When body image is discussed reference is only made to the opposing ends of the spectrum. In women it is either the waifish size zero cat walk models or ‘curvy’ plus size. In men it is either a 300lb bodybuilder or an edgy 120lb teenager in girl’s jeans. In my opinion neither of these ends of the spectrum represents anything close to the ideal. This ideal isn’t based on what I find attractive though. I will make this very clear now that attractiveness is irrelevant to this discussion. So often commentators muddy the waters by referring to it yet it has no place in the debate. Attractiveness is subjective and can't be measured, what I use to form my theory of an ‘ideal’ is health, which can, yet for some reason this word is never mentioned which I find odd. We have a disconnect between health and beauty, failing to recognise that health precedes beauty and instead sacrificing so much of our health trying to improve our appearance.
Whilst the media images presented to us may sell clothes they don’t present a realistic, sustainable or healthy option for the majority of us. The size zero figure is formed from restrictive dieting and cardio. As we know from my post on running this combination can have devastating consequences for female health and if you are not naturally skinny then trying to reach this image can reap lasting damage upon your metabolism. With the plus size side of the debate the emphasis is placed on being happy on the inside regardless of your body shape. This is certainly applaudable but caution must be given when we know that even modest increases in body fat can greatly increase the risk of a whole host of disease states. For men the bodybuilding image requires ridiculous dedication to the cause and can plunge you into the murky depths of steroids and other substances which are best avoided if you care about your health. If you are chasing skinny jeans as a man then be aware of the role that muscle plays in longevity and, more importantly, the health of your advancing age.
I could go into real depth on the problems apparent with the body image options the mainstream presents us with but I hope that this cursory glance combined with your own doubts has made you aware that none of these are the healthiest things to chase. What I am instead suggesting is that we quit focusing our efforts on looking like the model we have pinned to our fridge door. If we start looking after number 1 and focus on being as healthy as we can be then you will be amazed at how your body responds.
There is an Instagram worthy quote which sums this up perfectly: ‘Comparison is the thief of joy’. If you are constantly focusing your attention outwards, trying to reach an aesthetic ideal then you are setting yourself up for failure and misery. How will you know when you’ve reached your goal? Happiness is more than just a number on a scale so let’s find a better goal. Look at hobbies you have or activities you enjoy and work on a physical goal. Whether you want to get your first pull up or squat 200kg, climb a hill or run a tough mudder, no matter your level of fitness there is always a physical goal that you can set. The huge advantage here is that these goals are measurable, you can break them down into smaller targets and they give you a true sense of achievement when you complete them. You will also find that your body responds and you will end up much closer to that picture on the fridge than you would have done blindly chasing it.
So next time you look at a magazine image, ask how much editing has gone into producing it, ask how well that person feels at the time, ask whether aiming for such an image is a realistic or useful goal for you. Normal chases society’s body image ideals and fails, Breeds ignore society and create the best version of themselves. Escape normal.