Dear Pinterest: It scares the crap out of me that I keep seeing motivational pins that use a “gap” between the thighs as a measure of being fit/skinny. Whether or not you have one has little to do with how fat or skinny you are, and is mostly determined by your particular body shape. And let’s not even start on the “flat stomach” and “hipbones” pins. Eating disorders are prevalent enough without your incredibly uneducated, unrealistic goals being all over people’s “fitness” boards. Sincerely, Shaney.
This is a rant I posted on Facebook yesterday after seeing this pin. Now, I have no problem with the overall sentiment of the pin. My concern is more with the subtle message: This is what your body is supposed to look like if you avoid junk food and take care of yourselves: a flat stomach, prominent hipbones and collarbone, and a gap between the thighs.
If you look around women’s boards on Pinterest, it doesn’t take long to see that pins that assume a certain type of body are the norm, and not the exception. Now, I have no problem with pins that use a woman who does happen to have that particular type of body shape, but has a very positive overall message (this picture, for example). However, I worry about promoting body types that are out of reach for most women, whether it’s super-skinny, or “fit”, which is the new fad.
I worry about pins like this:
Now, I don’t have an issue with Pinterest itself. In fact, I think the owners of Pinterest are doing a really good job in trying to combat unhealthy attitudes toward weight and eating disorders. For example, if you search “thinspiration” on Pinterest, you will receive this message:
1. The prevalence of these pictures on Pinterest shows that unrealistic expectations for girls’ and women’s bodies is still a huge issues in our society, and
2. That, even with good intentions, the ideal of “fit” that women pin is replacing one unrealistic expectation with another. While “fit” or “strong” is being promoted as what’s ideal, there are still unrealistic expectations as to what a “fit” or “strong” body looks like or is capable of for the majority of the female population.
There are many unhealthy behaviors that can result from these unrealistic expectations. While anorexia nervosa and bulimia are the main ones often talked about, other unhealthy behaviors are also problems, including anorexia athletica (also known as exercise addiction), unhealthy dieting (including restricting, or even cutting out entire food groups), and depression as a result of body image issues.
The best way to combat these unrealistic expectations and their results, including eating and exercise disorders, is through education.
So, with that in mind, I’d like to propose what I think is important for girl and women to know about their bodies and their health. Feel free to share this post with anyone you think would find it helpful. If there’s anything you think I forgot, leave a comment!
1. Health is not determined by body shape.
While there is an incredibly wide range of body shapes, “fitness” pins tend to promote the same things over and over again: flat, defined stomachs, prominent hipbones, a gap between the thighs, defined muscles in the arms and legs. Here’s the truth: Some girls can have flat stomachs. Other girls have a little bit of flab on their stomach that never really goes away, even with exercise (it’s not unhealthy, it’s there to protect a baby!). Some girls have butts that are round, others have flatter butts. Some girls can be healthy with a gap in between their thighs. Most girls’ bodies are not built to have one. Most girls will never have six-pack abs. I could go on with more and more examples, but I hope the point is clear: Your body shape is not what determines whether you are healthy or not.
2. Health is not determined by a number.
And I’m not just talking about the number on the scale. No number–not the size on your clothes, not BMI, not weight, not number of inches around your waist–can determine health. Some girls are very healthy at size 12. If I were a size 12, I’d have to re-think how I was taking care of myself. Some athletes have had BMIs that are technically in the “obese” range. No number can ever determine if you’re healthy or not. If you are not sure if you’re healthy or not, talk to your doctor or another health professional.
3. You don’t have to be an olympic athlete to be fit.
One of my main concern with “fitness” pins is that they consistently showcase people who have the bodies and capabilities of professional athletes. For those of us who are not professional athletes, though, many of those ideals are out of reach. Many of us will never be able to support our entire bodies using just our arms (like in this pin). You may never complete a triathlon, or “be stronger than all the boys,” but if you sleep well at night, have energy to complete your daily tasks, and can do moderate physical exercise without feeling like you’re going to puke or die, you’re very likely fit.
4. Your value is not dependent upon your body.
Your body will change throughout your life. Puberty, marriage, pregnancy, stress, aging, and a whole host of other factors will likely have an effect on your body. Pregnancy may widen your hips, stress may cause some weight gain or loss, aging will likely reduce your physical capabilities. But your worth as a person is never determined by what you look like or what your body can do. Having a healthy body image, one that recognizes true health and accepts your unique body as God made you, starts by having a healthy view of yourself. If you are unhappy with yourself, it is likely that you will have trouble being accepting of your body as well. Know that you are fearfully and wonderfully made by God, but also that His acceptance of you has nothing to do with what your body looks like or how it performs.
5. If you are struggling with an eating disorder, obsessive exercise, depression, or other body image issues, please get help.
Tell a trusted adult, whether it’s your parent, a teacher, a mentor, or a family member. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help from a doctor or counselor, especially if an adult recommends it. Visit www.nationaleatingdisorders.org or www.findingbalance.com (Finding Balance is specifically faith-based) to learn more. Surround yourself with friends and family who can provide support as you work through your struggles. Most importantly, do not feel ashamed. Many women and girls struggle with body image issues. You are not alone.
What else would you tell a girl about body image? Whether it’s on Pinterest or elsewhere, in what ways could we accidentally be promoting unrealistic goals, and how can we avoid it? What can we do to promote healthy body image?