In the Blog

A Healthy Body (Image)

September 12th, 2007     by Stacey May Fowles     Comments


The Gossip’s Beth Ditto, mosty just because she rocks for so many healthy reasons.

About three months ago I started going to the gym on a regular basis. If you know anything about me, this statement is hilarious in itself. My friends were more than a little shocked to find that I’d traded in my high heels for a pair of running shoes. I had to actually go out and buy appropriate clothing because my closet, which is bursting at the seams, lacked a simple pair of gym-appropriate shorts.

Admittedly, the reason behind my shiny new gym membership had little to do with “health” and even less to do with weight loss. I was suffering from the kind of stress that leads you to get a doctor involved, and after seeking some professional, medical advice I was told the mental health benefits of frequent exercise were, in some cases, a better solution than medication. For some reason I was suddenly up for the challenge, I decided to suffer the culture shock and behave like a fish out of water at my local gym. The entire acclimatization process left me feeling rather silly, but sure enough, after about a month, I was feeling the stress relieving qualities of frequent exercise. I began to get comments from friends and family that I was looking great, and more importantly I was feeling great too.

My motivation for physical activity was of the mental variety, but now that I am submerged in “gym culture” I’m trying more and more to understand the body image motivations that lead people to the gym and what it means to have a healthy body. It occurs to me now, at this point in my life, I have no idea what I am “supposed to” look like. In fact I would argue that no one in our current culture has any idea what women are “supposed to” look like.

Furthermore, I have no idea how much I’m supposed to weigh, and there aren’t alot of signals out there that would be healthy for me to follow. Sometimes I think retailers are just as confused as I am: when I go to the Gap I’m a size 2 (see a phenomenon called “Vanity Sizing”) and when I go to Urban Planet I’m a size 9. The media criticizes women like Beth Ditto and Americn Idol Jordan Sparks for not being positive role models for women. And as we all know, after her VMA performance, Britney’s under attack too. To say these images, comments and criticisms don’t affect even those of us with the healthiest of body issues is naive to say the least. From Doctoral Student Elaine Mooney’s study of teenage girls in Ireland:

In interviews with teenagers in both urban and rural areas of the Republic she found that media celebrities are a major influence on how the young girls eat. Typical quotes included: “If Britney Spears was fat no-one would buy her CDs” and “I’ve always been on some sort of diet since I was 12. Boys don’t like fat girls”.

The reason I’ve chosen to write about this is because today I was forwarded an email about the Verve Girl Model Search - the subject line asked “Have you been scouted?” and in it it gave the four things Elite Models will be looking for when they pick their cover girl. To be fair to Vervegirl, there’s nothing in there that demands a certain size; Number 4 criteria was A Healthy Body. My question is what’s the definition for this? In simple terms, a healthy body is one that’s free of disease, but I’m sure Elite Models didn’t have that in mind when they added it to the list.

So readers, what is your definition of a healthy body? And how does your definition compare to the images you see in popular culture?

Tags: body politics, in my opinion...

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