Joan looks in the mirror. “Yuck,” she says to herself. “My hips are so fat. Why can’t I be skinny like Christie Brinkley?”
Patrick finishes measuring his height — again. He still is 5 feet, 4 inches. “What if I never grow taller?” he thinks. “I’ll never be able to play basketball like Michael Jordan.”
When you meet someone for the first time, how do you form your first impression? How do you think other people make their first judgment about you? Some people look at eyes, some at smiles, and some at clothes or overall appearance: Is the person tall or short, fat or thin, neat or sloppy? Even if we do not readily admit It, we judge ourselves and other people on appearance. We are always aware of how others appear to us, and how we appear to others.
But how do we define attractive? Unfortunately, for years, women and men have been subject to constricting ideas about what is accepted as pretty or handsome. The good news is that now the rules that define good-looking have changed and the rigid concepts about a specific look no longer apply. body image is the way you believe you look to others, a perception that is now closely related to your overall health and to your self-esteem, not just your looks.
A History of Constraints
In the past, society has had different ideas about how to define attractive. At the turn of the century, both men and women were considered good-looking and healthy if they were overweight; it was a sign of wealth and good humor. The Gibson girl, a roly-poly artist’s ideal, was the dream look for women.
In the 1920s, thin made an appearance among fashionable people. Thin represented a glamorous, exciting, and daring life. Mass-magazine publishing and the movies made women particularly susceptible to the whims of fashion designers and Hollywood directors, who had the power to define a look. The 1950s brought the curvy, full-bodied look, a la Marilyn Monroe and other poster girls. Thin returned to the fashion scene in the 1960s and 1970s; and fad diets, pills , and even starvation created a lean, hungry look among fashion models that became the ideal reflected in clothes, advertisements, and movies.
A New Image Appears
But in the past few years, there has been a shift in thinking about one single ideal image. Men and women no longer have to be slaves to someone else’s idea of beauty. We now have the ability to fashion a body image that conforms to our own ideas of beauty, one that relates to our own not-so-perfect bodies. According to a recent Gallup poll, the healthy, fit body is the new American ideal of the 80’s. Although most men and women still have models of perfection, these are becoming less confining.
The principles of a healthy body can be summed up easily: exercise and good nutrition. A combination of a sound fitness program and a sound diet will make you look better and feel better.
Bodies are different, and we know that there is no such thing as a perfect body. The goals of the new body image should be, first, to accept what your genes have given you, and second, to make the most out of what you have. This means that you must begin to think of yourself as more than just a body. You may need to rethink your attitudes about being perfect.
Dr. Ann Kearney-Kooke, a leading body-image researcher and counselor, says that people should try to understand why they have certain feelings about their body. “If you understand where the feelings come from,” she says, “you can move toward changing them and learning to love your body.”
You are a person, and your body can only define you in a limited sense. Before you try to improve the outside, you must consider your inside first. What you think of yourself greatly affects how you seem to other people. A healthy body reflects a healthy attitude about yourself.
Genetics Does It Again
But first, a dose of realism. The body you are born with is the body you will always have. Genetic makeup determines not only hair and eye color, but height, shape, bone structure, and size of the body frame, as well as predisposition to fatness or thinness, a high or low metabolism, and physical attributes and deficiencies. Your gender determines the amount of muscle and fat in your body: Male hormones produce larger muscles, and female hormones increase body fat and distribute it around the breasts and hips.
In one sense, you cannot fight destiny. Remember Joan? Her mother, her aunt, and her grandmother all have wide hips; she has inherited that trait, and she cannot change it. It doesn’t mean, however, that she is unattractive or abnormal because her hips are larger than Christie Brinkley’s. And it doesn’t mean she has no control over how she looks. And if Patrick’s father and all his family are not tall, he may well only grow to 5 feet, 6 inches. Patrick may never play basketball like Michael Jordan, but he can still do well at basketball and other sports.
One of the best ways to a healthy body is exercise that includes a cardiovascular fitness program. Getting your heart into good shape means that your healthy heart will pump blood with less effort than an unhealthy heart. With a healthy heart, you will be better able to pursue all kinds of sports for fun and competition. Aerobic exercise is the best way to maintain cardiovascular health. Thirty minutes, three times a week will build up endurance.
Aside from keeping your heart fit, exercise will burn body fat that you store as energy. ridding your body of excess fat is not only better for you, but you will look more fit and more muscular. Strengthening exercises can tone your muscles as well.
Eat Well, Look Good
Diet is now a four-letter word. You do not have to starve yourself to be healthy and good-looking. Grape-fruit and saltines five times a day, pills, protein shakes, and other quickie ways to rid yourself of excess weight will only cause your metabolism to slow down as you take in fewer calories.
A Nutritious eating plan should concentrate on cutting down on fats (especially saturated fats found in many red meats, whole-milk products, and packaged cookies, cakes, and crackers), as well as excess sugar and sodium. Add high-fiber proteins, fresh fruits and vegetables, and complex carbohydrates (starches), and you will have eating habits that keep you healthy.
Creating Your Own Image
By taking the principles of good health and applying them to your body, you reshape the ideals of the past. Fitness is the concept that has shaped the ’80s. Fitness can be applied to anyone in any condition, of any size and any shape. It is the most democratic of all body images, since anyone can be fit. You may not have the body to be a model or a basketball star, but you can still create a healthy and attractive body that is all your own.
The legacy of the 1980s may well be the start of a new era of awareness about total body health — an attention to a healthy inside and a healthy outside. Your overall health no longer depends on height/weight charts. It doesn’t lie in the pages of some magazine or on the screen of the movie theater. Your body’s good health, and the look you want to have, now are in your hands.