Young women, health, and body image
A young female co-worker recently regaled me with tales of woe after spending time trying to find a bikini that fit her. A bit of an aside is necessary so you will empathize, as I did, with her tale: Erin happens to be one of the most beautiful young women I’ve met in a long time. She is smart, funny, sincere – and as with most of us – always in pursuit of that perfect body. I gave up on that idea years ago, but Erin is still in her 20s, so it’s a good thing she is being mindful of staying in shape. I wish I’d started caring more about what I ate and how much physical activity I did on a daily basis when I was her age. It might have spared me the cancer experience, and I know I would have been a healthier and happier person in general.
Unlike many people, Erin actually works very hard to obtain the desired killer abs, arms, etc. She works out like a fiend nearly every day of the week, pushing herself relentlessly through any number of squats, presses, planks, push-ups and whatever else her boot-camp-style instructor throws her way. When she isn’t enduring boot camp, she’s running. Sometimes I get tired just watching her!
Over the last several months I’ve seen an incredible physical transformation take place. Her work is definitely paying off, but when it comes to a dressing room mirror, two miniscule pieces of fabric (aka a bikini) and a woman’s self-esteem – some things never change. Needless to say, her quest ended in tears and remorse – and to my way of thinking, something much worse – a bit of self-loathing.
I tried my best to bolster her ego and honestly tell her how fantastic she looks. I tried to remember how much credence I would have given to the opinions of a woman my age when I was her age. Sad to say, probably not much, because even at my age I’m not looking for my female peers’ approval – I’m still hoping someone appealing of the opposite sex will take a second look (and NOT because he can’t believe what a train wreck he’s just observed)!
I thought long and hard about what I would have said to my younger self in a similar situation, and what kept coming up for me had nothing to do with the shape of my body. The very best advice I could have proffered to my younger, never-quite-satisfied-self would be: Don’t waste time worrying about what you don’t have or can’t achieve, because perfection is an illusion. Celebrate your youth, your freedom, your good health – and the realization that for your entire life, the people who really matter love you just the way you are!