I have been passionately writing and sharing on the topic of body image recently, but what I didn't realize was that this passion has been burning inside me for years.
Looking back at my history it may be confusing to think of why I struggled with body image because I was always 'thin,' until these past few years. Oh, and I LOVED food, I was known for it...on the outside I was a happy, 'pretty girl.' I forgot what was happening on the inside. I forgot how intensely the media, culture and our community affects what we believe about ourselves.
Something drew me to read my old papers from college and what I found floored me. It explains so much and it shows how long and deep seated these ideals and passions have been in me.
Today, I share with you a look into my 21 year old mind.
No matter how much I want to fight it, because I know that in the scheme of things it is trivial, my weight and physical appearance are critical. My parents, schoolmates, peers, media and the work place have all emphasized weight in both direct and indirect ways. In my life this prominence put on weight highlights its importance for my gender as a female and my sexuality as heterosexual.
I have grown up in a very loving family and also a fairly traditional household. Something that has always stood out to me is their obsession with weight. I do not only mean his or her own but just everyone’s, just weight in general. Never have they said anything to me out right about my own weight, but then again besides the freshman fifteen I put on for a couple of months I have never been significantly over weight. Even with those few months I was ‘fat,’ after I lost the weight my parents, my boyfriend and a family friend told me they were a little worried. Worried? I was not ill or depressed; it seems so funny for someone to say they were worried because I gained weight. That in itself told me the importance of my weight. I do not know all of the reasons they see this as so deplorable, but I would guess that one reason is that it is unattractive because to be ‘successfully’ female one must be thin and desirable to the opposite sex.
This attitude around weight has definitely affected the way in which I look at myself. I have always been a confident person, along with a person who is absolutely in love with food. I have no self-control when it comes to food, but at the same time I will never let myself get to be very much overweight because everyone and everything around me has told me it is not considered attractive. There is this constant battle inside me that wants me to rebel and also conform. I think food is amazing, I do not want to deprive myself of that luxury of life but then I see pictures of celebrities, watch television, and know people personally that have just amazing bodies. Successful, upper class women featured in magazines and on television are also usually thin, and I want that too. Why are these thin large breasted women I see what I think of as attractive? It is constantly portrayed as the ideal female, but then that leads to why is the ideal female this slender big-breasted body? As I see through men’s magazines, pornography, swimsuit calendars, and celebrities it is the perfect female body because it is what is attractive to males. I may realize this but at the same time I still play into it in many aspects of my life.
I have had three jobs and two of those have had an emphasis on my appearance, which weight plays a large part of. I have worked for Hooters, I was a Hooter Girl, and anyone that knows me would say that it is not me at all. But I figured out basically that I can get paid for my looks. I have never thought of myself as amazingly gorgeous with a perfect body but, if I can say this without sounding ridiculously conceited, I can be good looking. My uniform was very tight and did not allow for one to be very heavy and even I was one of the larger girls working there. This meant that as much as I loved food I had to be careful, I had to keep that weight down. My money not only depended on my conversational skills and efficient service, but how I looked walking around that restaurant to my customers, who were mostly men. It is disgusting, it really is but I made more money there than I have anywhere else and worked a whole lot less.
Now I bartend at a restaurant called Joey’s, a place where I can almost guarantee that during my shift someone will ask me if one of the prerequisite’s to working there is being attractive. When they say attractive no one specifically says thin but there is maybe one overweight person that works in the front of the restaurant and thin is implied with attractive. How many super models or actresses are overweight? Not many, at least not the most popular ones, which just goes to show the implied thinness in female beauty. It is weird I keep ending up in these types of places but I guess I have experienced the importance in playing up one’s sexuality and female gender, and I know that while I am a poor undergrad it can be financially gratifying. Being thin, or at least not heavy, is important for females in our society both because that is what males see as attractive, whether healthy or not, and therefore what women see as attractive.
My girl friends and I often talk about our weight just in casual conversation, mostly about how we need to lose it, but imagining a group of males doing this same thing strikes me as weird. Personally I have never heard my male friends talk about it. Whether this is because they truly are not concerned, or because they feel it as not masculine to do so, I have no idea. But to the majority of females I have known and currently know weight is something I have heard them discuss or discussed with them. Females I know are always saying they are fat, or not necessarily fat but could lose a few pounds, cannot fit into their jeans anymore, cannot eat that because of their diet and so on. Most of these girls, including myself, are in no way unhealthily overweight and often times they are very thin. When these very thin girls say these things to me, it just makes me think about myself. If they think they need to lose weight then I really need to lose weight. I know women of all ages lamenting about weight, it is a never ending female dilemma which only highlights their need to in a way prove their worth by being desired by men.
People judge me based on my looks and my weight, and I realize this because those close to me judge others based on this. Neither of these people are cruel or unkind but for some reason weight is seriously that important to them. To be seen as attractive to the public I need to be thin and to be successful I feel I need to be thin, at least in the beginning in order to establish myself in my career. There is a large chance that when I interview for job a heterosexual man will be interviewing me, in the past it has always been this way for me, and he will base his judgments of me not only on what I say and my credentials but what he sees. Am I adequately female, one criterion of which being am, I thin? I have learned and experienced enough to know that one’s sexuality and appearance can help or hinder one’s future. People even tell me I am going places and that I will be successful because I am pretty and smart. As if being smart is not enough but being pretty will really get me there.
I am of mixed race being Swedish, Irish and Filipino but really I look Italian or Greek. I do not consider myself white just because I am not fully white, but I wonder if this pressure to be thin is that of the white American culture. I would guess that although our popular culture and mainstream media portray these pressures of thinness it is not the same for every culture. I can only give my viewpoint, which I consider very narrow coming from middle class ‘white’ family.
Although I know I am in no way fat every time I see myself in a mirror I see what I need to lose to look more like those desired women in ads and on television. I do not want to be deathly thin like many models but I want that firm, muscular, thin and shapely body. I do not know if this is something that will go away because I am confronted with images, ideas and judgments everyday that just make me want that perfect female body all the more. The more pooch in my stomach the more my self-confidence goes down and the more silly I know I am being. But I really cannot turn it off; this weight obsession will be something always in the back of my head that every once in awhile creeps forward. Everyone expects this of me. I am a heterosexual female and as that people want me to confirm it, to show it by being what they consider ideally feminine, by being beautiful and thin, the object of a man’s desire but also not something that every man can have. This standard set in order, to be a perfect female, is just amazingly unbelievable because it is simply not possible for all women.
Who knew I was a budding feminist and body image activist? I had no idea where my life would lead me at the time. It's truly funny how the world works though. Here I am, feverishly working to heal my relationship with my body and help other's do the same, while also trying to shift the status quo.
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