I ran across the above photo while feeding my Pinterest addiction. It was captioned “Ideal 1950’s woman.” What struck me immediately was how healthy she looks. Not heavy, not thin, just right. What struck me next, though, was that most people today – many of them women – would call her “fat.”
Having dealt with various health issues and related diet restrictions over the years, my weight has fluctuated from the line between healthy and overweight to downright scary skinny. The fun part? It was never for looks. I was simply seeking an end to my illness, a healthy balance. At one point I had cut off all sugar and dairy intake in my quest for health. My weight plummeted to a frightening 92 pounds. I could count my ribs. I felt ill. Despite that, I received more compliments from other women at that period of my adult life than at any other – some even expressed a wish to have my illness so that they could lose weight! Are we brainwashed? I would say so!
Ironically, in modern times and especially in the United States, obesity has reached an all-time high. While many across the globe can count their ribs as they starve, here at home waistlines expand as we fill our bodies with processed, sugar-laden, genetically modified, hormone-enhanced “food.” Despite the ready availability of a variety of foodstuffs – healthy and unhealthy – in this country, quality food comes at a high price. Basics such as fresh fruits and vegetables rise in price regularly, yet somehow, the price of Twinkies and the like does not seem to soar. Struggling families are forced to cut corners which inevitably affect their health in the long run.
According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, currently 34% of American adults are obese. They project that by the year 2030, 42% of American adults will be obese. You would think, as a nation, that a healthy weight would be the ideal to aspire to. Instead, extreme slimness is upheld as the picture of beauty, when in fact it is just as unhealthy to be underweight as it is to be overweight. Emotionally, it is unhealthy to aspire to an unrealistic ideal – and this can reach far beyond the realm of weight.
Take skin, for example: most of us desire to have smooth, flawless skin. Perhaps this is natural, perhaps it is due to the influence of airbrushed photos of beautiful models. One thing is certain, it’s very rare to find someone who possesses perfect skin. We all have scars. Some have acne, eczema, keratosis pilaris, dry skin, oily skin, freckles… Having suffered with acne in the past, I still see lingering scars, softened and lightened with time and treatment, but nevertheless there.
As a little girl, I used to look forward to the flawless, womanly legs I would have. Dotted with scabs and bruises, my 10-year-old legs were anything but attractive. Now an adult, I find that my legs are not so different. Yes, they are womanly. But I still bruise easily, so black-and-blue (and shades of purple and green) marks still decorate my legs. Allergic to various bloodsucking insects, I swell up at the site of insect bites. Perhaps in early spring I have the lovely legs I hoped for as a child, but throughout the rest of the summer, I possess the colorful legs of a 10-year-old. I’ve made peace with that fact, however, considering that if I were to keep my legs flawless by remaining still and indoors, I wouldn’t enjoy my summers. Likewise with the various scars I have: they provide a visible record of the many life experiences that make me who I am. From my appendectomy scars to evidence of shaving mishaps to a scar from falling while playing with the dog – the experiences which caused the scars have shaped who I am today. I’ve learned from them.
Then there is the tanning obsession. Desperate to achieve a fashionable skin tone, many cause irreparable damage to their skin in tanning beds and booths or “frying” themselves in tanning oil while lying outdoors in full sun. Others “fake-n-bake,” using self-tanning products until they achieve a truly fake shade of tan. There is also an opposite extreme: those who are convinced that the slightest ray of sunshine allowed to attack unprotected skin will certainly cause skin cancer. These heliophobes carefully slather on the SPF – just to take out the trash. If forced to spend time outdoors, under the domain of the deadly sun, they don sun hats and other protective clothing – perhaps even an SPF parasol – in addition to the SPF 80, just to be safe. There has to be a balance here!
So, what is a healthy body image? Is it skinny, tan, and airbrushed? Is it overweight and pale? The key lies in balance and a healthy lifestyle. And when I say healthy lifestyle, I don’t mean the health nuts who obsess over every carbohydrate or gram of fat and spend hours at the gym each day. I mean eating a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables and getting moderate amounts of exercise on a regular basis. Equally important are a positive mindset, realistic goals, and time spent doing what you enjoy. Then maybe, we can have a balanced body image and a healthy body!
If you would like to find out what your healthy weight range is, use a BMI calculator.
What’s your opinion on the weight of the woman in the photo?