The strangest thing happened to me the other day.
I went to a gym class that I don’t usually go to, but was keen to try it out.
Before the class started a woman and her friend were behind me and I didn’t really take much notice, but then I saw them move to the other side of the room and I thought I might be in their “spot.”
“We had to move,” said the first woman to me, smiling. “It’s just that we can’t stand behind you, because you’re too perfect.”
I was genuinely very embarrassed and uncomfortable and sort of smiled and laughed and muttered “Don’t be silly.” But throughout the class I was very, very conscious. And then at the end of the class the woman thanked the instructor and asked how long it would take to get arms like mine. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
Why so embarrassed? It’s a strange thing this “body perfection,” because it is very much in the eye of the beholder. What I wanted to tell that woman was that very morning I had woken up and felt terribly bloated, raged at myself for having eaten a whole lot of crap the night before, sighed at my belly that never subsides, wiggled by jiggly arms and groaned about my sagging bum. I had put drops in my eyes for my conjunctivitis and decided not to wash my hair because I would do it after class. So, I was feeling very, very far from perfect that morning she spied me.
And the thing is I never feel perfect, and I am my own worst critic and, annoyingly, I am my own worst saboteur of all those good deeds I do in the gym day in and day out. But I also have a great, fun-filled life and I genuinely don’t want to be ruled by the gym, so in effect I feel like I have got a greatly balanced life.
Personally, I think body perfection is a myth. No one will be satisfied even when they attain what might be close to the ideal. Genetics, body type and everything else go into making people’s bodies different and we can never be someone else; we can only work with what we have.
I try to love my body, I really do, but most often I am cross with myself for not making it work for me and for just being happy about it. Yes, I have low self esteem EVERY DAY. But again (reiterating this myself too), life is too short to be pounding the treadmill and pumping iron all the time – life is to be lived and enjoyed too.
This is one of my very favorite blog posts ever about body image by Lauren Fleshman. If you read anything today, read this, because it is inspirational for both men and women.
I also read recently a post by a woman who achieved 12 percent body fat, a single digit BMI and a whole set of six pack abs, and in the course of attaining this, she lost her husband, her sex drive, her friends, her social life and her own self-esteem, because she says she is miserable now and where can she go from here?
It’s only maintenance from now on, and sometimes you go up to go down (which is where I am at, and it’s pretty dull, to be honest.)
It’s unlikely we’ll ever see a typical American woman on the cover of any woman’s print or online magazine. It is the media’s job to sell the myth of perfection. How will we ever protect our self-esteem from the dangerous promise of perfection offered by the media?
Claire Bolden McGill is a British expat who lived in Maryland for three years and moved back to the UK in August 2015. Claire wrote about her life as a British expat on the East Coast and now works in travel and hospitality PR in the UK. She still finds time to blog about her repatriation and the reverse culture shock that ensued – and she still hasn’t finished that novel, but she’s working on it. You can contact Claire via twitter on @clairebmcgill or via her blog From America to England.