Therapy was an essential part of my eating disorder recovery and one topic that dominated my early sessions was my desire to look a certain way. I shared my hope that, once I had the ideal body, I’d be happy, pretty, and people would think highly of me. It eventually occurred to me that I was aiming at a moving target because there isn’t a set beauty standard and that beauty is subjective.
This realization frustrated me. How would I know if I reached my goal of having the ideal body without a way to measure it? Both Angelina Jolie and Christina Hendricks are considered beautiful, but they have very different bodies.1 Jolie is lean while Hendricks is voluptuous, so I felt like no matter where I ended up body-wise, it wouldn’t be enough. As a way to work through this, my therapist encouraged me to look at a range of bodies. I was paying for her guidance, so I figured that I should at least attempt to do what she suggested. Well, the results of my research astounded me. I had such a narrow view of the ideal that seeing everyday bodies from different time periods was a bit of a shock.
First of all, the beauty standard has changed over time.2 Just take a look at works of art. Aphrodite, the ancient Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation, has belly rolls. Women who would be considered large by today’s standards were sought after for paintings. Apparently having fat on your body was not always frowned upon! And if you take a look at today’s standards of beauty, there are even differences between countries. I read an article about Mauritanian women being force-fed in preparation for marriage because “rolling layers of fat are the height of sexiness”. Another article presented photoshopped pictures of the same woman to reflect the standard of beauty in different countries. Both of these articles completely changed my perspective about how beauty is perceived around the world today.3To go even further, standards vary within a country. In the United States, we still have an established “ideal” body type,4 but people have different opinions about other aspects of attractiveness such as tattoos, make-up, body hair, etc. One of those might be considered beautiful to one person and repulsive to the next.5
After gathering all of that information, I felt like I just couldn’t win. Then it occurred to me that there was nothing to win. Although I didn’t hit the genetic lottery for what would be considered the current “ideal” body type in the US, I have learned that the image in my head is there because of what I see in the media. In reality though, there is no ideal body. There’s just my body.
What are your thoughts about beauty standards? Have you seen it change over time? Please share in the comment section below.
1Ha! I’m probably dating myself since I can’t, off the top of my head, come up with more current examples.
2Check out this video called “Women’s Ideal Body Types Throughout History”!
3I think I might be an egocentric American!
4Though it is heartening to see a Target ad with women of different sizes!
5And speaking of repulsion, why is it that breasts, which contain fat, are sexy but the fat on my belly is not?
You’ve made it this far. Now subscribe for regular updates. It’s easy! And you get a FREE intuitive eating quiz and a mini e-book when you sign up!
YouTube Version: Coming soon!