I tanned again for senior prom, though not as aggressively. Again, I never got asked to go by anyone and was mortified by the thought of missing out on a social construct as important as prom. My friends came through for me and set me up on a blind date with a guy from another high school. I didn’t meet him until prom night. As many stories as there are about awful blind dates, I’m sorry to disappoint you all, but mine wasn’t horrible. His name was Matt; he was good-looking and nice and was sure to dance with me whenever the DJ played a slow song, or the prom song (Extreme “More Than Words”). I never spoke to him after that night. I graduated high school never having had a boyfriend.
I’m not writing any of this because I’m throwing a pity party. My point has to do with how women view themselves. The other week, I was afraid to cut several inches off my hair because I thought it would make me look less feminine because one of my exes had told me that he liked women with long hair.
Why did I think like this? And why do I still? The answer has to do with how women, especially in America, are represented and how they are in turn taught to view themselves and each other.
I came across an inspiring and well-thought out blog post the other day called “10 Things I want My Daughter to Know About Working Out.” The writer was prompted to write the post after hearing the following from an instructor in a group exercise class: “Come on! Get that body ready for your winter beach vacation! Think about how you want to look at those holiday parties! PICTURE HOW YOU’LL LOOK IN THAT DRESS!”
I’ve never heard something like that before in a group exercise course. I also don’t frequently attend them, but I wasn’t surprised by the “encouraging” words. I was surprised by the writer’s comments that followed, the 10 things. I already knew the benefits of exercise as expressed through this writer’s comments, but I had never stopped to think that other people, those who maybe aren’t as passionate about being healthy as myself or this writer, might not know about all the benefits of exercise. Why do we make exercise all about what it can do to us physically? Why do gyms advertise with images of fit people, teasing us with perfect bodies?
It has a lot to do with how we, as humans, especially as women, are represented in the media. Shortly after I discovered the wonderfully contemplative blog post from above, I came across this video.
I’ve wanted to be skinny my whole life. Fortunately, I have been. There was a long period of time where I was afraid to weigh over 100 pounds. I knew I wouldn’t be fat if I did, at least not in the eyes of others, but to myself, weighing over 100 pounds would mean that I weighed too much. I used to want my hip bones to protrude, and I liked that my thighs didn’t touch when I put my legs next to each other.
I wasn’t aware of how small I was until I started training for my first marathon. Over the eighteen weeks of training, my thighs became too big for my jeans and there was a bulge above my knees. I began to refer to my thighs as my “man muscle” thighs. My hips seemed to expand and my pants just didn’t fit anymore. I had gone up a pant size. When I stepped on the scale at the gym, I found that I had gained about 15 pounds. A couple of my friends commented that I looked good, healthy and muscular even.
Looking back, I believe I must have been too small. I’ve gone up another pant size since then. I’m definitely still small-framed, but I broke that 100 pound weight barrier years ago, and you know what, it feels great. The dirty secret though, is that most people think I weigh around a 100 pounds, even though the reality is around 120 pounds (yeah, that just happened). I hate that I let myself get caught up on how I’m perceived to others. I’m aware that I don’t care how much I weigh because I’m also aware that people don’t think I weigh as much as I do, even though for my height, 120 pounds is the ideal weight.
There’s a real problem with this perception though. By thinking this, I’m feeding that false representation of women in the media. I’m saying that I care more about what I look like, than who I am. As the video suggests, there isn’t an immediate solution to this issue, but raising awareness should be the catalyst.
There’s so much circulating in the media regarding this topic. If you come across anything, send it my way. Please add to this conversation. I hope to make this the first of a series of posts on this topic.