Article by Rachel Stetenfeld, Live Well Winona Intern
It’s not about looking like Beyoncé. It’s about feeling like Beyoncé.
We all want to feel on top of the world. We await an idealized confidence that will assure us that we can achieve our dreams, be the person we’ve always hoped to be, and have the healthy fulfilled life that was destined for us. Basically, we want to be Beyoncé. “Who runs the world?” I want to. I want to walk with a purpose. I want to wake up “flawless” and demand what I deserve. What’s stopping me? What’s stopping you?
And that’s when I hear the excuses. “When I’m skinnier, I’ll start applying for my dream job.” “When I lose weight, I’ll feel comfortable enough to start dating again.” “If I could look like her/him, then I’d be confident.” We associate success with how we look. Happiness correlates with beauty, and beauty becomes signified by skinny. We want to look a certain way, and that’s when we’ll be okay.
Instead, Beyoncé is going to power walk in and say, “Perfection is a disease of a nation. Pretty hurts.” Instead of “How do you look?” she asks “Are you happy with yourself?”
I want to add one more element to her question: “Are you healthy to yourself?”
The most pervasive problem I see with weight-loss goals is the obsession with the physical outcome.
“I want abs.”
“I want a body that will look good in a tight dress.”
“I want men/women to notice my body.”
You know what’s healthy and beautiful?
Image Credit: http://www.buzzfeed.com/carolynkylstra/curvy-yoga
These curvy women are exhibiting health, strength, and focus. The yoga poses that they’re expressing are no overnight feat—they are symbols of continuous practice and a stable mind (even if just for a moment). It seems to me that their faces say: “Who runs the world? Me too, Beyoncé!”
In 2012, Alexandra Sifferlin wrote an article for TIME magazine titled, “Can You Be Fit and Fat?” She framed her argument by addressing a study done by U.S. and European researchers that demonstrated how “overweight and obese people were found to be at no greater risk of developing or dying from heart disease or cancer, compared with normal weight people, as long as they were metabolically fit despite their excess weight.” She illustrates that not only are some heavier people healthier on the inside, but some are more likely fitter than skinnier people. “They may appear trim on the outside, but still carry too much visceral fat and not enough muscle on the inside” (Sifferlin). One of the authors of the study adds, “They’re not physically active. They have horrible and restrictive diets. They might not be overweight, but metabolically they’re a mess” (Dr. Timothy Church).
The truth you haven’t heard? Healthy runs more than skin deep. When we aim for skinny, we’re more than likely left unsatisfied.
In Fitness Magazine, Peg Rosen, shares numerous women’s stories about their fight with finding the perfect size. “I’ve followed all the directions [for Insanity] and done the training plans, and I’ve lost exactly five pounds. At this point I have no idea how to get the weight off,” one woman, Sherry, says. I’m surprised by the dedication and consistency in Sherry’s practice. Some of my closest friends who set such high weight-loss goals for themselves quit when they don’t receive their desired results, not realizing the positive effects that the healthy activity must have had on their bodies.
Achieving the image that you want doesn’t feel nearly as good as you’d expect if you don’t go about it with health in mind.
Last year, I went on an insane health kick fueled by a bad break up and insecurity. I thought that if I could make myself look like the women I wanted to be, I would feel like the woman I want to be. I never let myself eat dessert. I ran almost twice a day and went to four-hour-long dance rehearsals every night. I did strengthening exercises that I found on Pinterest; I started to lift. I studied the progress of my abs in the mirror. I watched my clothes fit me differently. My family and friends noticed the difference; men commented on the new look, but I didn’t feel any different. Soon enough, the effects of excessive running started to show in my dancing. My knees started to crack, and I couldn’t leap or turn the way I used to. I was always tired. I became progressively weaker. I couldn’t sustain myself through the multiple hour long practices. I treated myself as a body with no soul. As soon as my body started to break down, I realized that the person inside me had been broken down for a while.
I still didn’t look like Beyoncé, and I certainly didn’t feel like her. According to society’s standards, it was the closest I’ve ever been, but it was the furthest I’ve ever been from a healthy and happy lifestyle.
When the goal is as unreasonable as the beauty standard, we don’t win.
It’s time to turn away from the unrealistically skinny images that are staring at us, insinuating, “When are you going to look like me?” There’s a new narrative being written if we look in the right places.
It may not look the same as a Beyoncé walk, but I have no doubt in my mind that Lena Dunham radiates the same confidence. Lena, a writer, director, and actress, is not your typical celebrity beauty. Her Instagram account is full of makeup-less selfies, and she has no shame in sharing her atypical body size in her HBO show Girls. Lena brings new light to the misguided correlation between success and the skinny standard. Her popularity shows us that we’ve been craving something different, something real.
Mindy Kaling, another writer, director, and actress, is on this train as well.
Mindy advocates health, emphasizing her jogging routines and her desire to fight cardiovascular disease, which runs in her family. However, in an interview with Jimmy Kimmell, she animatedly expressed how she’s always the “recipient of a lot of backhanded compliments” about her weight. “People are like, ‘It’s so nice that Mindy Kaling doesn’t feel she needs to subscribe to the ideals of beauty that other people do.’ And I’m like, I do subscribe. They’re like, ‘It’s so refreshing that Mindy feels comfortable to let herself go and be a fat sea monster!’ By the way, I run and work out. It takes a lot of effort to look like a normal/chubby woman.”
These women are giving us a new standard to see ourselves under, a reason to scratch off our “Lose 15 pounds” goal and write “Be healthy. Be confident.”
Beyoncé is beautiful. She’s an inspiring contemporary feminist, who’s talented and contributes to philanthropy in a way that I relentlessly admire, but I will never look like her. And that’s okay. Cause I woke up like this: flawless in all of my imperfections, but always healthy in the ways I treat myself.
I encourage you to find new ways to motivate yourself to be healthy that doesn’t take your body to the extreme. Here are a few small steps that I focus on:
- Drink water all day; have water with every meal.
- Do a mild, at least 10 minute, yoga routine every morning.
- Stop eating after 10 p.m.
- Develop a regular sleeping schedule.
- Incorporate as many vegetables as possible with every meal.
- Minimize your portions. Don’t push beyond your “full” limit.
- Learn to love black coffee.
- Engage in some form of physical activity at least three times a week: running, walking, Zumba, yoga, dancing, playing basketball. Do not ignore how much your body needs and loves to move.
- Follow all of the above by enjoying chocolate several times a week.
Don’t set unrealistic goals to conform to an unrealistic beauty standard. Treat yourself well, so you and your body can enjoy the time you have together.
“Body and Beauty Standards and What Lena Dunham Is Doing for It All”
“Dances with Fat: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness are not Size Dependent.”
“19 Instagrammers who Prove Yoga Bodies Come in All Shapes and Sizes”
“I Tried to Lose Weight for My Wedding, and It Made Me Crazy.”