Real Women Don't Have Perfect Bodies

Recently I was watching a "makeover" segment on some women's television show while paging through a magazine advertising expensive and high-fashion clothes. This was in the gym, and although many of the women exercising near me probably would have loved to undergo a free makeover (it is hard to look glamorous early in the morning while sweating), I doubt any could fit into the size zero and under clothes modeled in the magazine. The models had arms so thin they could fit through a doughnut hole and it was obvious that they were as curveless as a Q-tip. "Why," I asked myself, "do magazines still feel it necessary to display clothes, shoes, and even jewelry on bodies that are so unrepresentative of the typical woman?" In contrast, the women usually selected for the weekly makeovers have bodies similar to those one sees every day in the supermarket, at work, at PTA meetings. Is the reason for the impossibly perfect bodies shown in the advertisements that we, the public, would be less inclined to desire the products being advertised if the models looked like ordinary people, i.e. like us?

Clearly this message is at odds with the "after" appearance of the women who are transformed on a television program with the help of fashion, hair and make-up experts. Although my sample is small, confined as it is to the TV programs I watch while in the gym, I rarely see anyone who would be considered thin and most of the women are a comfortable size 10 or higher. What is so wonderful about the end result is that the women look beautiful, glamorous, and happy with themselves and wear clothes that reveal, in a flattering way, their not "perfect" bodies.

So there is the paradox of women's magazines that advertise clothes that anyone with more than 3 percent body fat would have trouble wearing and at the same time, television programs showing what women with womanly fat stores should be wearing.

The same disconnect between reality and fantasy pops up occasionally in women's magazines devoted to fitness and health. There is usually a feature on exercises that will transform sagging, lumpy, tight or underutilized muscles into toned and sculpted body parts. The model demonstrating the exercises, often involving a chair or large ball, has a faultless figure. She is not overly thin because her body is well muscled but anyone looking at her would recognize the necessity of giving up one's day job to achieve her body. Why don't these magazines use people whose bodies are not perfect? Would we be less inspired or more?

Several years ago, I ran a weight-management center that included private or group sessions with personal trainers as part of the program. We were delighted when one of the people applying for the job was several pounds overweight and confessed to many years of struggling with her weight. We knew--and our clients confirmed this--that they would feel comfortable working out with someone who understood their issues and did not sport an ideal body.

As we enter the New Year, expect to be assaulted by relentless advertisements for weight-loss programs, exercise programs promising total physical transformations in only weeks, and exhortations by almost anyone in health professions to become healthier by becoming thinner. Achieving a healthy weight by eating and exercising is an important goal. But it is also very important to gain and maintain respect for one's body, with all its imperfections, regardless of one's weight. Perfection is achieved only in the magazines and that, perhaps, only with an airbrush.