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Since hotness and beauty as I mentioned in Part II of my series are subjective and at the whim of a woman’s own personal body image, her husband/boyfriend’s aesthetic ideal, and how her culture defines what is beautiful, it frequently can set women up for failure. Or, it can lead a woman to push herself to extremes and forfeit her health all for the sake of being a beauty queen.
Take for example a co-worker I once had who banned all carbs (even the healthy, whole-grain variety) from her diet. She quickly dropped weight (a healthy amount at first and then too much) and at first she was happy, but then she started to complain about the shape of her legs. This was the real reason she’d started dieting. She did not like her legs, but it didn’t matter how much she slimmed down; she was not going to have the kind of legs society would call sexy.
On the other hand, I have a friend who seems impervious to the social scripts that aim to define what is physically beautiful. This friend of mine is the epitome of what it means to be healthy. She’s also just a good, good person, and that’s what makes her beautiful to me more than how she dresses or how she looks, although she is an attractive woman. She wants to be attractive, but she’s realistic. She likes clothes. She wears cute styles. She has a nice figure that I’ve seen go from athletically toned to a softer form and then back again. She’s the kind of woman who can order a slice of cheesecake, enjoy a few bites, and then push the rest away, not because she’s depriving herself or because she thinks she’s sinning with that cheesecake but because she’s satisfied.
Because she knows she will have cheesecake again.
She eats when she’s hungry and stops long before her skin feels like it’s oozing out of her clothing seams. She wants to take care of her body and to look good, but her definition of “good” is not perfect, airbrushed beauty, which is what we ended up feasting our eyes upon whenever we see the cover of a fashion magazine at the grocery store. I’ve also never, and I mean never, heard her say one negative thing about her body. That’s a rare woman who never chastises her looks in any way.
My friend, Cathy, wrote a post a long time ago that shared something she read over at the website Body Positive. Healthy weight is what you weigh when you are living a reasonable life. This is the kind of life I believe my friend is living – a reasonable, balanced one.
But so many of us aren’t living a practical, realistic life when it comes to our eating and body image.
The former co-worker was not living a reasonable life by ripping cheese off pizza because she couldn’t eat the crust or tomato sauce if she was ever to have sexy legs. Then there are large groups of women who are obsessed with being thinner, so they perpetually put themselves on diets. They don’t know how to eat without being on some sort of diet. Yet, they remain overweight, nowhere probably near their natural, healthy weight. There are other women who might look hot (and we’d assume are healthy) on the outside and have always been thin but never exercise and nosh on junk food. They may have visually-pleasing bodies, but they’re not necessarily healthy. There are women who might be considered fat by aesthetic standards; yet, they are in shape with numbers like cholesterol and blood pressure all in the healthy range. Then there are women who really are trying their best to look good. They recognize that being attractive is an act of charity for their spouse and perhaps for anyone they encounter on a given day; yet, they still may not fit certain standards as dictated by society/media, their spouse, or their own image of themselves of what is beautiful.
How do we lead a reasonable life? The answer to that question is unique to our own lifestyle, age, biological predispositions, and body image history. But I believe that this is really what we should desire: To live a reasonable life, to embrace a realistic weight, to enjoy food but to not turn it into our confidante, therapist – or enemy. We ought to learn to respect our femininity and to be content with whatever physical blessings we’ve been given (or been refused). We should work hard to not distort God’s design in our heads or in reality by eating too much or too little. We should yearn for happiness and health more than perfect proportions and cellulite and stretch mark-free thighs. Because as much as I wish it weren’t so, for many of us – most of us, probably – embracing a reasonable life will not result in us looking anything like voluptuous Sofia Margarita Vergara or ultra-petite Kelly Ripa.
Given my eating disordered past (and please remember this does skew all my thoughts related to looks and weight), if I personally make pursuing a hot body my primary goal, then I’m pursuing something shifty, complaisant, rather than something that is likely closer to God’s original design for my body and for me. Maybe looking good is a great motivator for other women whose root sin isn’t vanity, but it’s not for me.
If I had to choose between encouraging women to make physical attractiveness or health their primary goal (and some lucky women don’t have to), I’d choose health every time. This isn’t code for, “Your looks don’t matter. It’s okay to let yourself go.” It’s not okay to let yourself go in any aspect of your life – physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally. However, what actually embodies looking good is way too subjective to use as our physical benchmark.
I have no plans to stop touting health as the best motivator to lose weight and/or take care of yourself (although, yes, I’ll still admit that sometimes I do these things more out of vanity than health). I’ll keep encouraging women to take a long look in the mirror and to be honest, really honest, about what they see, and about how they feel seeing that image of themselves. If someone gets winded just walking up a few stairs, then some changes are necessary. Love yourself enough to take care of yourself. Yet, I’ll remind myself and others of this, too: We might look good even when we think we don’t, or even when society tells us we don’t measure up to what is hot, beautiful, and physically desirable. And even if you don’t look good, you are good. Your worth runs much deeper than your hottie rank. Don’t set yourself up for failure by trying to be something you weren’t created to be. God created you. Don’t mess up his handiwork with extreme diets or your own distorted views of what is worth a second glance. You are beautiful because you are you.
C.S. Lewis wrote,
“We are what we believe we are.”
Believe in your goodness and your beauty, and that is what will shine through.