A pimple, perfection, and Victoria's Secret

On Monday I woke up with a pimple. This was a pimple with roots, the kind that promised to stick around for a week and seemed impervious to over-the-counter acne medication and homemade potions designed to eradicate it. I spent a good fifteen minutes in front of the mirror trying to conceal it from the general public, attempting to cover it up with cream foundation, then powder, then a particularly viscous combination of both. But no matter how hard I tried, Pimple wasn't going anywhere. I spent most of the day thinking about it. I repeatedly inspected it in every mirrored surface I passed, deciphering whether it'd gotten smaller or more swollen since waking up. Pimple haunted me, invading every thought.

Pimple ruined my day.

In our appearance-obsessed society, we learn at an early age the importance of a perfect figure. We learn to nitpick at our body parts. We suck in our stomachs, our cheeks; we wear Spanx and push-up bras and tummy-tucking pantyhose. We lament our inner thighs and wonder why there isn't space between them. We try workout trends like Zumba and P90X and wonder why our abs aren't as sculpted as the instructors. We restrict ourselves on odd diets, eating very specific organic gluten-free foods, believing that if we do so, we'll be perfect.

We deeply, deeply believe we can be perfect. Everything revolves around this quest. If we lose the weight, we will be successful. Men will love us. Women will envy us. Stores will cater to us. Our every dream will be attainable, if only we can be perfect. We assume that if we're perfect, model-thin and blemish-free, we'll be popular, successful and happy. Perfectionism greatly contributes to a negative body image. It leads us to focus on our faults and flaws, and it makes our messy selves seem unacceptable.

Here's the thing about perfection: It's impossible to reach. And it makes us miserable. Yesterday I ran across an article on the Huffington Post describing the diet regime of a Adriana Lima, Victoria's Secret supermodel, before a runway show. Lima confessed that beginning three months before the show, she works out twice a day with a personal trainer. She also sees a nutritionist, who measures her body's muscle mass, fat ratio and levels of water retention. He prescribes protein shakes, vitamins and supplements to keep Lima's energy levels up during this training period. Lima drinks a gallon of water a day, and for nine days before the show she will drink only protein shakes - "no solids". The concoctions include powdered egg. Two days before the show she will abstain from the gallon of water a day and "just drink normally". Then, 12 hours before the show she will stop drinking entirely.

The fact that the Huffington Post chose to highlight the extreme diet of a Victoria's Secret supermodel, a woman whose appearance is revered, left me rankled. What message are we, as women, supposed to take from this? Should we be horrified that our beauty standards are so skewed that women are expected to be nutritionally compromised and dehydrated in order to advertise this season's skimpy lingerie? Are we to be so motivated by Lima's extreme dieting that we emulate her routine? The article manages to shame Lima ("So no solids and no liquids... it's a wonder Lima and her winged gal pals don't just pass out right on the runway!"), shames the reader for eating too much ("Want to feel bad about your own workout and diet regimen? Just talk to a Victoria's Secret Angel"), and promotes impossible beauty standards ("The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show is the Super Bowl of modeling") all at the same time.

When it comes to articles that highlight a celebrity's diet, it's natural that we'd be curious. We live in a society that promotes a specific female ideal body type - white, tall, thin, able-bodied and young. Perfect. So why wouldn't we find it irresistible to read pieces which give hints as how we can achieve this body type? However, when we focus on what models and celebrities women eat, and then point fingers and judge them for it without talking about the cultural climate that accepts and encourages these beauty standards, everyone loses. Lima is not  to blame here. Rather, the unquestionable female standards for perfection are. 

How has perfection affected your body image? Be honest - do you read pieces that describe celebrity diets?  What do you think of Lima's diet? Have you ever gone on an extreme diet for a specific event?


  1. wow. that is crazy. thanks for this post. i think i am at my happiest when i moderate everything. i love to eat and drink and have fun, so i work out. when i obsess, even if i am my skinniest, then i am not happy. acceptance is huge, and with role models like this, it's harder and harder for young women to hit that point.

  2. Honestly, after I read that, I can't help but to think why anyone in the world would want to live that way.

    I think it's good, actually, to share these extreme diets to make people realize that obtaining the body like Lima's is, well, pretty much impossible for the average woman. Secondly, why would you want to? Drinking a gallon of water a day? A POWDERED egg? I'm sorry, but that just sounds gross. Very very gross.

    Then again, i think we also have to look at her realistically and say this is her job. She gets paid millions to look that good.

  3. I think I see the article very differently. I don't aspire to walk a runway in almost nothing in front of millions of viewers. I don't aspire to be so thin my legs look like sticks and my elbows are larger than my upper arms. I do have boobs. Always have, since 5th grade. I'm old not but never once in my life have I wanted to be a model. I just don't have what it takes. And I don't want to have what it takes.

    If someone were to volunteer to pay me maybe 10 million dollars and I were young enough I might be willing to go through the rigors. But it's Adrianna's job. It is her job to look really good. It's her job to work out and eat really badly. As for the others of us at any age, why go through the craziness to please a non-existent person. We sometimes act as if there is some one person outside of ourselves telling us if we are OK based solely on the outside. Who is this person? Alas, it seems to be our other self. I'll bet that if we asked any stranger if we look good they would say yes. And does good have to mean half a body? I'm sorry to say but I think that I've built in my own failure if I adhere to fashion runway standards.

  4. I am now reading "Healthy at any Size" and it is eye opening. It does not advocate eating anything you want to, but to try to be realistic and realize that we are not all the same and to be happy with your body. It is really, really hard to not compare yourself to others, but I am sure trying to do it. Her diet just goes to show how we cannot know what others do to maintain an extremely thin body.

  5. I seem to be losing a lot of stuff on the blog, including my comment. I can't say I have lost any weight though.

  6. I've had a pimple ruin a month for me once, dang I hate those things.

  7. I read that article yesterday, and I was blown away. Yes, I am envious of models' bodies, but I would never want to put myself through an ordeal like that.
    I believe in making good nutritional choices (but allowing myself treats as well), staying active (even if that just means walking around campus), and surrounding myself with positive influences :)


  8. Lima's diet is very similar to a bodybuilder's competition prep diet -- which I have done, I used to bodybuild and powerlift, and yes, it sucked. And I don't know about models -- but yes, bodybuilders do pass out (or worse) on stage all the time, especially if they (or their trainers) are not so experienced with managing those extreme diets, or are combining them with drugs.

    But here's the thing. A Victoria's Secret runway show is an event that is about the bodies. And Lima's livelihood IS HER BODY. Her work consists of maintaining and selling that body. Whatever that means or doesn't mean, the point is that these diets are meant for specific purposes, and the way they are reported in the media is very prone to lead the average woman -- who works in an office, who usually exposes her body only when she changes from one outfit to another, who is NOT selling her looks and her body and her perfection as her profession -- to think that this is what SHE needs to do.

    And that's ridiculous. As ridiculous as thinking that an average dude who lifts weights at the gym three times a week should be dieting like Serge Dubret before he goes on the world stage in nothing but a pair of Lycra trunks. However, that is the kind of disconnect that seems to be happening across the board between the reality of MOST women's lives, and the expectations they/others hold for their appearance.

  9. I think the whole idea of a perfect figure is wrong, but in a way, isn't it good to know what Lima goes through for a show instead of thinking that she just looks that way naturally? And when men and women compete in bodybuilding competitions they spend months working out and dieting for the big events, not unlike Lima.

    What I find funny is that the harder VS tries to sell us on the idea of a perfect figure, the more I no longer want to shop there. I know I'll never look like any of the models they use, so why shop at a place that seems to cater to people who do?

  10. I do prefer articles like that one that recognize that it is a lot of work and sacrifice to look like a model over the ones who tell us that models and actresses don't do anything. For example, the ones that say they don't workout and eat whatever they want. Because usually it's just a lie. And even though it may be the truth it makes me feel bad for Lima, the fact that she has to do such things just to be a model. I am grateful that I don't hold myself to such standards and that my livelihood doesn't depend as much on my face and figure. And I don't know if I would go on such an extreme diet, I think I look best when I feel good about myself and am eating real, healthy food - whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and protein.

  11. Great post. First of all, I can't believe anyone would do that to themselves for a runway show that is probably only 30 mins. max! These are the type of things that have such a negative affect on young girls. I did go through a phase where I thought I was 'fat' (even though I've never weighed more than 107lbs), but it's so easy to compare yourself to beautiful women like this.

    xo L.

  12. What a great post. I think about this ALL the time. I actually now get stress acne because I'm stressed about working out and eating right and perfect hair and all these things. It's insane. I'm a size 6-8 in an NYC sea of six foot tall toothpicks. I feel like a mammoth, even though when I go visit in my hometown, I'm a healthy normal (if slightly curvy) size. I've kinda stopped caring about what size is the 'norm'. If I (and my doctor) think it's right and healthy for me, it is. Long live REAL and HEALTHY women, no matter the size.

    -Aly @ therosealley.com

  13. I have done some light dieting in the past when I was younger but for health reasons, my body just will not allow me to go through great lengths... and I wouldn't want to! I also cannot imagine not being able to enjoy food the way it's meant to...

    I read the article earlier...I think that it's good that people realise that she doesn't merely wake up perfectly, and just eat anything without sacrifice, that there's a large amount of disipline involved in achieving her ideal, or "their" ideal perfection for the job.

    I suppose when you look at it in the aspect of Lima's body being her business/livelihood, (though extreme dieting is done) I also wonder how it would be covered diffrerently in the media if it was a male doing the dieting, some whom even require an extreme diet for gaining weight? At the end of the day WE should make the decision of what our beauty standard or perfection is to us, and if that happens to be viewed as flawed in other's eyes, then so be it! We're all different. My oh my... Great post!

  14. I haven't done the research, but if I had to guess, I'd say there's never been a time in history when anyone has really enjoyed having a pimple!

  15. I had pretty serious acne as a young teen, so I guess my standards for "clear skin" are lower than most. One pimple wouldn't faze me at all.

    I guess I'm old enough now--mid-30's--that I'm not that flustered by media ideals. I've lost weight for health reasons but I don't need to be skinny skinny. I exercise more than I ever did when I was younger and will gladly trade being genuinely in better shape for being thin. I've finally learned how to dress my body type, and not having to fight with clothes has been an absolute miracle for my self-image.

  16. I'm not reading anyone elses comment until I comment myself, but... I find this horrifying. Having a daughter, my eyes are for her. When I read things like this I become so distraught and full of panic. How am I supposed to combat this? The media portrays their standard for beauty EVERYWHERE. Absolutely everywhere. In schools is where it is the worst. I am just afraid that my little girl will look at herself and thinks he is ugly--or worse, fat--when she is perfect. Simply perfect. If only we could see ourselves through the eyes of our loved ones. Beautiful. Then we would be confident.

    As a parent, this frightens me.
    As a woman dealing with these issues... it just makes me depressed. I don't agree with it at all. I read in a post of yours and you were out with your friends, whom you describe to be so beautiful and stylish, yet you were talking about what you didn't like about your own bodies and their answers shocked you. We all do this. We all compare ourselves to this ridiculous pedestal. And of what? Malnutrition and photoshop. Something needs to change! But how can it when we all look at it so longingly and lovingly?

    I feel like it needs to start with what we teach our kids. Being careful of what we label as "perfect", "princess" or "beautiful". I have been trying to tell her she is beautiful most when she is just doing her own thing--not when she is wearing something really cute or when it's related to anything material. I don't condemn doing it--but it's important to note what we are teaching our kids. What is beautiful? A smile, two people holding hands, an act of kindness, a curvy body with proportion.

  17. You raise an interesting question...not an easy one to answer!

  18. What I took away from the article was that Lima went to extremes to get the body she has so women shouldn't expect their bodies to look like that. I have no interest in doing all the things she does haha but I appreciated her honesty rather than celebs who say "I don't work out that much"

  19. I read that article too and after reading it I looked at the picture and thought "but that's not beautiful". I'm sure many people think so, but it's not to my taste. It doesn't bother me if people are that skinny naturally, just like it doesn't bother me that despite my 5'1" height I'm not size 0 or 2.

    I have once or twice in my life been struck by the "perfect" bug and tried to lose weight or grow my hair to acceptable female standards (and dye it blonde to boot). A few months of getting progressively miserable and I realise that I'm letting myself get pulled into a cycle that makes people hate themselves and I force myself out of it. Being perfect isn't possible, so I'd rather be happy with being healthy and having fun.


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