Gaunt: America's Absurd Fetish

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Self-esteem is the most delicate and easily torn muscle of the human psyche. When we pick up a fashion magazine, we are greeted by an underweight woman whose job is to look as flawless as possible; and where she falls short, Photoshop is there to edit her back to perfection. Americans are conditioned to believe that the only shape for physical beauty is the gaunt and emaciated body of today’s models, and if you don’t fit into that shape, you need to find a way to. This constant barrage of skewed representations of the “ideal body” promotes negative body-image and lowers self-esteem for those women who just can’t fit the mold. The media’s portrayal of the “perfect” body is both unrealistic and harmful to young women’s body image. To strengthen self-esteem, women must make peace with their bodies, and realize that beauty comes in many shapes and sizes.

As women, we are presented with unrealistic and nearly unobtainable body images from the time we are old enough to play with dolls. Even something as seemingly harmless as a Barbie makes a claim – the long, slender arms and legs, impossibly small waist, and disproportionately large chest show young girls what body-type is worth making toys out of. As a child, I had several Barbie dolls, and was obsessed with how flawless they are. What I didn’t realize then is the impossibility of their flawlessness – for an adult woman with an average waist size of, say, thirty inches, to have the same proportions as Barbie, she would need to be almost eight feet tall. In her article for BBC news “What Would a Real Life Barbie Look Like?” Denise Winterman argues that “the likelihood of a woman having Barbie's body shape is one in 100,000. Not impossible, but extremely rare. Researchers at Finland's University Central Hospital in Helsinki say if Barbie were life size she would lack the 17 to 22% body fat required for a woman to menstruate” (1). Although Barbie’s figure is freakish, it is obtainable, but it is an example of yet another nearly impossible and unhealthy body type being idealized and marketed to children and adolescents.
Like many teenage girls, I possessed an unhealthy preoccupation with this “perfection” that followed me into puberty, and I found myself envious of the models of today. I’ve never been overweight, but I’ve never been “skinny” either. As a teenager, I considered trying my luck in the modeling industry; my uncle is a photographer and with his help I put together a portfolio. I couldn’t wait to send it in. I went online to look at models from agencies I was considering and was instantly discouraged. None of the models had a similar body-type to mine; I quickly realized I would never be successful in the industry as I was. The women I saw in the pictures were so thin – every shot reminded me of the body I could never healthily obtain. According to Charles Herman in his article “Causes of Eating Disorders,” published in the Annual Review of Psychology,
…the media are often blamed for the increasing incidence of eating disorders, on the grounds that media images of idealized slim physiques motivate or even force people to attempt to achieve slimness themselves. The media are accused of distorting reality, in that the models and celebrities portrayed in the media are either naturally thin (i.e., at the tail of the normal distribution of body weight) and thus unrepresentative of normality, or unnaturally thin. (193)
I did not find this surprising. However, instead of becoming insecure about my body and starving myself, I became angry. When exactly did emaciation become sexy? And who decided clothes are most flattering on women who look as if they will break when you hug them?
Women’s bodies are built to carry and bear children—we are supposed to have extra layers of fat to support and nourish fetuses during pregnancy, and curves to make childbirth easier. When I looked at the models, all I saw were stick-skinny women with no fat, and curves formed only by skin hugging bones. Cosmo and Playboy sell because of the sex appeal of the women featured in the magazines (who are usually surgically enhanced in some parts while starved in others), but what is remotely sexy about unnatural and overinflated breasts, visible ribs, and protruding hip bones? Sure, there are lucky people in the world born with miraculous metabolisms, but the majority of women would need to adopt unhealthy lifestyles to look like current models. A woman should never feel she needs to starve herself to be “sexy.” I was able to look at the models of today and reject the idea that their body type was the only sexy one, but not all people are able to do this. Some women become so obsessed with being thin that they starve themselves to achieve this “ideal.” Herman states that “…there is variation in the extent to which people internalize our culture’s valuation of slimness, and the extent of such internalization predicts body dissatisfaction, drive for thinness, and certain bulimic characteristics” (191). While eating disorders are relatively rare, they are still a serious problem and a result of the media’s skewed idea of “perfection.” Health and personal well-being should be valued above a low BMI.
It took me a long time, but you know what? I’m perfectly okay with how my body looks. I accept and appreciate my curves, and even though at 5’7” and 150 lbs., my frame does not match up with the media’s picture of perfection, I don’t care. I’m healthy, and my athleticism due to muscle mass has allowed me to excel at any sport I’ve ever played. Body image influences self-esteem, and self-esteem has a huge impact on attitude and personality. As D’Arcy Lyness asserts in her article “Body Image and Self-Esteem,” “…self-esteem is all about how much people value themselves, the pride they feel in themselves, and how worthwhile they feel. Self-esteem is important because feeling good about yourself can affect how you act. A person who has high self-esteem will make friends easily, is more in control of his or her behavior, and will enjoy life more” (1). Once I made peace with my body, I instantly felt more confident, and I began to re-define what I saw as “sexy” in other women. I found that the sexiest women weren’t necessarily the thinnest, but the happiest and most confident. Once I realized this, my preoccupation with my weight ended. Being sexy comes from acceptance and confidence, not a number on a scale.

Works Cited
Herman, Charles. "Causes of Eating Disorders." Annual Review of Psychology 53 (2002): 187-
213. Print.
Lyness, D'Arcy. "Body Image and Self-Esteem." KidsHealth: The Web's Most Visited Site About



Children's Health. May 2009. Web. 29 Mar. 2011.
Winterman, Denise. “What Would a Real Life Barbie Look Like?" BBC News - Home. 6 Mar.
2009. Web. 18 Apr. 2011.





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