I will never be a runway model. At five feet, I’m too short and as an Aging Goddess, I’m too old. Being height and size challenged for much of my life, body acceptance has been an on-going challenge for me.
When I was in my early thirty’s and very, very thin, a man I was seeing told me that I had the body of a twelve year old. I automatically heard the remark as a compliment. It didn’t dawn on me until many years later that he might have been commenting on how unwomanly I looked, without breasts and hips. Women (and this woman) have been struggling with the issue of size and weight acceptance for what seems to be forever.
This spring’s fashion week in New York and in Europe prompted a great deal of discussion about just these issues. Are designers who make their samples in size zero or double zero (do you believe it?) unwittingly promoting eating disorders in young and not so young women? An article in the New York Post by fashion editor Robin Givhan explained that since fashion layouts are photographed months before the designs appear in magazines and in stores, the only clothes available are the samples - and only a “profoundly skinny woman” (a quote from Givhan) can wear them. So when you and I flip through a fashion magazine, we’re interpreting what we see as what we “should” look like – as the ideal of beauty. We’re also getting the message that thin is healthy.
Walking down the runway this year were also “plus-size” models. Givhan addresses the issue that many of my clients bring to me. How can the fashion industry call these size 12 models plus-size when the average American woman is a size 14? And what am I – “super-size”? They are asking good questions - and from that - other ones according to Givhan (and Leshinsky). “(W)hen does plus-size, in a profoundly overweight population, become just a distressingly unhealthy an image as emaciation?” How does a culture celebrate beauty in all shapes and sizes even when the statistics are letting us know that certain sizes are unhealthy? Are certain sizes unhealthy? These are weighty questions. (Pun intended!) And let’s not forget the hidden population of unhealthy size 2’s that are easily overlooked in the face of society’s judgmental feelings about size 22’s.
I have been promoting body acceptance for decades – but not at the expense of good health! We women need to take a deep breath and then take stock of ourselves. We need to ask: More often than not, am I following sound nutritional guidelines for eating? Am I exercising three to five times a week, for thirty minutes? Am I sleeping an average of eight hours per night? Are my blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose, electrolyte and potassium numbers within normal range? Some of the above can be answered by an honest appraisal of what we do and don’t do. Some, however, can only be answered in consultation with a physician. When was the last time we had an annual exam, including blood work?
I love this quote from Givhan: “Somewhere between emaciation and obesity lies good health. And somewhere between those extremes there is also a definition of beauty that is inclusive, sound, and honest”. So on our way to healthy, we might just look in the mirror one day and see a vibrant, beautiful woman staring back at us, at whatever size we’re in!
Ilene Leshinsky is a licensed, clinical social worker with fourteen years of counseling experience. In her Plattsburgh-based private practice, she works with women who want more joy and fulfillment in their lives. Ilene’s BodySense program is open to women of all ages who are in conflict with weight, eating, and body image. She can be reached at 518-570-6164 or www.ileneleshinsky.com.