Rock Your Body

By Fallon Coster

Body image is a huge focus for every American, from men to women and from children to adults. In our culture, appearances seem to be a high priority, ranking up there with careers and social class. Think about it. How many times have there been front-page photos of celebrity weight gains and weight losses just because individuals don’t display the “ideal” size 2-4 body type? Meanwhile, this ideal is something that few people can healthily maintain. Rarely can you read a magazine without seeing new ways to lose weight or reading about what you should and shouldn’t eat to get a “hot body.” Recent gossip was about Jessica Simpson’s newfound curves, but she is absolutely not the first celebrity to feel the heat. The same ridiculous press was smeared across magazine covers and television screens in pieces on Jennifer Love Hewitt, Renee Zellweger, Britney Spears, Tyra Banks, and so many other female celebrities. The press doesn’t forget the guys, but they don’t get as much scrutiny as ladies in the limelight when it comes to weight.

Parents can’t bring their children to any grocery store checkout without encountering a display of magazine covers focusing on body types. Now don’t get me wrong; this isn’t a new problem. We can go as far back as the nineteenth century: Look at the scene in Gone with the Wind when Scarlet O’Hara is scowling about no longer having her eighteen-inch waist (which is about a size 1-2 in stores) after her pregnancy. Even when the 1920s saw moderation in the use of the corset to create a tiny waist, the ideal female body was still extremely and unattainably thin. While there are some women who are naturally slim, there are many others who cannot attain this ideal without sacrificing their health. And is it okay for the media to portray bodies like Jessica Simpson’s, which is healthily full-figured, as being unfashionable, unattractive, or even unacceptable? This presents a problem for the young people who are subjected to such media images. Now we have young girls and boys trying to achieve the airbrushed and personally trained bodies of celebrities, instead of accepting and loving what they have.

A truly important part of being an American is the freedom we have obtained and that so many people have died to protect. This freedom includes the ability to embrace individuality in every religion, race, creed, shape, and size. Setting impossibly high beauty standards taints what we stand for as a culture. If having a higher body mass index than models means having reduced opportunities for success, aren’t we replicating the effects of the prejudice of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries? Back then, it was skin color that determined one’s fate. Is our culture still focusing on appearance, such as body type? Having such judgmental views reflected in the media takes away from people’s ability to love who they are and live their lives freely and happily. Young people see and hear these media judgments every day when they watch television and listen to the radio, and they know that the media will frown upon full figures and emphasize the need to be a slim hourglass with fullness only in the preferred places. There is an entire industry making billions of dollars selling diet products, not to mention plastic surgery, all focusing on the obsessive need to achieve the ideal body.

If you turn on VH1 to watch the “100 Most Wanted Bodies,” you will see that Pamela Anderson is rated number one because of her tiny waist and certain larger assets. This may help you understand what television suggests that young people aspire to. Indeed, the VH1 website following the introduction for this program features an extensive guide on how to look like the celebrities, including details on strict diets and daily workout plans. While we should all celebrate our bodies and love what we have and/or work for, it is damaging for the ideal to be so unattainable for such a large portion of the population. It isn’t healthy for young women to be like Emily in The Devil Wears Prada, eating only a stick of cheese when she feels faint in order to be at her thinnest for the Paris fashion shows. Eating disorders are a very serious issue in our society, and the body image that is promoted everywhere contributes to pressure to go to the extreme to fit that image. As a culture, we need to embrace figures like Tyra’s and Jessica’s, because those celebrities are healthy and happy with their bodies.

Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, and everyone is beautiful in his or her unique way, no matter how much the media might promote the size 2-4 ideal of a beautiful body. Now it has been said that most women don’t come to accept their bodies until about age thirty, because up until that point they try to reach ideals that their genes and body type don’t allow. Instead, we should love what our mothers gave us, today and tomorrow and every day to come. There are some great celebrity role models out there. We just have to go through a lot of oysters before we can find the few pearls. As young adults, we need to set healthy, realistic examples so that later generations see that no matter how they look, they should be proud and confident. This is the American way, after all.

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