Sports Illustrated Can't Turn Us into Swimsuit Models
I absorbed magazines, TV, and movies uncritically and prescriptively […] everything about my appearance seemed wrong. But in America, the possibilities of individual determination are endless—you can become as rich and as thin as you determine to be!—and so I sought to change my body through all the ways that advertisements teach us is possible: the chromium picolinate supplements, the protein shakes, the NordicTrack, the chirpy aerobics videos, the Velcro-fastened ankle weights.
All that effort toward getting a certain look adds up to big business—more than $20 billion annually in the U.S. on cosmetics alone. It comes at a high price in terms of mental health, as numerous psychological studies have suggested what discerning parents have known for a long time: the more media images of stylized, retouched models a woman views, the more likely she is to become depressed and disordered in her eating.
That was me. For years, I struggled with an eating disorder that was undramatic because of its very ordinariness; I was mostly of normal weight, but almost never ate normally. I'd spend hours in front of the mirror, hating myself, and I was unable to receive one of God's primordial good gifts: the gift of food. I viewed food with suspicion and fear—like food as ordinary as bread and butter was conspiring to make me fat and therefore unworthy of respect and love—instead of gratitude and pleasure. I was unable to join others joyfully at the table; I was alienated from others, from God, even, somehow, from myself and from the fuller life I knew I could have if only I could stop chasing false images, and a false source of self-worth.
But there's hope. Various researchers have found that openly critiquing the thin ideal and media images of idealized beauty while affirming and accepting one's own body had a powerful effect on mood and on eating disorders. Others have discovered that in families who eat meals together and homes where self-deprecating "fat talk" isn't casually bantered around, children can better resist cultural pressure toward thinness and beauty. Ultimately, though, I think the power to reject the swimsuit issue as the bible can come from the Bible—the one that insists that humans are the very image of God; that bodies and food, like the rest of creation, are very good.
Blasphemy isn't too strong a word for what images like the ones in the swimsuit issue suggest about the meaning of human life. Is it not blasphemy to reduce an image of God to an underfed, overstyled, de-contextualized, sexualized, Photoshopped ideal—and, then, to say that attaining that look is possible, given the right purchases and pursuits?
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