Body Conscious: What is Healthy?

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Janet Sahm Easter
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body positivity, healthy body

It can sometimes be a struggle between the mirror and myself, between reality and a false illusion. There were years I spent waking up and dreading the scale, dreading swimsuit shopping, dreading to face myself.

As someone who is drawn to beauty, I would seek it out everywhere. As I pored over fashion magazines my senses became saturated with endless images of one narrow, unattainable vision of beauty.  And that’s the danger; who doesn’t want to be beautiful?

I’d painfully compare and contrast myself to the women on those glossy pages. I’m all too aware of the sad irony.  I am tall, blonde, and have a naturally athletic build, and yet spent way too much time spilling over with guilt and anxiety that I wasn’t quite model-y enough, thin enough, tight enough, fit enough.

I know I am not alone in this battle.

It’s not that women’s magazines are the only big, bad villain guised in glitz and glam. Our sense of self worth and beauty is being attacked on all fronts. But magazines do play a part in shaping our sense of what is beautiful and desirable; especially and most powerfully through visual messaging.

In recent years, there has been a swell of awareness campaigns and rallying cries against the unrealistic and unhealthy portrayal of women in society (think Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty). It’s encouraging to know that media literacy is rising and more women are speaking out. But an important question has remained unasked and unanswered:

What does healthy look like?

If you don't have an answer, you’re not alone in this either. Our visual guideposts—magazines, TV, films, or marketing campaigns—offer us a swinging pendulum with two extremes, and it can be confusing to see the imbalance when it comes to portrayals of healthy women.

On the one side, you still have the pervading presence of dangerously thin models, and a similar celebrity culture in which excessive working out is considered the 'healthier' option.

On the opposite end, marketing that features plus-size models can tend to put them on show. The June 2011 Vogue Italia cover—for example—features 3 voluptuous plus-size models, in lingerie, surrounded by bowls of pasta. Yes, bowls of pasta. What message is that sending?

I know a plus-sized model, for instance, who was encouraged, and expected, to eat more to become overweight. She finally realized this wasn't good for her body either and has since left the agency and settled back into her natural, healthy BMI.

Both ends of the pendulum are damaging, and the disparity between the two extremes—underweight and overweight—begs for balance.

Perhaps that is the answer, balance. Finding balance in our lives and striving to become the best versions of ourselves is one of the most difficult, but worthwhile challenges. At least it has been for me.

It takes more then obeying those hollow mantras to "feel more confident" and "embrace your body". We need to see these images of happy, healthy women that come in all shapes of sizes; including models, plus-size models, and everyday women.

Let's leave our judgments of either extreme aside and focus on supporting and encouraging one another to eat healthy and savor treats, exercise and take much needed rest, and—most importantly—to be kind to ourselves.

I'm working on it, too.

body positivity, healthy body

(Images from past and current Verily Magazine Print Issues via Trever Hoehne, Amanda Bruns, and Sara Kerens. )