We are trained to react to female bodies in a certain way. We learn that slender arms and big boobs and flat bellies are attractive. We learn that too much jiggle is somehow taboo and that graying hair is simply unacceptable. We learn to identify what the collective defines as “beautiful,” and learn to strap on a pair of blinders to whatever falls outside that narrow definition.
But we also have visceral reactions that transcend societal teachings.
When we see a woman who is so obese that it impedes her ability to walk comfortably, we flinch. AND when we see a woman who is so thin that her shin and arm bones actually protrude, we flinch. And we do so instinctively because we know that bodies in these states aren’t healthy.
As you know, I am not a doctor. I have, however, spoken at length with both medical doctors and psychologists about my own set of body image issues and seemingly lifelong quest to feel good about my physical self. These doctors all assured me that I, myself, am healthy … but gave a fairly confusing array of opinions about what a healthy body, generally speaking, is. Nevertheless, these conversations, combined with my own life experience, have led me to these important conclusions: Thin is relative. Thin is an extremely hard concept to define, and an even harder one for most women to accept. And, most importantly, thin does not always mean healthy.
This is not to say that all thin people are on the brink of bodily disaster, or that all non-thin people are paragons of fitness and good health. It means that, although we have come to identify tiny waists and slim legs and total absence of hips as indicators of physical superiority, women who possess these features may have traded heavily to get them. They may have deprived their systems of important nutrients to get so slender. They may have taxed their joints and tendons in strenuous exercise for the sake of toning. They may have taken harmful drugs or undergone surgery to create a façade that nature never intended.
Or they may have done nothing. They may be members of that smallish genetic lot who can eat pretty much anything, never hit the gym, and still look like swimsuit models.
But let me reiterate something that ALL of those M.D.s and shrinks agreed upon: Being healthy means eating right and exercising regularly. If you’re a size 14 who does her cardio 4 days a week and steers clear of junk food, you may be hella healthier than a size 0 who never has to lift a finger to maintain her figure. As someone who exercises and eats well you may be able to bounce back faster from injury, may experience fewer problems as you age, and may even live longer. And if you are exactly the size and shape you want to be, don’t think for a minute that you should stop working out or getting your daily veggie fix. Like any other machine comprised of complex and delicate systems, your body needs certain fuels and lots of maintenance. And it needs them no matter what.
Health IS about size: If you are too big or too small, you are putting yourself at risk. But health is also NOT about size. Thin and healthy are not synonyms, and the most important thing you can do for your body is to care for it properly. Just because you’ve gained 10 pounds doesn’t mean you’ve suddenly become unhealthy – and it CERTAINLY doesn’t mean that you’re bad, that you’ve failed, or that people love you any less. And just because you’ve lost 10 pounds doesn’t mean you’re done.
This is another case of something that is far easier for me to say than for any of us to feel. (Myself included, much of the time.) But my hope is that, by saying it, I’ll get some mental wheels turning. That maybe the next time you hop on the treadmill and think, “WHY am I doing this if I never lose an ounce?” you’ll hear me in your head saying, “Thin and healthy are not synonyms! All bodies need regular maintenance! Self-care is its own agenda!”
I’ve got a low alto speaking voice. I mean, just so you can tell my voice apart from any others that might be chatting away in there.
Vaguely related topic: Smart versus Pretty