Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Unattainable standards

When looking up a reference question today, I came across an op-ed piece in the New York Times titled "Should photos come with warning labels?," which was accompanied by this photo of an unrealistically-proportioned model. It's about how Photoshop-manipulated images are giving women (and men) unrealistic and physically unattainable standards of beauty and how lawmakers in some countries are trying to ban them or require warning labels.

I think it's wrong to suggest banning these images, but I don't deny that they are probably causing a lot of harm. However, even if they do deserve warning labels, what good would that do? Don't we already know that the faces and bodies on magazine covers are not true to life, but we still find them beautiful?

A week or two ago I caught a few scenes of Die Another Day, the James Bond movie with Halle Berry, when it was on tv. When it came to a scene where Halle was wearing an evening gown that was open all the way down her back, I remembered when I first saw the movie years ago and had made a mental note to lose some weight and tone up my back muscles. I would have been happy to look half as good as she did. Then last week I walked by the latest issue of Vanity Fair on the magazine rack at the library. Penelope Cruz was on the cover, showing an equally-shapely back, and, having never been able to make the slightest difference in my rolls of pudge, my self-esteem dropped several rungs on the ladder.

It's really not just a magazine-cover thing -- most often I compare myself to real people -- but I think that the standard set by the magazines have ingrained themselves in our minds and really are a problem. This summer I went to the beach with three girl friends, and the criticisms from them about other people on the beach have effectively fueled my own negative body image in the months since then. Comments like: "You know, she's not fat, but some people just shouldn't wear bikinis." were among the comments made about people who looked not too different than me. I hadn't considered myself anywhere near bikini-ready, but hearing criticisms like that pretty much banished the idea. Would my friends have made those comments if picture-perfect models didn't smile plastic-ly from the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition?

In September, the Chic Runner addressed the issue of Photoshop in this post. It showed a picture before and after Photoshop, and the difference was striking. It was a very good argument for feeling good about your natural appearance.

Unfortunately, I was drawn to the New York Times article today because no matter what anyone says about being beautiful just the way you are, I haven't run regularly in over 2 months, and I feel like I've let myself go by not running. I can't deny that for me, a part of running has always been to stay in shape. I participated in the Eowyn Challenge for just that reason - to get in shape and break free of the cage caused by self-esteem. Now that I'm not running anymore, I feel like every thing I eat is sticking to me. (I made the mistake of stepping on the scale over the weekend and have to remember not to do that again. Nor should I measure my waist, hips, thighs, or chest.) I still have to schedule a bone scan to check for a stress fracture, so it might be a while before I run again. I guess that I'm just going to have to deal with it. My dedicated support staff is very supportive in this area, and I'll just have to trust him (and the Times piece, and the Chic Runner's post) that I am fine just the way I am. After all, I have to admit that I do not want to look like the shrunken-hipped model in the picture.

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