Body Image: Healthy or Manipulated?

Since a young age, my desperate attempts to have a “perfect” body changed just as rapidly as the images in the media did. 8 years old: Anorexic. 14 years old: Nutrition and fitness extremist. 16 years old: Bulimic. 18 years old: Body positivity advocate.

Having grown up watching America’s Next Top Model with my older sister, I was raised on the mentality that being 5 foot 10 and weighing 110 pounds was normal. I wanted nothing more than to be 1990s Tyra Banks thin. I went through phases of anorexia, to compulsive calorie counting and exercising, to binging and purging, all by age 16.

I was fixated on the idea that my mirror image had to reflect airbrushed models I saw on covers of People magazine and the stick-figures strutting down the runways of the Victoria’s Secret fashion shows. At age 17, I thought I was finally satisfied with the number I saw on the scale. That is until the media switched it up again and decided that thin was no longer beautiful, at least in certain areas.

Suddenly, being curvy was the goal. But not so curvy, of course, to be considered chubby. When “they” say curvy, they mean the hourglass curvy: wide hips and a big butt, thick thighs but a flat stomach, and of course don’t forget the 32DDD breasts that just naturally go hand in hand with 0% body fat anywhere else, right? (And yes, that was sarcasm.)

Now before you roll your eyes and think this is about to turn into a campaign against the use of image alteration in mainstream media, think again. I’m not alone in my questions about body image. We asked a few students to share their perceptions of themselves and their view of the perfect body that’s influenced by the media.

I have come to accept that tabloids will be tabloids. The truth of their writing is stretched almost as much as the width of a female’s hips are while her waist is compressed to an astonishing 5 millimetres. That’s the way it’s always  been and that’s the way, sadly, it always will be. What I am here to address, rather, is the recent, and very unrealistic, trend of the idea of “#slimthick”: the pressure to have body fat, but only in the butt and the boobs, and nowhere else. God forbid a little extra on the tummy or a little flab on the arms. As if we have the ability to choose where it all goes.

As much as I am enraged by the desire to achieve a nearly impossible hourglass figure, a desire driven by celebrities like Kim Kardashian who inject fat from their stomachs into their boobs seemingly relentlessly, I must admit that I am also incredibly proud of, and inspired by, a new culture of fitness enthusiasts who have taken to social media platforms like Instagram to advocate for building the body you want, not buying it with $50,000 in plastic surgeries. And yes, as much as they still focus on the flat tummy and toned legs and perky butt, if you ask me, there’s nothing wrong with altering your shape, as long as you are doing so in healthy ways, like eating clean and working out.

What struck me the other day, however, as I was scrolling through my Instagram feed past pictures of the very women who inspire me to get my butt to the gym everyday, was the sickening realization that they all have something in common, and I’m not talking about their passion for fitness: boob jobs. It seems that gone are the days when fitness was about health. Now, the motivation behind getting to the gym seems to about manipulating the body’s muscles in order achieve a certain “look” or physique.

YouTuber and fitness junkie, Geovanna Antoinette, recently got breast implants, which she justified in one of her videos by saying, “It’s really great that I can facilitate growth and sculpt [my body] in a way that becomes beautiful to me. [But] there are some imbalances in my body that I unfortunately cannot naturally develop or change. My legs I can make bigger or smaller; my butt I can make bigger or smaller; my arms, same thing. So everything else on my body I can change… except for my boobs.” As if not having the “perfect” body she wants is the world’s biggest tragedy.

I’m furious, and justifiably so. The real tragedy here is that we have cultivated a world in which a high value is placed on the “perfect” physical appearance that not only requires regular physical fitness but surgical manipulation as well.

In the months that I have spent sculpting my body to “perfection” at the gym, I have gone down almost two bra cup sizes. And I know I am not alone. Having worked at La Senza Lingerie for almost a year now, I would need more than two hands to count the number of women I have dealt with who are insecure; some of whom experience hysterical breakdowns in the fitting rooms when they are forced to look at themselves, topless, in a mirror. I have even witnessed colleagues recommend the miracle Hello Sugar “up two cup sizes” push-up bra to these women. That’s selling more than just bras; that’s selling false confidence to women who have no reason to not feel confident in the bodies they already have.

This isn’t to say men are not pressured to achieve a certain body type as well. The truth of the matter is, however, that what is portrayed as the idealistic male body in the media, is, to some extent or another, achievable with hard work in the gym and a sufficient diet to go with it. Sure, some boys can’t and never will be able to put on the weight in order to have the desirable muscle definition the media pushes for. But the same goes for some women who may never know what it’s like to be a size two.

The biggest flaw of the media, I believe, is not the pressure they create to achieve a fit, lean body type. It is the pressure they create to achieve unrealistic body types. How many size two’s do you see with triple D’s? Not many, right? And why is that? Because female breasts are dominantly made up of fat. Therefore, the loss of body fat very often goes hand in hand with a decrease in breast size. And it’s sad that this pressure to look a certain way that is often not naturally achievable leaves many women not feeling good enough. Like they will never be “perfect.” Because for many of us, it’s one or the other: Kendall Jenner thin, or Kim Kardashian curvy.

So my message is this: stop trying to look like someone else. It’s great to want to be healthy. But healthy isn’t defined by inches or pounds or bra size. Healthy is achieved by living a balanced lifestyle, not one consumed by starvation and hours of cardio. If it makes you feel better while you’re watching the Victoria’s Secret fashion show (airing December 8), remind yourself how good a Double Cheese Quarter Pounder BLT with fries tastes. Now, are you willing to give that up to look like Candace Swanepool? There’s that, and the fact that Victoria’s Secret has their own version of the double push-up bra, which she’ll probably be wearing, too. Yeah, you’re welcome.

Video: Haley Sherbourne

Article: Monica Marczuk