Thursday, April 14, 2011

mixed messages -- Vogue vs Walmart

I confess...these thoughts have been rattling inside my brain for a while, but I'm not sure if they are going to come out in any sort of orderly fashion.

Any follower of my blog knows that I have more than my share of body image and food issues.  I spent way too much mental energy on them.  I didn't give any thought to my body until my early 20s.  While that was mentally easier, it was also far from ideal since it led to quite a hefty weight gain in college and I was apt to take multiple servings of dessert and never gave too much thought to the whole exercise thing. 

It isn't quite the same, but I was reminded of this in Jen Lancaster's Such A Pretty Fat.  Jen concludes that her self-confidence and love for her body, despite it being larger than social norms, actually stood in the way of health.  But then struggles a bit to find balance as her journey to lose weight and get healthy lead to some struggles with image and a strained relationship with food.  Like with my own journey, it becomes complicated to decide what "healthy" isn't healthy to hate oneself (as I have done...hating my body appearance is a separate battle from hating my body for the pain) but it isn't good to be blind either.  Obviously, the ideal is a middle ground where the motivation is about being healthy and being one's best self, but that is a very elusive space.

I've also been off on a semi-related mental tangent about social messages.  We hear plenty of media bashing for the portrayal of a very narrow range of body types, many of which have been altered by surgery (only a VERY few women are that thin and still have that level of boobage..they exist, but they are rare) or photo-magic.  I do understand the argument that we like to look at pretty people but also agree that I'd like a more balanced media portrayal of bodies, especially women's although I think it increasingly applies to men too. 

But I also wonder about distorted social messages.  I was out-and-about not long ago (okay, it was Walmart...which plays into stereotypes but that's where I was) and looking at bodies.  The vast majority were not a healthy size.  I'd heard reports before that people are often in denial about their own unhealthy weight, and that of their children, and wondered about it.  I didn't give thought to my body in my heavier days, but I knew it wasn't ideal and would have answered as such.  I have been thinking a lot about how overweight and obesity issues multiply and build on each other.  If the bodies I saw at Walmart are the bodies one sees every day, then unhealthy (and, ideally, abnormal) becomes normal.  We judge ourselves by our surroundings.  Many years ago, I made note of the social and class differences at my old law firm where the attorney women were thin (and white) while the secretaries tended to a higher BMI (and more were African-American).  I think this is the Walmart experience in a microcosom...our norm is based on our environment.  As heavy becomes normal, it becomes harder to recognize that it isn't ideal (for health).  We hear a LOT bashing the media for its messages but I don't think we pay as much attention to the Walmart effect.

I don't know if I'll ever have a child but I worry about helping mesh all the messages into something positive.  I don't want to pass on my fixations and concerns and damaging body image, but I also want to be sure to pass on a message of caring for one's body with exercise and proper diet (diet = food we eat, not some short-term plan).  I think the key is sending messages about health rather than appearance, but it seems hard.  Especially when Walmart and and Vogue are making it hard to find a healthy norm.

P.S.  I took a bit of mental energy to write this.  I'm not proofing.  So apologies for messy grammar and poor connecting sentences...really, those things drive me nutty but also mean I'd spend way too much time if I tried to perfect this.


Finesse said...

Interesting post. My history is similar--I always thought concern over weight was mainly an issue of vanity until I read a list of health risks when I was about 24. Perhaps I'm paying more attention now than I used to, but it definitely seems to me that more of America is figuring it out. The truth may not have gotten all the way to Wal-mart America yet, but I see it coming.

Lee said...

I think that a lot of people see it as something that they just deal with instead of something that they can change, especially if they are brought up to eat a certain way.

I worry about my body image issues and kids too. Not that we're having kids yet.

The Rambling Blogger said...

i do wonder how much messages are spreading. i know my friends think about this stuff, many WAY too much (esp the shape crew, like lee), but i realize more and more with time that my networks are a limited microcosm.

beth -- i love that health is such a focus for you. i try to keep that focus (which, truthfully, would encourage me to w/o less...i know this) but it is a struggle. and that ironic since health is always on my mind...