If you’re a regular at thezombieshuffle, you know that I’m a big proponent of accepting yourself for who you are, while always striving for self-improvement. At first glance those two concepts may seem contradictory. If you accept yourself for who you are why should you strive to be something more? Rather than being contradictory, I see them as complementary.
By accepting yourself, I mean that it’s important to truly be able to love yourself for who you are, as you are. The person you are today may not be perfect, but you are “enough”. This doesn’t however mean you can’t improve, and strive to be something more. And in fact I think we should always strive to improve ourselves in all aspects of life. Saying you are enough simply means you are measuring your self-worth against who you actually are, instead of some ideal of who you believe you should be. It’s saying I don’t NEED to be more to be worthy of love and acceptance by myself and others. I am worthy of love and acceptance as I am right now.
In order to accept yourself for who you are you need to be able to accept all of yourself for who you are. But when we look in the mirror, we don’t see our hearts and souls – we see our bodies. Think of our bodies, and our ideas of beauty for a moment.
People magazine has an annual “sexiest man alive” issue. Over the past few years the winners were Adam Levine, Channing Tatum, Bradley Cooper, Ryan Renolds, Johnny Depp, Hugh Jackman, Matt Damon and George Clooney. In 1989 it was Sean Connery, who was 60 at the time. That list has considerable diversity among both age and body type.
Now look at the equivalent for women. Esquire has a “sexiest woman alive” list, and over the past few years they have Scarlett Johansson, Mila Kunis, Rihanna, Minka Kelly, Kate Beckinsale, Halle Berry and Charlize Theron. The women all seem to be between their early 20’s and early 30’s, and they all share a similar body type. The cover photos of the women are much more sexualized, with greater focus on their… shall we say “physical attributes”. The mold women need to fit to meet the standard of beauty seems very rigid. Let’s face it, you sure don’t see any 60 year old women on that list. Why not? Why is age fine for men, but not for women?
In most movies or TV shows, if there is a female character that is supposed to be “ugly” they are always someone who is beautiful by most standards. They just have less makeup, or are dressed in frumpy or quirky clothes.
If you think about age, in movies it is so common to see an older male protagonist with a much younger woman that you don’t really notice it. But if an older woman is with a younger man then it’s likely some sort of plot device. Older men are seen as “distinguished”, while older women are just seen as old.
Seeing all this, I have to admit sometimes I’m really glad I am a guy. I can only image how hard it is for a woman to constantly be bombarded with this sort of media imaging of what is beautiful, and how it must impact their self image.
You are More Beautiful Than You Think
A few years back, Dove had an ad campaign that touched on body image issues for women. In one ad women sat down with a police forensic artist who couldn’t see them, and he drew them based on how they described themselves.
Afterwards the women left and a second drawing of the person was done based on the descriptions provided by a person who had met them in the lobby.
The women tended to be critical of themselves, while the person who had met them in the lobby was more inclined to be positive in their descriptions of the woman. As shown the in commercial, the second drawing depicted the woman in a more flattering light (and also seemed more accurate). At the end of the ad, after seeing the two different pictures of her one woman noted:
We spend a lot of time as women analyzing and trying to fix the things that aren’t quite right, and we should spend more time appreciating the things we do like.
Thinking of this unrealistic standard of beauty and negative body image reminds me of a mini controversy that erupted on social media a while back. An extremely fit mother of three posted a photo of herself in workout gear with her children, and a heading at the top that said “What’s your excuse?”
When it happened there was an outcry of people who felt that her image was an example of body shaming, and people saying that she didn’t represent what “real people” look like. Things took a nasty turn as photos of obese people started circulating social media in response with headings like “Is this what a real person looks like?”
It ended up making national news, and there was an ABC News interview where she said:
No matter how many children you have, especially when you’re working and trying to maintain your shape, you don’t have to lose yourself in becoming a mother. You can still maintain a sense of self physically and professionally. If I can do it, you can do it.
I think that instead of using “What’s your excuse” she probably should have used something like “You can do it too”. But part of me agrees with her. You CAN do it. Heck, I can do it too (though I may look somewhat ridiculous in a sports bra). You own your life, and make your own decisions. If you want changes in your life, the only way to do it is by taking ownership and making changes on your own.
So yes, you can get in great shape. But guess what? It requires work, time, and effort. And you have to ask yourself, what do you have to give up? What are your priorities?
What Do You Want?
If you want to get into better shape, stop and ask yourself WHY you want to get into better shape. What do you hope to accomplish? Be introspective and honest here. Are you trying to fit an arbitrary mold of beauty?
If so, let me give you perhaps a different perspective on body image. A buddy of mine plays competitive volleyball, and to keep playing as he has aged, he had a workout routine tailored to his needs. He made a comment to me that made a lot of sense. He said it was more important that he had functional muscles for what he wanted to do with his life than it was to have the sort of muscles that would attract attention in a bar.
We aren’t all competitive athletes, but the same idea applies. Instead of comparing yourself to fashion models and movie stars, ask yourself what are the things you enjoy doing? Travelling? Swimming? Bike riding? Softball? Keeping up with your children? Going for walks in the park? Are you able to do the things that you enjoy, or does your body and your physical conditioning hamper your ability to do these things? I think THAT should be the most important thing. Not trying to fit the mold of what society says is beautiful.
There are health risks associated with being overweight, so from a health perspective alone it is important to take care of yourself. But how your body “looks” isn’t necessarily an indicator of the sort of shape you are in. I’ve seen people with heavier builds power through high intensity aerobic classes while thinner and more “fit looking” people struggled to keep up.
Going back to what I said at the beginning, we all need to accept ourselves for who we are. That doesn’t mean giving up, or saying that I can’t get “better”. But we shouldn’t measure ourselves against the current standard of beauty. It’s also important to remember that your beauty starts from the inside, not the outside. There are many men and women whose outward appearance may be beautiful, while inside they are anything but.
Although we all do this, it’s best not to compare ourselves to others. There are different body types out there, and that’s fine. I won’t pretend to speak for all guys, but based on a sample of myself and a sizable group of male friends, I have to tell you ladies there isn’t a single mold of what is beautiful. People are all different, and just as our personalities are different so are the characteristics that we find attractive. Instead of trying to be someone else, strive to be the best “you” that you can be.
So what does a real person look like? You see them every day. Your neighbor, your best friend, your co-worker, and most of all you. We are all real people.