By FAITH PONTI
Fitspiration. This thigh-gap worshipping, belly fat despising, perky-tit endorsing concept has seeped into every young college woman’s life over the past couple of years to create a culture that expects nothing less than unattainable perfection. Somehow, due to over-edited Instagram posts and a media culture that refuses to diversify its beauty ideals, our idea of health has been hijacked. It is now a commonly held belief that in order to be healthy, you must be hot. And, of course, in order to be hot, you should be relatively toned (but not too toned! Beware of transforming yourself into a she-beast), with vertical abdominal definition and ass cheeks shaped like eggs in a carton. Healthy women do not have cellulite. Healthy women do not jiggle when they walk. Healthy women are not weak in the presence of junk food. Healthy women do not have extra fat above their jeans. And, on top of all of that, healthy women sure as hell don’t come in plus sizes.
What the f**k, society? How can you determine what is healthy for women when every woman’s body is different? Who’s to say whether or not the size 14 is more or less healthy than the size four? Since when does our percentage of body fat directly relate to how attractive we are? Why do we have to look perfect in spandex before we can claim ourselves to be fit? Who gave you the power to determine whether or not we are healthy?
Unfortunately, we did. Our obsession with beauty and body ideals has spiraled out of control. We spend hours in the gym trying to lose inches around our waist and gain inches in our glutes, then later spend hours in front of the mirror comparing our naked bodies to that of Jennifer Aniston. We follow fitness pages on Pinterest and Instagram that are saturated with airbrushed photos of mostly naked and extremely over-sexualized models, then we wonder why we feel so shitty about how we look. We cry inside H&M fitting rooms when we realize that we’ve gone up a size in jeans (even though we are most likely a different size in every store in the mall because the fashion industry doesn’t streamline sizes for women). We trace our cellulite with our fingers and wonder why, no matter how many hours we spend on the elliptical, it just won’t go away.
And do you know what else we’re doing? We’re teaching our younger sisters, our nieces, our little cousins, and our daughters how to do the same thing. While mutilating our own self-esteem, we are inherently handing the young girls in our lives a “How To Hate Yourself” manual. Every time we speak ill of our own bodies, there are little ears susceptible to hearing (and echoing) that message. We’re teaching them that, just maybe, it’s worth it to skip a couple of meals so that our bellies don’t look as big that day. Or, maybe, it’s okay to spend a long time working out, even though our bodies are worn out, in pain, or need to rest. Maybe it’s not such a bad thing to shame other girls for having “too much” chub, because it will encourage them to be healthier. Maybe it’s an okay thing to hate our bodies.
It’s not. It’s not okay to despise yourself in the hope that you’ll eventually change your body. It’s absolutely impossible to hate yourself into a version of yourself that you can love more. That mindset will very quickly lead to a constant self-hatred that is never alleviated regardless of your weight or BMI. If you never learn to love yourself when you’re “imperfect” (e.g., beautiful and natural and un-airbrushed), you won’t suddenly learn how to love yourself when you’re “flawless” (e.g., #fitspiration worthy). You’ll never cease to find your flaws. The self-criticism will never end. You’ll never feel good enough.
But, you beautiful human, you are! You are good enough! This narrow idea of the perfect toned body as an ideal has been completely fabricated by society. Being a fitness model is not the only way to be beautiful or healthy. You can be healthy and never lose belly fat. You can be healthy and never compete in a swimsuit competition. You can be healthy and wear size 20 jeans. You can be unhealthy and wear a size four. Do not calibrate yourself to society’s standards; if you do, you’ll find yourself exactly where I did: Spending too much time on an elliptical, hating every minute of it, then going home and still hating yourself. What a bogus life. There are so many ways to be healthy without even stepping into a gym, especially in Florida. Take a stroll down Bayshore. Swim in the ocean. Take a hike. Park on the fifth floor of Thomas. Do some cartwheels or spend time hula hooping in Plant Park. Rent a bike. Eat some fruit. Only have nine doughnuts instead of 10, or 10 instead of 11.
Live your damn life, love yourself, and teach the little girls around you to do the same. Take your own definition of beauty and health back from society. Unfollow those bullshit Instagram profiles if they aren’t conducive to your self image. Force yourself to say kind things about your body every day. Trace your cellulite with pride. You are worth a lot more than your fat-to-muscle ratio, baby girl. Reclaim yourself.
Faith Ponti can be reached at Faith.firstname.lastname@example.org.