Everyone has a different idea of the perfect body. But societal pressures and the media are so influential and insidious that they propagandize people into shaping and determining the kind of body we should strive for: that we must be tall, tanned, and slim – for women, big breasted and for men, well-defined muscles. And of course, we should also be young and athletic with no physical disabilities.
Do you know the expression, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”? Sure, books are always about the pages inside – much like people are. But as much as we want to deny it, we most certainly do judge books by their covers. That’s how we’re wired. That’s how society functions.
So our bodies, in essence, are our own personal book covers.
Let’s just think for a moment.
If you walk around in a suit, people will automatically assume that you’re a professional. Educated, confident, motivated, and intelligent. Or perhaps even a little superficial, pretentious, rigid, and money-driven. Maybe you live in a fancy house, drive an expensive car, indulge in extravagant dinners, and go on endless vacations.
But this, of course, depends on what type of suit you’re wearing.
If you’re wearing a tailored, well-fitted suit, then the above impression will be relevant. Perfectly shined dress shoes, tasteful cufflinks, stylish ties – the whole ensemble. But what if you change this suit? Even a minor change can alter your perception. A plaid suit, while still fitted, may be perceived as a bit eccentric. Perhaps you highly value your self-expression; maybe you’re a bit creative, preppy, and artistic. Erudite with hints of unexpected traditionalism. Now, what if your suit is baggy and poorly fitted? Box-cut jacket and a wrinkled shirt coupled with pants dangling over your heavily worn, faded shoes – people may think you’re a struggling salesman.
Let’s take it a step further.
The person wearing the tailored, well-fitted suit is slender. You may assume that they’re athletic and fit. Ambitious, vain, assiduous – with a hint of arrogance. They probably eat healthy and work out a few times a week. Defined abs, bulging biceps – they may as well be on the cover of a calendar. Now picture the same outfit on a heavier person. Burgers, fries, beer. You may assume that they don’t exercise. Perhaps they’re unhealthy, lazy, slothful, and insecure.
Did your mind just conjure an image of real people from these vague descriptions? People you have seen? People you may know?
Sad, isn’t it.
Some may believe that these generalizations are true. That these “stereotypes” allow us to categorize people and deal with the world more efficiently.
Like books, we are more than our covers. It’s our histories. It’s our stories, our experiences, our struggles, and our thoughts. Everything beneath the skin.
We live in a world that encourages and embraces diversity. But it is also a world that allows us to make these isolating and discriminating judgments – a world that clings to clearly defined labels so that it can categorize and judge people, whether it’s true or not. The crafted and airbrushed media ideal is so influential, demanding, and omnipresent that it leaves people chasing after an unrealistic standard. Everyone is doomed to fall short.
So then the real question is: How much value do you place on what your body say about you? In other words, how much value do you place on what someone else’s body say about them?