Everything I know about diet and exercise I learned from magazines.
From years of casual research and exposure, I can tell you with little pause how many calories are in certain foods and what activities will burn them off.
I learn more every time I pass the newest periodicals at the grocery store, the bookstore, the airport and Student Stores, often without even turning a page.
“Get Total Body Confidence: Great Abs, Butt and Legs by New Year’s.”
“Get Rid of Muffin Top.”
“Burn More Fat.”
I read these headlines while standing outside the Bull’s Head Bookshop this week, though I could have read them last month or last year. I’ve seen variations on the same themes since I was old enough to read.
I know these ideas are presented as options and opportunities, but sometimes they seem more like commands and criticism. Like a voice is telling me that even if I am satisfied and happy with my work as a student, sister, friend and daughter, none of my achievements are as important as a trim physique.
And most of the time, I take it with a grain of salt. But how many photos with circled cellulite, tips for “make him swoon” hair and “lose this much by this time” headlines can we stand?
Women’s Wear Daily recently quoted supermodel Kate Moss as living by the motto, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”
Naturally, reactions to such a twisted statement were strong — including mine. But at the same time that my feminist objections reared their heads, I had to make an embarrassing admission. There was some truth to that statement for me.
I feel pretty good about myself most of the time. But I’ve stared at my body thinking that if my legs were longer or hair shinier or I had less armpit pudge when I wear tank tops, I’d feel even better.
I like to think I’m above all the hype and worry, but I’ve cried when I couldn’t zip up a bridesmaid dress I wore three years ago.
I want to be valued for my mind, not my body, but damn, did it feel good when I could button my skinny jeans again.
We talk about eating disorders. We recognize disordered eating and exercising on campus, in our friends and maybe even in ourselves. But what about disordered valuing?
What does it mean that America’s stores sell millions of dollars’ worth of food with zero caloric and energy content, and yet people still go hungry? How can we have people on both sides of the weight spectrum loathing their bodies? How do I know so much about crunches and so little about Afghanistan?
I’m not saying we shouldn’t celebrate our bodies and enjoy looking good (see Justin Chandler Wilcox for that one.) But we can be educated about what goes into our bodies and our minds.
I saw a talk given by Eve Ensler years ago, and she said that if women channeled the energy they used for fretting about their bodies into world peace, we’d be at a United Nations campfire sing-a-long by now, hitting the later verses of “Kumbaya.”
While we’ve been slicing and dicing, painting and plucking, squeezing and slimming our bodies to meet others’ standards, bits of life pass us by. And those individual experiences add up to a world of lost opportunity.
Jessica Fuller is a second-year journalism graduate student. Contact Jessica at firstname.lastname@example.org.