve a healthy body. We can change our mindset so that we eat healthy and workout because we LOVE our bodies and we want to treat it right.
But making drastic changes to attain a body that may not be compatible with what we’re born with – that’s not healthy. The perfect body is the fittest and healthiest that we can achieve, not what other people have or what’s portrayed in the media.
If you think you or someone you know is battling an eating disorder, don’t be afraid to talk to someone about it.
Help is a click or call away: www.anad.org/eating-disorders-get-help/