Many of you may have seen pictures like this one floating around on Facebook or through email threads. Often, these vintage ads are contrasted with unflattering pictures of rail-thin models or celebrities of our current generation. There will then be some sort of caption like:
Wow. How times have changed!
The post will usually get thousands of “likes” and comments about how wrong of a turn we have taken and how right they had it back then. There will be bashing of thin women, some quite nasty, (e.g. a woman without curves is not a REAL WOMAN) and all of it will be considered entirely appropriate. After all, if you are thin, you must either have an eating disorder or you’re a stuck up model or celebrity who deserves the criticism anyway.
It makes sense why such feelings have developed. Too many of us have watched our friends, our daughters, our mothers, our sisters beaten down by the pressure to be thin. We’ve heard horror stories. We may have even lived them. We’ve seen beautiful women give up everything, even sometimes that which made them so beautiful, because they have been pushed into an insecurity about their weight.
When we’ve seen this happen or had it happen to us, when we know what it’s like to be told that a number defines your worth (whether through peers or through the daily assault of the media, or the subconscious push of a chemical imbalance) we naturally want to put up our defenses. We want to do whatever we can to stop such a lie. And so we may rejoice in ads such as these because they are the extreme opposite! And it would seem that the extreme opposite of a lie would be the truth.
The problem is, glorifying an ad like this does not end the lie. It merely perpetuates it.
I’m sure we do it in good faith, without thinking that anyone could be offended. After all, the idea that there might be some women out there who are thin and insecure– women who may be skinny but feel way “too skinny” and are unable to do anything about that–seems crazy! We don’t think that a girl like the one in this ad exists. We may not think that it’s even possible to be unable to gain weight. And we don’t truly believe that a thin woman could feel ugly, un-feminine, or un-sexy. So we think it’s okay to tell her that she should feel that way– okay to bash her in the hopes that that bashing might build up the women who are not skinny. It’s the same thing that plays out with the “popular girl” in a school. Regardless of how nice or mean she may be, regardless of how insecure or confident she may be, she is going to be bashed because people think she can handle it for the sake of the girls who are unpopular. We do this with big football teams when they play smaller teams– we root for the underdog and figure that because the other guy is not the underdog, we can boo him all we want.
But booing the other guy isn’t how you win. It’s not how you gain your own confidence and it’s definitely not how you promote theirs.
For the past thirty or so years, skinny has been “in.” So has being tan. So have countless other trends and fads. So naturally, those who are not skinny, those who are not tan, those who are not blonde or brunette or highlighted or curly-headed or rich or poor or whatever the current trend may be, are the underdog. They start out being criticizied and put down. Eventually, there are enough of them and enough people hear their plea that they develop a group of people who will stick up for them and defend them. Eventually, rooting for the underdog will become standard and a trend, itself. Now, the trend regarding weight is shifting again. “Curvy” is becoming “in.” Skinny, as can be seen by these Facebook postings, is out. One day, it might circle back around just like it did a few generations ago. In the end, these trends are silly, frivolous and should be rather irrelevant. The reason they are relevant to us is because we are insecure. And female insecurity is no passing trend. It is a terrible reality.
But these sorts of ads– this “mean girls” support of the underdog will not end it.
Female insecurity will not end until we stop bashing the people on the other end of the spectrum. We will not feel comfortable with our own weight until we are comfortable with everyone else’s. We will not feel comfortable being brunette until we are okay with all the blondes being blonde. And we will not feel comfortable with our own beauty until we can see the beauty in other people and be happy for it.
I don’t claim to know much about eating disorders. But I consider myself to be fairly knowledgable about what it feels like to be a girl. When I see someone say that whatever it is that I am is ugly or un-sexy it hurts me deeply. I know that women are supposed to be beautiful, so when I see an ad where a girl that looks like me is called ugly, my womanhood is wounded. I don’t feel like “a real woman.” And we’ve all felt like this. And when we feel like this it makes us feel better to put down someone else.
But I challenge women to be more courageous.
When I was in elementary school, I was jealous of the short girls. I was tall, often taller than the boys, and so in class pictures, I had to stand in the back while the rest of the girls sat all cute in the front. I know that back then I didn’t want those girls to look cute. But I could have at least tried. If I had tried to let go of my inner anger towards them I think I would have developed a lot more confidence and had a healthier opinion of myself. But instead I learned the game of women. I quickly learned how to be mean, even if only interiorly.
But the truth is, even if the game produces a quick self-esteem boost, it will not last. The insecurity will only come back all the more harshly. And it certainly doesn’t make us any more beautiful. In fact, when we rejoice that another woman is any less beautiful, we literally make ourselves less beautiful. Because we taint our hearts. And the heart is the most beautiful thing we have.
I know that some people may post such an ad to promote girls being healthy as “back then they had a better view of what was a healthy weight.” But regardless of which generation was healthier, these ads miss the point. They aren’t about health, just like most weight-loss ads today aren’t.
They’re about reaching the trendy number. Playing off women’s insecurities. Defining women by how sexy a man may find them to be. We know women are more than numbers and more than sex appeal so let’s stop playing that game of which woman, skinny or curvy, is the “real” one. Ideally, all women should strive for a healthy weight, but the ease of that task differs on all ends of the spectrum. And before we can even get into what a healthy weight is, we must first discern what a healthy heart is. A healthy heart is not jealous and a healthy heart is not vengeful. A healthy heart takes what it is given and rejoices in the beautiful and the good, even if it is not its own.