If I reach back into my college quarter of taking Art History, I vaguely recall learning that in ye olden days it was considered a sign of great prosperity (and probably a sizeable dowry) if a woman was of rotund size. Hence why there are several famous paintings that glorify the antithesis of Twiggy-esque women as being the bold and the beautiful of their generation. Funny enough, despite a media constantly stuffing thin women (bordering on gaunt) into our faces and well defined men who bulge in all the right places, in some ways, this has not made a significant impact upon how we perceive ourselves. According to recent studies, many obese people think they look fabulous just the way they are.
The number one reason for distorted body image is due to having a larger social circle (pun intended). Dr. Powell, part of the Texas research team who uncovered these findings, notes, “There is this tendency that if everyone around you looks a certain way, you either want to look that way or you’re comfortable looking the way you are.” If you’re hanging out with chubby kittens, you’re not only more likely to be a chubby kitten yourself, but you’re likely to think it’s acceptable to look the way you do.
But doesn’t that mean the inverse is true? That if you’re hanging around a group of health-loving pups you’re more likely to want to get in shape? I guess that’s why sites like Peer Trainer and SparkPeople have almost cult-followings–the users on these sites offer moral support to each other as they try to lose weight and be the healthiest versions of themselves. If you don’t have healthy friends, you’re going to need a network or community with which to converse and to share your stories with.
Another reason these studies intrigue me was this interesting realization: “People who mis-perceived their body size were happier with their health, and felt healthier, than those who did recognize their obesity; they were also more likely to think they were at low risk of developing high blood pressure or diabetes or having a heart attack during their lifetimes.” Wait…so imagining you look kick ass, regardless of the truth. means you’re actually happier?
I’m reminded of being a 13 year old girl (heck, and who am I kidding…a 14 year old girl, a 15 year old girl, etc) and obsessing over wanting to be thin. I would check out books from the library about anorexic and bulimic girls because I had a strange fascination with their ability to lose weight at any cost (an ability I rarely possessed). And I remember the interesting lesson learned in any novel aimed at young adults about weight loss: almost never was a protagonist more happy after losing weight, the way they assumed they would be. Rather, they were still just themselves, but with a healthier body. The moral of the story was always that thinness does not equal happiness; being content with oneself has to come from somewhere else (though they never told me where! Grrr).
Which leads me to wonder, what is more important? Being happy or being healthy?
Granted, I’m inclined to suggest there’s a happy medium between the two, or that one is more important than the other depending upon what stage of life you are in. But seriously, if someone told me that I could be happy the rest of my life but would probably never meet my ideal body image (and even be far from it), I’m wondering if I could say yes. Removing the burden of stressing about calories, working-out, and staying in balance has its appeal.