This was a book that I was instantly drawn to but was honestly in my pile of “recipes to try, books to read, restaurants to visit and workout moves to do” for months. I’m sure my mother will smile at the visual of me surrounded by a ridiculous amount of papers, but they are all neatly contained in folders Mom. (I frequently give her a hard time about her papers and lists that cover every flat surface in their house – all in love!) And she is clearly where I got my list-writing skills from!
I am so sorry that I waited so long to read this book. Especially after my visit to Haiti, I knew this book would be one that really made me think about the ever-touchy subject of body image. The premise is that different cultures have widely variable body type “ideals.” Countries and cultures have almost opposite body ideals, but in most cultures, there are always ideals that women strive to reach. Some are becoming closer and closer to the Western standards we see, but others are holding onto their own ideals.
Women in Jamaica for example would scoff at some of the size 2 Hollywood models that we admire. They want curves and they want big curves. But what struck me the most was this quote: “God gave me this body as it is; I can’t change it and even if I did it would go right back,” and similarly “We are born with a certain something that we must do our best with. I myself believe this. You can tone up your muscles a bit and lose or gain a bit of weight here and there, but your basic shape will always return to its natural shape.” These words of wisdom remind me of how many times I’ve purchased “curvy fit” pants to only find out time and time again that I’m not curvy. “Curvy” has always appealed to me in some way – it seems womanly, it seems real and there is nothing better than a curvy girl with some self-confidence. But I wasn’t born with a curvy body and no matter what I do, (short of plastic surgery) my body will always hold onto that boyish shape.
But what is interesting is that while we obsess over the roll in our stomach, they’re consumed with the pressure to have big hips, thighs, “bumpas” and breasts, all fitting into the “perfect ratio” – and taking the very same “extreme” approach to gaining weight that we take to lose weight. Since most women are built with bigger bottoms, I think that their ideal may seem a little more realistic, but that certainly could be argued and certainly depends on the body you are given.
Take Jennifer Hudson, the newest Weight Watchers spokes woman. When I first saw the commercial, my thoughts were that she looked good, curvy and downright beautiful. Not that she needed to cut calories and hit the gym more often. I just wish that we could teach our young girls that as long as they are eating well and moving often, a larger body shape is nothing to be ashamed of. But our culture, among others is one that prizes tall and lean. I wonder if this will ever shift?
While the same “chubby” body type is also appreciated in Afghanistan, there is no emphasis on the “ratio” nor on body shape as much as in other cultures. “Beauty is the whole person,” not so much a feature or specific part of the body. It was very difficult for Afghani women to describe the “perfect body,” something I doubt would ever happen here.
The trends seem to be going in a different direction here in the US now, you don’t want to be overweight, but skinny fat isn’t healthy either. The women of today want to show their strength and determination through their toned biceps. We also want to see what our bodies can do and how far we can push them – the number of women participating in triathlons and marathons is on the rise. How much attention has Michelle Obama gotten for those arms of hers?
I would highly recommend this book to every woman – it is so interesting to read about the struggles that women go through in other countries to reach that perfect body – something most of us are all too familiar with. I know that I myself have been trying to look at my body differently – not as a size, not as a flat tummy or not having a flat tummy, but taking care of myself and considering optimal health the ideal. Eating whole, nutritious foods, moving frequently and fitting in yoga so that I can breathe in this hectic world. Because really, what are we without good health and more importantly, what are we without the love, joy and passion that can be sucked out of us on the quest to “perfection?”