A hundred years ago, Renoir painted “La Toilette” (The Bather), a portrait of a young woman in the nude. She has long, auburn hair, full breasts and hips, a rounded belly, and, if the truth be told, thighs that look like mine. She’s voluptuous and she’s beautiful! One hundred years ago she was the ideal of feminine beauty. Today, she’d be one of my clients, struggling to accept herself in the face of an unattainable beauty ideal. When I show her to my clients, some of them are heartened by the resemblance they see to themselves. Some think, she has such a pretty face, but boy is she fat.

Today, the average Supermodel is 5’11” tall, weighs 117 lbs. and wears a size 2. The average Supermom is 5’4” tall, 140 lbs. and is a size 14.

What happened? What changed in a hundred years for women? I could wax philosophical on the sociopolitical changes that women have faced in the past one hundred years. I could explore the profusion of media images we receive daily, that subtly and not so subtly, tell us that we are not acceptable the way we are. I could share with you the many untold stories of women living with eating disorders, in a futile attempt to attain today’s standard of female beauty. But I won’t. (That should be a Women’s Studies course at Plattsburgh State.)

What I will say, however, is that approximately 80% of women (and girls) in this country don’t like their bodies and as a result don’t like themselves a whole lot. 40% of first, second, and third grade girls want to be thinner. And 90% of high school girls think they are overweight. Not only are we obsessed, so our daughters.

Million, billion dollar industries have been created tapping into our insecurities. Our thighs are too thick, our stomachs too round, our underarms too jiggly, our breasts too small or too saggy. For every flaw, for every imperfection, there’s a product or a program to fix us. Perfect body equals perfect life. Right? Wrong! What we really want is to feel good about ourselves, to feel acceptable to ourselves, and to see ourselves reflected in the images we see in magazines and on the big and little screen.

I’m a therapist so I’m a firm believer in self-improvement, both physical and emotional. However, I’m not a believer in self-flagellation. I’m also not a believer in a culture that makes 80% of us (probably an underestimate) feel inadequate. I am though, a believer that we women (and our male counterparts) need to be strong and healthy. We need to exercise regularly, eat nutritious foods, get eight hours of sleep a night, and spend quality time with the people (and animals) in our lives who make us smile. And we need to appreciate ourselves for who we are, for all that we do and that includes having gratitude for the bodies we are blessed with. Yes, you heard me, blessed! Our bodies perform the myriad of tasks we ask them to every day. They lift, they bend, they stretch, they walk, they run, so that we can do the jobs of our lives. Yet instead of thanking them, we berate them for being too short, too fat, too round, too bumpy, too this, too that. How about a little gratitude!

How do we reconcile the bodies we have with the bodies we want? We can start with gratitude. Every day, as I’m getting out of the bath or shower, I look at my naked body in the mirror and say “Thank you. Thank you for all that you do for me. Thank you for the joy of walking my dog and wrapping my arms around my husband.” The point is that these are the bodies we have. We can spend our lives belittling them or we can learn to love and appreciate them right now – as they are – and watch them change as we take better care of ourselves. It’s a choice, your choice. Which one will you make?

More on improving body image next month

Author's Bio: 

Ilene is a licensed, clinical social worker with over 13 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.