What it REALLY Means to Have the ‘Perfect Body’
This is a guest post from Tera Bucasas, Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, Certified Yoga Instructor, and Rebellious Gypsy
‘Perfect body’ – a phrase nearly every single woman has used to refer to the glossy images that glitter the pages of magazine covers and reality TV, yet seldom, if ever, will turn around and use it to describe herself.
This topic is a hot button for me and for many women. In most online health and wellness spaces, it flies WAY under the radar. But THIS is not one of those spaces. So, let’s have this conversation, shall we?
As the movement around food and body image grows we see a lot more about eating disorders and disordered eating being talked about. Even if we haven’t had a clinical level eating disorder, the majority of us have experienced disordered eating patterns at some point in our life.
Let’s lay out what disordered eating can look like:
- Chronic dieting (those constant ‘challenges’ counts)
- Obsessively restricting calories or macros
- Feeling guilt over food
- Emotional eating
- Binge eating
- Obsessively planning meals or food choices
- Compulsive eating
- Beliefs that some food is bad and others are good
- Avoiding entire food groups (not foods such as allergens, but food groups)
- Taking diet pills
- Anxiety around uncontrolled eating situations
Okay, no one’s perfect (thank goodness!) despite what the media would have us believe. Maybe we have a few waves of emotional eating. Things happen, no big deal. But we all need to be real honest with ourselves about our relationship with food, and why it has developed that way.
I can say that almost every woman I know has struggled with the whole ‘perfect body’ issue by chronically dieting or restricting calories or macros at some point. I’m not here to point fingers, because there would be 3 pointing right back at me. I’m not innocent.
My relationship with food isn’t perfect.
In high school I was known for how much I could eat. Most notably how much junk food. At this time I didn’t experience guilt around food, which was great. The thing was I ate pretty unconsciously. I didn’t differentiate between when I was hungry or full. Oh, and I really disliked any sort of vegetables. So I wasn’t really being nourished. It was as if I thought the junk food might just run out.
In college I ate low fat and tracked calories. Spinach and balsamic vinegar lunches with low fat yogurt and low fat hot dogs. Sometimes I would find my mom’s diet pills and take them, because it couldn’t hurt, right? Why the switch? Well, the freshman 15 of course.
Then as I wised up on nutrition and got educated. No more calorie counting or low fat (high sugar) foods. I swung way over in the opposite direction. All in the name of health. I became obsessed with eating perfectly and having the ‘perfect body’. Couple that with training to get on stage and have people judge my body and my relationship with food went whacky. I ate less and less carbs. When I would eat fruit or sweet potatoes all I could think about was the amount of sugar and carbs they contained, the systems that was affecting in my body, and how it would hinder my fat burning ketogenic state. It wasn’t that trying to eat healthy or reach a ketogenic state was bad in and of itself, it was the fear and guilt that became associated with food. It was the relationship I began to have with food, and the constant ignoring what my body was trying to communicate with me. I may have been consuming healthful foods, but I was bombarded with poisonous thoughts and feelings all in the name of having the ‘perfect body’.
Whether or not we have experienced a clinical level eating disorder most of us have experienced some amount of disordered eating.
The big question is why in the hell have we let this ‘perfect body’ ideal make our relationship with food so twisted?
There are entire books written about this, but to keep it short, a big reason is the desire to have a certain (society approved) body type. Most diets promise us weight loss, flat bellies and ‘bikini ready’ bodies. We aren’t born with this desire for a ‘perfect body’, in fact, a ‘perfect body’ is different depending on where you are in the world and what time period it is. “But our society programs us, through subliminal messages of popular culture, to believe that we’re not truly desirable as women unless we adhere to the current standard of physical beauty.” (Marianne Williamson: A Woman’s Worth)
It’s our human nature to want to be accepted and desired, but the ideal that’s been set before us is so specific that it’s impossible for many of us to achieve it. Really, this is the point. We aren’t meant to ever achieve it because then what would companies be able to sell us? Of course we try anyway, and two huge ways we believe we can have control over how our body looks outwardly is through diet and exercise. This idea of a ‘perfect body’ has twisted and disordered our relationship with ourselves and how we choose to eat and move.
Brene Brown’s studies have shown that “among women over 18 looking at themselves in the mirror, research indicates that at least 80% are unhappy with what they see. Increasing numbers of women with no weight problems or clinical psychological disorders look at themselves in the mirror and see ugliness and fat.” (Brene Brown: I Thought It Was Just Me: But It Isn’t)
At the root of this desire for whatever the ‘perfect body’ is at the time is the desire to be loved and accepted. To be enough. If we keep asking why, this is truly what we want. Hatred for our bodies, guilt and shame will not get us any of those things. For some it may bring us a body we dream of, but a life built on those feelings ultimately won’t lead to sustainability or happiness. And usually once we have the goal body we realize we still feel inadequate. There’s always something that needs to be fixed, changed or better. Inside the new body is the same heavy heart and feelings of unworthiness.
You see, there’s a strange truth about this whole ‘perfect body’ business. Here it is –
It’s not our bodies that need changing, it’s our relationship with them and ourselves.
Letting go of the ‘perfect body’ standard our society has set before us and accepting our bodies can be difficult. It means that it’s okay to be exactly where we are. The fear is that we may get ‘stuck’ forever in the body that we have grown to hate. (Oh, I’ve definitely had that thought in the past) Hatred is not motivation for change. We won’t ever get what we desire until we make decisions from a place of love and we treat our body, and food, with care.
No matter how ingrained the ‘perfect body’ idea may be for you or how impossible body love and acceptance seems right now, a good place to start is by expressing gratitude for all the things your body allows you to do and experience, outside of how it looks.
Some things I personally have grown to appreciate about my body are that it gives me the ability to:
- Interact with loved ones
- Listen to music
- Feel the heat of the sun
- Enjoy flavors
- Explore yoga
- Explore the world
There are so many wonderful things to love about your body outside of what it looks like.
What we focus on grows
Even if you can’t yet fathom accepting every inch of it, begin to bring to mind all the amazing things it does do. What we focus on grows, so instead of focusing on the ‘perfect body’ and what you dislike bring awareness to what you do like. Albeit for some of us this happens slowly, but anything worth achieving happens slowly. Sorry to break it to you, there are no quick fixes.
The grip with which the ‘perfect body’ ideal and self hatred hold over us is a firm one. But, it will begin to loosen once we realize these very standards of beauty are set by an industry that thrives on us disliking ourselves and trying to achieve some crazy idea of perfection that’s entirely too rigid anyway. When we begin to notice that our bodies are actually pretty freaking amazing for all that they already do, a new appreciation can develop, and freedom will soon follow.
“Self love is a revolutionary act! A person who is content in his or her body – fat or thin – disempowers the industries that prey on us, telling us we are unacceptable and need their products to gain acceptance.” (Linda Bacon: Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight)
Tera Bucasas is the creator of the online program, Yoga For Healing, the host of the podcast Stripped and the creator of the blog Real. Fit. Yoga. By traditional training she is a nutritional therapy practitioner and a certified yoga instructor, with a BA in communications. At her core she is rebellious gypsy who travels the world with never ending curiosity and a spirit of adventure. She is passionate about inspiring women to unleash their innate power and find their wellbeing by working with the body, mind and spirit. Tera believes to make positive change in our world we must challenge the status quo, ask the hard questions and get to the truth beyond the surface. Learn more by checking out her website and podcast. If you are into social media you can also connect with her on Instagram and Facebook.