In the past week, the fashion industry and its promoter, women's magazines, have yet again sold girls and women down the river. First, Marie Claire's Australian division took the spotlight with its February cover that refrains from using photo shopping with its nude photo of former Miss Universe 2004, model Jennifer Hawkins. Then the New York Times reported "The Triumph of the Size 12s," a story about "plus size model," Crystal Renn. There is something very wrong when exposing the real curves of a beautiful woman in the nude is deemed a radical move (because she is presented with her real body, not a fake one) and when a knock out gorgeous woman, with a terrific figure is touted to be a "plus-model," suggesting that she is still too large to be deemed "normal" bodied.
The thin, athletic, sexy ideals of beauty have become the "new normal" and that's frightening for our kids and all who are coming of age - not to mention the parents who are raising them. I hear the refrain of "I'd feel less guilty about eating food when I eat fewer calories" way too frequently. What do we do with the reality that just 15 years ago 35 percent of high school students thought they were overweight while today 90 percent think they are overweight. Do we sit around and suck it up, accept that this is the best we can hope for from our modern culture? Not this mother's daughter; not this mother of two grown daughters.
We deserve to be really angry about the current state of affairs that has a fashion culture and media industry feeding us ideals that cause us to feel guilty for our hungers, obsessed with our appearance, and hating the very bodies that we need to sustain us. In leading ParentTalk workshops for A Chance to Heal Foundation, I hear fathers and mothers expressing fear for their children and confusion about how to help them. They, too, are influenced by the perfectionistic American culture and are scared for their children if they don't measure up to the current body-ideal standards.
Trouble is lurking around the bend when the norm requires girls and women to choose the lower calorie option over the food source that will satisfy their hunger and sustain their energy and mood. As my client this week so aptly stated, "When I eat the lower caloric food, I end up getting hungry and then feel guilty for feeling hungry." She is left criticizing herself for having the very thing that she is trying to get rid of -- her appetite. One way or another she is faced with guilt -- either for having hunger or for depriving herself of that hunger. "I don't deserve the food because I'm not at my lower weight." With the goal of having a body size that is smaller than what is natural and healthy for one's body, deprivation is required. But we don't have deprivation without the inevitable backlash in the form of compulsion, often culminating into a binge.
The cycle goes on in variations on the same theme for many. Angry that they "can't" eat the food they are hungry for (food that would satiate their hunger and nutritionally anchor them) and angry that they aren't able to maintain a lower weight because it's an unrealistic weight to support their body. It is the rare teen or women's magazine that includes articles on eating to maintain a healthy weight for each person. Instead we are inundated with articles on tricks of the trade for losing weight, selling the concept of losing as a virtue for which to aspire.
Dieting is no virtue, it's a ruse. The diet industry is greedy and much like other industries, wants to make money at our expense. Diet programs hook us on the idea that we are more likable if we are losing weight and less likable if we do not strive for a body weight that is "lower." How else would they become a multibillion dollar industry if they didn't convince us to hate the way we look and drive home the idea that we would feel so much better if we looked some other way -- just not the way we look without dieting.
We deserve better. As my client tells it, the battle is "never ending," because whenever she reaches her goal, "it's never good enough and there is none of the promised relief." For others there is immediate relief that is followed by deep grief and disappointment when they inevitably gain most of their weight back.
My client and others wish that the voice within would go away and shut up, once and for all. I remind her that won't happen. Hoping and thinking it could actually happen will only make the drive to lose that much greater. Instead I suggest to you, as I did to her, to take on the voice within and talk back to it. Talk back, disagree, argue, recognize the lies, dismiss the idea of the perfect body as ridiculous and damaging. Treat the fashion designers and the media like drug dealers, don't just accept what they're pushing, resist it and fight back.