The Dubious Pursuit of the 'Perfect Body'

“Kristen, I like the fact that Cate Harlow likes to eat!”

I was signing my latest book, Unrepentant: Pray for Us Sinners , at a book fair when the woman for whom I was signing made that comment. She’s not the first person to tell me that they like the fact that the female characters in my books actually like to eat real food.

Body image for a fictional character, or real person, is important. I like to present a healthy attitude toward food and life for my characters. Cate Harlow is happy with her body.

Society and culture put a great deal of pressure on women to fit an abnormal ideal of what the female form should look like in order to be appealing. We see these so-called perfect women in the media. Though some advertisers have tried to incorporate what “real” women look like into their ad campaigns, there are too many other ads who make the average woman feel as if she will never measure up to “perfection.”

The air-brushed figures and faces are not realistic. If you know how to use any of the myriad photo editing tools out there, you too can look perfect!

Fashion only exacerbates the problem. What women will do today, and have done in the past, to achieve the so-called ideal image is as insane as it is incredible. We are truly victims of fashion. Oh what we have done in the search for the perfect form fashion-wise!

In Victorian times women wore corsets or “cages” made of whale-bone, that were designed to achieve the perfect figure- a miniscule waist which emphasized the fuller top and bottom. Women damaged their bodies in the rib area by the constant and painful pressure of these cages. Even pregnant women had no reprieve from the corset and endangered both themselves and their unborn babies by wearing these devices of torture. The marks left by the corset were permanent. 
Besides “holding you in,” the corset restricted activity and breathing. No wonder fainting was popular among the “delicate sex” of that era. Just walking from one room to another made you breathless and tired!

The Edwardian age of the early 1900’s kept a form of the torturous corset, adding a large metal bubble over your bottom that was called a bustle. As a popular woman’s magazine of 1902 stated in a fashion article, the style was for "the stomach was to be as flat as a pressing board while the rear is enlarged by means of the new, popular, bustle". The chest was still large and made to look even larger by the addition of drapes of lace. 

Fast forward to the 1920’s and the feminine ideal was the flapper who was supposed to have no noticeable curves whatsoever! Many healthy women with normal curves would bind their “unruly” bosom close to their bodies to achieve the lean boyish figure that was fashionable. 

The ’30’s, ‘40’s, and ‘50’s brought back the “fuller” normal figure that most women had but still had uncomfortable garments to “hold everything in.” The Fashion Institute Museum in New York City has the horrible-looking and completely restrictive "girdle" of the 1950's on display.

Imagine having to put that on every morning before going to work!

The ‘60’s? Let’s just say it was a throwback of sorts to the flapper era; we're talking Twiggy and starvation. No curves anywhere. Looking like an adolescent boy was the perfect bikini body of that time.

In the decade of the nineties the “lollipop” look was popular. This was an unnaturally thin body with a large head of hair. Some people called it the head on a stick look but many women wanted that look.

The advent of the "plus-size" model, (which is a misnomer because these models are normal, healthy women who represent the real size of most of us), the fashion industry has tried to make beautifulclothes in a variety of sizes. I have two friends who are different sizes; one a size six and one who is a size sixteen. Both deserve to have clothes that they find attractive.

We’d like to think that we’ve gotten far from following silly fashion and the latest fad diets but if that were the case then eating disorders wouldn’t be on the rise and weight loss groups would be out of business.

Hopefully this is beginning to change. I certainly hope so.

The healthiest, most perfect body is one that is taken care of through proper nutrition and healthy exercise. If you take care of yourself, who’s to say that your body isn’t the ideal? 

Be smart, be healthy, and love that wonderful perfect machine that is your incredible body!

Kristen Houghton’s new novel, Unrepentant: Pray for Us Sinners, book 3 in her best-selling series, A Cate Harlow Private Investigation has been voted one of the top five novels by International Mystery Writers. Houghton is the author of nine novels, two non-fiction books, a collection of short stories appearing in anthologies, and a children’s novella. She is hard at work on a new series that features a paranormal investigator with distinct, untried powers of her own. She writes news articles as well as book reviews and author interviews for The Huffington Post.

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