Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What real women look like

Disclaimer: I've been thinking about posting on this subject for awhile, but I've held off because I didn't want to come across as well... creepy. So please don't read anything weird into this. I mean it in the least creepy way possible.

Reading today's post on The Great Fitness Experiment about How to Recognize a Healthy Human, I started to think about how we form our ideas of what an ideal, healthy (if those things aren't mutually exclusive these days) body looks like.

Like Charlotte says in her post, I at least have formed my opinion of the ideal female form by looking at pictures of women in fitness and fashion magazines. And, even though I know those pictures are Photoshop-ed, and that the women who appear in them may be far from fit and healthy, they are pretty much all I've had to go on. I don't have a sister, and I've never been on a sports team, so I've never spent time with other women in a state of undress.

So we come to this year... the shower... in the gym. The gym here has an open shower, and working out there before work 3x per week has forced me to suds up with approximately 239 other women ranging in age from 17-70. It's the first time I've ever seen real women- presumably healthy women because they are exercising- without clothes on.

And what I've found is not what I was led to expect. The World, Our Culture, The Media- choose your big nameless evil entity- is not kind to women's bodies. This is what we're shown real women should look like. I for one, have yet to see a single six pack in the gym. Definitely no sinew-ey arms ala Madonna. Healthy women- women who have jobs and children, who exercise but not excessively, who don't eat raw vegan, or take steroids or HGH- are soft. From the sorority girls with the Pink booty shorts to women who could be my grandmother, all real healthy women have some padding. And probably some cellulite.

Far from being uncomfortable having to bare all in front of a bunch of strangers, it's comforting to learn that my body is not bad or wrong after all. When I think back on the times I spent being most unkind to my own body, I realize that it at least part of it was because my concept of what was ideal and healthy ranged from nonexistent to completely unrealistic.

I hope writing about seeing other naked women in the gym didn't offend anyone's latent Puritan sensibilities too much. But I don't think there's anything wrong with discussing the fact that- as a culture (whatever)- we've truly lost touch with what is beautiful and natural. I know this is true for men, too, but I'm not a man, so I can't speak to that.

Anyway, the take home point- a point that I definitely need to remind myself sometimes- is that pictures in magazines don't reflect what real women look like, and looking like a real woman is not a personal failing.