February 28, 2012

Insanely Beautiful

Stop it! I can’t take any more!!  I think this is all going in the wrong direction.  What happened to Women’s Liberation that was supposed to free us from constraints and stereotypes?  What happened to the good old days of women going without bras and shaving our legs?  For a very brief time a significant portion of at least younger, educated women rejected media notions of beauty and perfection and worked on accepting their bodies as they were.  The pendulum has certainly swung back the other way and perhaps to a greater extreme.

Don’t get me wrong.  I live in Boca Raton after all.  I’m a girly girl in a lot of ways.  I love clothes and makeup and perfume.  I won the genetic lottery and have good skin and a slim figure and inherent confidence about myself and my appearance. Still, I work at keeping my priorities straight and not making too big a focus on issues of appearance.  I understand that many women do not enter the world with these gifts and that society holds them up to shame and ridicule for not having a certain type of appearance.  The media is the message and it is loud and hard to ignore.  In fact it is a multi-billion dollar industry which exists for the sole purpose of causing women to feel bad about every part of their body so they will spend so much of their cash on changing it. We need to to do a much better job at helping women to stand up for their right to be accepted and respected as they are and to affirm their bodies and themselves however they are made.

Every day, in my work as a psychologist as well as in my personal life with my friends and loved ones,  I listen to the agonizing self-doubt and self-criticism that women experience.  I see the incredible amount of time, energy and money that go towards trying to reach some unattainable ideal.  I see women in their 50’s and 60’s working endlessly to try to re-create the bodies they had as teenagers. There are so much better ways we can spend the all to0 brief amount of time we are given to enjoy our lives.

The fitness movement is a great thing.  Staying active and fit is an incredible way to extend our lifespan and vitality.  But  overweight people and people of all shape and size benefit from exercise with healthier bodies and hearts, even if their weight does not reduce significantly.  Compulsive, joyless exercise in pursuit of thinness becomes counter-productive and can add to the ways in which we feel bad about ourselves because we don’t have flat stomachs or buff arms or sculptured rear ends.  Not many do.  Years ago I read an article in New York Magazine which made a huge impression on me.  It wrote of the dirty little secret of many of the professional fitness trainers in New York City who were having liposuction to enhance their image of muscularity.  In other words, even a life time in a gym doesn’t necessarily give you an ideal body even if you are young and extremely fit.  Some people are naturally muscular.  With great time and effort, anyone, even heavy set people, can increase their strength and muscularity but that doesn’t always lead to a sculptured appearance.  Fitness, strength and vigor are fantastic goals.  If a trimmer appearance emerges that’s a nice bonus but should not be the primary goal of exercise.

It is fascinating to me to see my old home movies and to see my grandmother in her forties and fifties.  She looks so very much older than a 45 year old woman of today with her grey hair and rounded figure and she was a very fit woman who bicycled and/or swam laps every day of her life once she retired.  I think it’s great and fun to achieve a more youthful appearance which many women strive for at middle age.  But , please let’s strive for balance and moderation with this.  Women’s bodies change at menopause.  Very many women will be heavier than they were in their youth but can still be fit and attractive.  This may require a change of fashion sense and some accommodation to a different figure but it certainly doesn’t mean middle aged women have to give up feeling stylish or stunning.  I just wish women didn’t feel like they had to dress like their granddaughters or have the body of a teenager to perceive themselves as beautiful.

I have mostly focused on middle aged women but, I think younger women experience even more relentless pressure.  I’ll save that for another post.



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