Monday, September 3, 2007

Ideal Body Type

Gordita, ‘My little fat girl.’

And I mean that in the most endearing way possible, really.

We were sitting around on the floor cushions in my room (I have air conditioning and therefore a coveted space) playing cards and a couple of the guys asked me to show them some of my pictures from my former life as a normal American.

When I got to pictures of my sister’s wedding from almost exactly a year ago, they gasped. But it wasn’t because of the photos (it was a beautiful wedding!), it was because I weighed more and to them, was so much prettier that way.

And, to be honest, I was shocked at their insistence.

I don’t think of myself as being obsessed about my weight, you all know I LOVE food. And while I enjoy doing active things, I’ve never been an athlete or loved exercise for the sake of exercise. At the same time, I’ve definitely been a child of my culture and rarely felt thin enough either.

“Prettier then, or prettier now?” I asked a couple other friends later on. But I wasn’t asking them for their opinion so much as I was rechecking my internal response when I heard their answer. I mostly felt… confused.

I’ve been exposed to one ideal for so long that I will never reach, that when I’m told that not just my mother, not just my boyfriend, but that pretty much the whole society doesn’t think I should get any thinner, or worry about the definition of my muscles, I’m not quite sure what to do with myself.

This is not to say that women here are always just loved for who they are. They have plenty of complexes about how they look, and they are judged at least the same, if not more according to appearance. But being really thin is not part of the equation.

And I’ve noticed it’s starting to rub off on me.

So the debate inside is not a fat/thin debate, it’s about how much I and so many other women are influenced by the images around us. And what happens to generations of girls when those images, more curvaceous or less, are different than what they have or can attain healthily.

How do we help girls (and an increasing number of boys) accept a healthy version of themselves if they never see it? How do they accept their bodies in a healthy way when they see Mom and Dad constantly unhappy with their bodies?

One of the girls living here asked me a few months ago if I thought she was fat. She was 14 and proportionately plumper than I am. There was no way in the world I was going to tell her yes, in part because there’s no way that would ever help anyone, but more importantly because at her age, she’s just fine, she’s still growing into her body.

Regardless of my answer, I’m aware I affect her more when I don’t accept my body for what it is.

I’m not sure what the answer is. In part because there are as many attitudes and degrees of impressibility as there are body types. One reaction has been the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty .

What do you think of your body? How much has that perception been shaped by the media (for good health or bad)? And since, especially in the US, this tends to be a very sensitive topic, remember that you can leave a comment anonymously if you’d like to.


Tera said...

I love this discussion. I am not sure if there is a woman in the world who is not held to some unrealistic notion of what she should look like. I have certainly struggled with it my whole life. Pregnancy - my current state - is an especially challenging time. I LOVE the blooming belly and I totally respect the need for it. But it's hard not to have mixed feelings about the weight gain and also to dread the jiggly empty place that is left postpartum - for which there is no cultural allowance. We are expected to "bounce back" before we leave the house.

I LOVE the Dove campaign. I would only invite them to continue to find more women of different appearances and celebrate the beauty of each of them. It's hard to find someone without a beautiful quality - unless we are looking in the mirror, which is completely unforgiving sometimes.

nicapamela said...

i've lost quite a bit of weight since coming to nicaragua, and all my nica friends here tell me they think i look better now. maybe in the campo being "gordita" is still seen as beautiful and healthy, but in the city i feel like the media and pop culture influence of the west has taken over and redefined beauty as a narrow range of physical characteristics that most people will never attain in their lifetime.

i had an experience on the bus several months ago where some girls told me they wanted to change their eye color to blue. it made me so sad--because these were lovely girls who for some reason did not see themselves as lovely.

we definitely need more voices declaring the diversity within "beautiful".

Nic said...

Thanks Tera,

It reminds me of how so many people say - Look! We're including women in their 30's, 40's and 50's now! Every age is beautiful, but if you look at them, it's because women at those ages now are capable of still looking like they're 30. It seems like we're still stuck on 'pregnancy is beautiful as long as you look it for as short a time as possible'.

Thanks Pamela,

I see billboards of skinny models in Managua, but they're definitely out of place here in San Jorge. Probably not for long, though, you're right.

jesse.murray said...

The ideal body type is a topic I've had conflicting views on since I was a teenager. I'm a pretty athletic person but am still more critical than I probably should be about my image. Not so much for everyone else, but for myself. Media and cultural influence is definately a factor, though, in how I rate myself. What I do try to remember above all else is how healthy I am.

When people are concerned about their image, it's my opinion they should consider how healthy they are and will be in the future. Being thick or thin is such a relative term, and it's up to the individual to accept their appearance. Positive reinforcement from friends and knowledge of what kind of diet is healthy can help people determine for themselves if their body type is ideal.

Nic said...

I agree that health is the ultimate goal, and I believe that intrinsically, that is what beauty is based on. Evolutionarily speaking, the man and woman most capable of rearing healthy offspring were considered the most beautiful.

The problem is when our view of healthy is obscured. There are plenty of women who are either too skinny or to heavy for what is good for their health, but they really believe that they are healthy.

And everyone in their community thinks the same, in fact it is shown that you are much more likely to be obese if your friends are, statistically, it's a factor more important than family obesity.

And I suppose that's why we're even having this conversation. Because everyone considers a different answer to be the right answer.

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