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?
Labels: body image