I've been thinking about what it was like to be a teenager. It was horrible. People who look back on their teenage years with nostalgia and fond memories must be sniffing glue and altering their memories. I was fat, smart, weird, and from a poor family... The absolutely worst combination for the battle zone that is North American high schools. Not only is your body changing fast, hormones are racing, boobs are sprouting, you're confused, you're developing your sexuality, deciding who you are gonna be, and on top of all of that, you become the target for all the body hate North American society can heap on you.
I really think young girls need better role models. I don't think ultra-rich celebrities who make millions of dollars are the best role models for teenage girls. Women who are in the public eye are under so much pressure and scrutiny that they often cave to negative body ideas in order to keep their status as money makers and sex symbols. It is very confusing being a woman. One magazine article will praise a curvy star, another article will say she's too fat and then another one will say how much better she looks after she lost all the weight and all this will run along side yet another article about eating disorders and how Hollywood actresses are too skinny. No wonder girls are so confused. We can't win no matter what we look like.
What is so strange about all of this is it's only in the last hundred years that the thin body type became the standard for women; it really did not become popular until the 1920s when the Depression was in full swing and clothing needed to be less opulent than Victoria clothing because there simply was not enough money to make such extravagant clothing. In some ways this was a good thing; women started to get involved in sport and outdoor activities which they were never allowed to do before. Women could finally free themselves of petticoats and corsets and get active. They were no longer trapped in the domestic sphere and body strength could be valued. But the aesthetic became co-opt to devalue other women and attach body fears to the female form.
Before the 1920s the body type of choice for women was plump; a woman needed to have weight on her body to carry babies to term and to survive long periods of scarce resources. In evolutionary and genetic terms, our bodies are designed to gain weight. This protected the human race through times of starvation and low resources so we could procreate and continue as a species. This is why dieting will actually make you fatter; your body thinks it is starving and slows down your metabolism when you diet. Your body retains more fat to protect you from what it sees as a time of low resources. What has happened that has really fucked our bodies up in the last hundred years is the introduction of processed and chemical foods into our diets. Obesity has become an issue because our bodies don't know how to process much of the chemical substances coming into our bodies. And by the way, there is NO scientific correlation between being thin and living longer or healthier. People who are reasonably heavier actually live longer, although severe obesity can still be dangerous. You should read Linda Bacon's "Health at Every Size," a fabulous book on this subject.
I feel that women should be accepted at whatever size she is, whether she is thin, heavy, or somewhere in between. The society we have troubles our bodies; it makes us hyper-aware of the body and how it is viewed by the society around us. We focus so much on our bodies that we forget that we are not just our bodies, we have brains as well. Men have a preoccupation with their bodies as well but not nearly as prominently as women do. We spend all our time thinking about how much we hate our bodies that we forget that the women around us are intelligent, thoughtful, and emotional and have a lot more to offer than just a body. This is why I think young women need role models out there beyond celebrities; we need female scientists, writers, politicians, philosophers, doctors, dreamers, poets, directors, and other smart women to become role models for girls who are growing up in a confusing society. We shouldn't forget our bodies; our body is the home to our brain and it all needs to work together, but we shouldn't be so focused just on the body itself. We can be sexy and smart no matter our size.
And society itself needs to stop focusing so much on the body; case in point smart women like Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton have had more articles written about what they are wearing than on their intellectual and political pursuits. Men in the same position do not face the same bias.
I hope you will go out into the world and talk to the young women in your life who are going through a confusing time. Search for some positive role models to point out to them. Tell them that no matter their body type that they are beautiful and desirable. That they can be smart as well. That they are more than just a body. Teach them to view the societal constructs around them with a critical eye rather than a passive one. And give them a hug, because it's really goddamned hard being a teenager.