When the ultrasound technician let slip that I was going to have a baby boy, my heart sank. What the hell did I know about boys? Yet the more I thought about it, the more relieved I was. Phew! I wouldn't have to raise a girl in a world that remains largely complicated and contradictory for the female of the species.
The day I stopped paying heed to catwalk models and glossy magazines was a glorious day. I don't remember when or how it happened (though having a baby definitely helped get my priorities in check), but the feeling of emancipation was instant. Was the fashion industry—which endorsed a shape so emaciated it appeared ghoulish—warped, or was I? And with its ideals of beauty so entrenched, would it change its stripes within my lifetime?
If the recent hype over Angelina Jolie's leg, "fatty" Adele's Vogue cover, and the lawsuit over Holland's Next Top Model are anything to go by, the answer is: not likely. In my teens, eating disorders were practically a rite of passage; many of my close friends had them. One summer I even 'dabbled’ in starvation myself. Fortunately my apple and Diet Coke a day diet frightened me enough to call off all bets. My face grew gaunt, and as for what it did to my bowels, well, I won’t even go there…Every day I walked for miles. But health wasn’t my motivator.
Thankfully the days of obsessing about my weight are more or less behind me. Muddling through that first shell-shocked year as a mom, I didn't have the time or energy that diets and disorders seem to require. As I pushed the stroller one day, a young woman tottered ahead in heels, her every follicle painfully in place. When I caught her checking herself out in every passing shopfront window, I had to laugh. I actually felt sorry for her, felt drained for her. Though I still take pride in the way I look—and of course I could do more exercise, eat healthier, and generally make more of an effort—overall I’m happier now, stretch marks and all.
But, what with the advent of a certain little package known as Photoshop, is there more pressure on today's young women to look a certain way? How can they possibly compete with the computerized perfection of ads like H&M's? Digitally manipulated images manipulate our sense of realism, not to mention our sense of trust. Airbrushing creates a dangerous fantasy for both men and women, much in the way that the porn industry paints unrealistic sexual expectations for average couples.
According to the recent national study, The Health of Canada’s Young People: A mental health focus, a staggering 39% of female Grade 10 students believe they're fat, even though most of these girls aren't actually overweight. Such warped perceptions affect quality of life, with 20% of said young women ranking their satisfaction at, or lower than, five out of ten. And as they climb through the grades, that figure steadily declines.
If men allegedly think about sex every few minutes, then we must think about our fatty deposits just as often. I look alright now, but man, I looked HOT back then. I only wish I had known it then!
The irony is, you rarely feel good in your skin when you look your best. And that irony is never more apparent than on a nudist beach, where the youthful bodies typically remain covered up, while the elders throw caution to the wind and (literally) let it all hang loose…
So my advice to today's young women is simple. Quit buying the glossies. Instead, think about what your 80-year-old self would say if she saw you right now. Chances are, she'd say you are looking pretty damn fine.
Maybe I am ready for that daughter, after all.