Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Pursuit of Thinness: Why we STILL Let it Outrank the Pursuit of Happiness

As a teen and into my early 20’s, I wanted to change my body; I wanted to control it.  As a woman I finally understand my body, which means more than just accepting it. 
When I was young, I thought that being thin was important and necessary if I ever hoped to be happy.  Writing that makes me feel so sorry for my younger self, but there it is.  I wanted to be Audrey Hepburn.  I wanted to be the girls I saw in magazines.  I couldn’t yet see anything special about being me, but hoped that I was as pliable as a lump of clay just waiting to be beaten into the shape that I desired.  I could still recognize that other women with curves, or who weren’t rail thin, were lovely and desirable, but I couldn’t imagine being like them.  After all, I couldn’t make myself have an hourglass figure, but I could make myself thinner if I really put my mind to it. 
The truth is that being thin is something that we are taught to aspire to, not because being thin is ideal, but because it is accomplishable.  Unlike being tall, being born with perfect skin, hair or teeth, or being naturally talented at something, being thin is something you can have if you work hard enough.  No matter what natural weight you are supposed to be, if you starve yourself, exercise excessively and think of nothing else, you too can be thin.  It is something you can control, sometimes to the detriment of everything else in your life, but you can do it. 
This, of course, is a horrible waste of time and worse, unhealthy for many of us who just aren’t meant to be tiny people.  The sad thing is, in our pursuit of the perfect weight (which we have randomly decided on in our own minds) we have to give up things along the way that if we were in a rational, thinking space, we would never have traded for the world.    
There are two main areas of a woman’s life that are compromised in the never ending pursuit of thinness.  One is physical, and the other (the more important one) is mental.
First, in order to contort our bodies into the thin frames that the world and our own minds are telling us we must want to have in order to be attractive women, we give up our own natural shapes and with them our breasts, bums and yes, even our round thighs (not always a bad thing ladies!).  Why?  Why does having a flat stomach that we have to work for trump having the lovely curves that we could have had naturally and without suffering if we didn’t give into this disordered thinking?  Why are we willing to give up the softness that we were born to use to fill out slinky dresses in order to make sure that no lumps can be seen beneath the fabric?  My theory is that it goes back to the element of control that many of us feel is missing from other aspects of our lives.  We want to change our bodies to fit into some mold that we choose, rather than the form that was chosen by nature for us to prove that we have some control in our lives, or at least of over our own shapes.
The second repercussion is far more dangerous, and that is how this pursuit of thinness affects us mentally.  Of course we all know what the roller coaster of gaining weight and hating ourselves and losing weight and fearing its inevitable return does to our self-esteem.  This is especially true when we find that we have failed again at dropping those three pounds we vowed to lose before the Holliday’s (weak!) or when we have lost the weight (success!) only to see nature trying to pile it back on us as soon as we let our guards down for a moment (failure!).  That is truly dangerous indeed, but the problem goes deeper.  The sad truth is that while we are hungrily pursuing thinness, we are often letting ourselves live for that goal and not pursuing other achievements that might actually have a glimmer of a hope of being worth something to us or even to the world.  We become so focused on our weight loss goals that we ignore all of the good we could be doing, we let our true talents go to waste, and we do not have the fun we should be having.  We imagine that we will have time to focus on all of that after we are finally perfect.  After we are finally thin enough. 
After years of struggling to be someone I just wasn't, I finally realized all of the things I was missing out on waiting to be some thinner version of myself, and I started to see what I really had to offer.  I may have a bit of roundness in my tummy, but so what?  I also have round breasts and a round bum and strong thick calves that look great in heals.  Beyond all of that, I am a woman who has a lot to offer the world that has nothing to do with my appearance.  I am a good friend, a decent cook and (in my own mind at least) a pretty darn great writer.  Why should I trade my great boobs for a flat tummy when the great boobs come free and the flat tummy will take everything I have and more?  If I am not feeling that I am at my best physically, that doesn’t have to ruin my day or make me feel like I have nothing to offer the world.  That is rubbish!  I may not be perfect, but I am better at being me than anyone else in the whole world could ever be, and that is enough. 
Once I woke up and saw what I was giving up to try to fit into one narrow definition of beauty, I also started seeing this sort of compromise everywhere and I was disgusted by it.  Why is this kind of self-hating self-sabotage still encouraged in today’s modern society?  Why do women still see their greatest asset as their appearance, while at the same time not being able to accept the unique person that they are body and soul?  We are not our bodies; we are what lives inside of them.  We are more than a number on a scale.  Why is that so easy to say and still so hard for us to see? 
Today, I am a woman who loves fashion and loves to play dress up every day of my life.  At almost 30, I don’t try to fit into any current fashion that just doesn’t work for me, and I have learned to love finding clothes that play up, not hide, my unique shape.  Then again, if I like something, I have also learned to say, screw all of the rules!  I reserve the right to wear whatever I want no matter what anyone else thinks because fashion should be a personal discovery.  Feeling good is more important than looking good, and for me, playing with clothes is how I have fun.  I know my body well, what its limitations are and what its assets are, but I don't have to ask anyone else’s permission before I head out the door.  My looks aren't important enough to stress out about what others think about them anyway!
I have learned to love myself by choosing not to compare myself to others, but instead to just be me and not worry about what anyone else thinks of that.  Come on ladies, love yourself for all you are, don't waste time hating yourself for all you are not!  That goes for the naturally thin girl too, who morns the facts that her boobs aren’t bigger rather than being happy for her own natural lithe shape, and all of the gamine girl possibilities it holds.  We are all trying so hard to be everything that we ignore our own unique beauty until it is wasted.  Fighting ourselves is a waste of time and energy.  Trying to be some strange Frankenstein’s monster of perfect beauty, taking a piece from that girl and from the next and trying to make ourselves some version of perfection, is insane!  It cripples us and leaves us hollow. 
Of course, what I am talking about is thinness for thinness sake, which is vastly different than trying to lose weight for your health.  By all means, learn to eat healthy, and exercise to feel good and be able to be stronger and live longer.  These are worthwhile goals that have nothing to do with being thin enough to not hate yourself when you put on a sleeveless shirt.  If you know you are not making healthy lifestyle choices and you want to make a change, by all means do it!  Just don’t let yourself believe even for one moment that you are worthless until you achieve your weight loss goals, or that you will be worth more when you do.  And for heaven’s sake, if you eat healthy, get enough exercise and STILL aren't thin?  Recognize that maybe you just aren't meant to be and move on before you waste your life covering up with baggy sweaters and being unhappy with who you are. 
Accept yourself as you are, and accept others without jealousy.  Learn to appreciate other forms of beauty without having to try to emulate others or put them down to make yourself feel better.  If you try to be someone else you will always be a pale copy, and if you are mean and petty it will eventually make you ugly to those who have to listen to the pathetic venom you choose to spew.  There are a million ways to be beautiful, and in the end, no one says, “I really love how that girl’s 120 pounds really sparkle in the moonlight” or “gosh those three pounds you lost really changed who you were for the better.”  No one knows your number unless you tell them and most likely NO ONE ELSE REALLY CARES. 
Most of all, always remember: have fun with your looks, but realize they don’t define you.  We are more than our shells.  We are more than our bodies. 


  1. This is such a great post and a great message! So many people pursue thinness without thinking about what they sacrifice in the process. Brilliant stuff! :)

    1. That is so nice of you Chelsea! Thanks for commenting! :) It is an issue that is dear to my heart.