Editor’s note: These posts were written back when my brand name was Remodel Fitness. I’ve decided to include them here without editing them, in the interest of…well… transparency. 😉
I have a theory about body image.
Let’s start with the facts: cultural standards of beauty affect our self-esteem, and being bombarded by images of thin, “perfect,” airbrushed women a billion times a day makes us feel shitty about ourselves. My theory is really about where our cultural standards of beauty come from, but it’s totally worth exploring in relation to body image.
Bear with me here.
Throughout history, beauty standards for women have varied dramatically, and I have to imagine that any woman who didn’t fit the standard of her time has felt kinda bad about it. I mean, I don’t think we just invented negative body image recently, ya know? During the Renaissance for example, a time when desirable women were big, buxom, and pale, you probably would have felt insecure and unattractive if you were tan and thin. (Just think about that for a second, because that means that during the Renaissance, Giselle would have envied the beauty and sex appeal of Melissa McCarthy. Amazing.)
The current cultural beauty standards affect how we view ourselves, and where we rank ourselves in the hierarchy of beauty and desirability. Throughout the years, we have faced a ton of different versions of what “beautiful and desirable” looks like. This is because there is no inherently beautiful or desirable body type, other than “healthy and fertile,” which has pretty much always been desirable. “Healthy and fertile” has even looked different over the years depending on what was going on in the culture at the time. It seems to me though that this category always includes low stress, since stress automatically reduces both health and fertility.
My theory is that we have always (unfairly or not) associated low-stress– and therefore hotness– with privilege and wealth.
Hear me out. During the Renaissance era, pale and fat women were the most desirable. Why? Because being pale meant they never had to go outside to work, and being fat meant they had plenty to eat and drink. In short, they were hot because they were privileged and rich. They were also the minority, since most people spent their days making stone soup or selling flowers on the street or whatever.
Fast forward to today. Whose hotness do we obsess about? CELEBRITIES.
We idealize the beauty of people who have the time and means to hire personal trainers and personal chefs, do things like vagine steaming and placenta face masks, and get plastic surgery of all kinds. In short: tan, thin, toned, wrinkle-free, perky-boobed, and pouty-lipped. Why do we find these people so attractive? I say it’s for the same reason we once liked pale chubby women: because their appearance represents privilege and wealth.
If you’re with me so far, let’s go deeper.
Why would privilege and wealth be so desirable to us? Money itself is a totally man-made and arbitrary invention that plays no evolutionary role in how we view hotness. But privilege does come with an evolutionary benefit:
A lack of stress.
Mind you, I’m not saying rich people don’t experience stress or struggles. I’m saying that we perceive them as experiencing less stress and struggle. We imagine that since they have the time and money to afford to maintain fabulously toned legs and perfectly highlighted hair and flawless skin that they must not suffer through shit like deadlines, depression, anxiety, insecurity, or whatever else it is that keeps us up at night.
We imagine that fit people are happier and healthier than us. This is my theory: that we idealize the beauty of whichever privileged minority seems to have the quality we most desire: an apparent lack of suffering.
Evolutionarily this would make sense, since stress indicates that it’s not a good time to make babies or whatever, and we’re wired up to be more or less attracted to “healthy and fertile.” You don’t have to believe me– there are studies to prove we find people with low cortisol (the stress hormone) more attractive than people with high cortisol. Just think about who you’re attracted to. Odds are pretty good you’re picturing someone relaxed, confident, happy, and open. Now picture someone stressed, anxious, closed off, tense, and jittery. Less attractive, right? Bam. Science.
Ok ok, so let’s look at this. When “fat” was the standard of beautiful, it was during food shortages. Therefore only the privileged class had access to enough food to get plump, while everyone else stressed about having enough to eat. Plump started to look healthy and relaxed.
Nowadays the beauty standard for women is all about being lean and toned and light, during an obesity epidemic, over-saturation of processed junk food, and the trend of being sedentary. This means that there is a small minority of people who eat small portions of high-quality food and work out regularly, while everyone else stresses out about weight gain, chronic fatigue, and how to get “motivated” to work out.
Super fit and lean looks healthy and relaxed to us now, and the majority of women in this category are also in the public eye: actresses, models, and other public figures. Which means that we are now admiring the bodies and lives of people whose actual job is to look like they’re not suffering.
The big problem here is that appearing to be struggle-free has nothing to do with actually being struggle free. Just because someone has a rockin bod doesn’t mean she has an easy life, and the sooner you recognize that the better. You might not be able to see, understand, or relate to her struggles, but that doesn’t mean she suffers any less for them.
If you’re with me so far,
I encourage you to fully let go of the idea that some people have hard lives and some people have easy lives. I say just assume we all have hard lives, and go from there.
(I also encourage you to imagine living in a world where Giselle would be considered an ugly duckling, just for an interesting change of pace.)
Join me in deconstructing the shit out of these beauty standards, eh? Come on over to Women Who Empower Other Women, Unite! And join the conversation.
<3 Jessi Kneeland Get strong. Feel confident. Look amazing.
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