It doesn't take a diversity consultant to recognize that we are a country that is obsessed with body image. Irrespective of where you fall on the gender spectrum, each day we are all inundated with increasingly narrow notions of ideal beauty. The vast majority of these images, ironically, are digitally enhanced and simply unattainable, at least without the help of a doctor. Perhaps Cindy Crawford summed it up best when she noted, in reference to her own media images, " I wish I looked like Cindy Crawford." In other words, even super models envy the perfection of the computer-generated and digitally-enhanced images of themselves!
This can certainly seem overwhelming, both for young people as they construct ideas about their identity and beauty as well as for adults as we strive to maintain our individuality against the ubiquitous forces that conspire to define a single image of beauty. And all within a consumerist framework! Lest we forget, being beautiful usually requires buying a product or service. If anything, today's notion of beauty has little to do with "natural." Notwithstanding, there are increasing counternarratives that challenge this single story of beauty.
One such striking counternarrative is that of one of my dear friends from Oberlin Conservatory, Mirna Valerio, another fellow linguist, educator and musician. Mirna is also incredibly athletic, having always participated in some sport since middle school. Moreover, Mirna is unashamedly "not a little girl" and can literally run circles around the best of us. When she isn't conducting her student choir at Rabun-Gap, traveling to Italy to perfect her already-fluent Italian, attending AP Spanish conferences or training for marathons in the woods, she chronicles her experience as a "Fat Girl Running." Take a look here:
Mirna Valerio's Blog
The title of my current blog entry is inspired by an anecdote that Mirna shares regarding the repeated surprise that she encounters of those who make assumptions about her athleticism based on THEIR perception of her body size. This "surprise" manifests in a perhaps well-intentioned but equally ill-placed, "You don't look like you can run a marathon!" Wow, deconstruction of this comment merits an entire post unto itself.
As it turns out, however, I'm not the only member of the Mirna Valerio Fan Club, as she was recently featured in a Wall Street Journal article that examines the benefits of exercise beyond weight loss.You can read the article here:
Weight Loss or Not, Exercise Yields Benefits- WSJ
So, if there are two insights that I hope we can all gain from this post it's that :
a) Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. Moreover, notions of beauty are a function of time and society. (Think about how Marilyn might be judged by contemporary standards. Ouch!) So find the inner-beauty AND outer-beauty that makes YOU happy.
b) Be mindful the next time you catch yourself about to make a correlation about someone's body size and your understanding about their lifestyle and/or athletic abilities. That "fat guy" or "fat girl" may just out run, outbike and outswim you in the next triathlon.