Lately, I have noticed a trend throughout social media encompassing women and men sharing and embracing their healthy, natural bodies, presumably in backlash to the glossy, unattainable images society feeds us. For the most part, I applaud these brave souls for their gumption. However, the responses these types of posts often elicit leave a sour taste in my mouth, as someone who has struggled deeply with valuing herself for what's on the inside.
Which leads me to Sunday's Miss USA Pageant. More specifically, the beautiful contestant from Indiana who has been singled out not for her heart of service or sharp mind, but for her shape and size. Of the many great things she has accomplished in her young life, we are lauding her for "not being a bag of bones."
Was I happy to see this particular competition embrace at least one person whose shape ever so slightly pushed the envelope? Absolutely. The reaction that has followed, however, is unnerving. Instead of celebrating diversity in an all-encompassing way, it has inadvertently reinforced that size, in this culture, does matter. That one's looks are far more important than the sum of his or her vast accomplishments in life. That one size is superior to another, and we must pick a side. It's curvy versus thin. But why? Not everyone's natural, healthy body falls neatly into one of two categories. And even if it did, why does it matter so much?
As someone who has worked extensively both in the fashion industry and at an eating disorder treatment center (interesting combo, I know), I have encountered countless women who battle a life-threatening eating disorder but whose healthy-looking bodies would warrant a "You go, girl!" if they were to participate in a pageant such as this one. In contrast, I also know many very svelte men and women who by no means are all plagued by eating disorder behaviors. Further, many of the people I know whose appearance would fall into the "ideal" category, as dictated by societal standards, are some of the unhappiest, most insecure people I know. My point? One can never assess one's state of health or degree of happiness simply by physical appearance alone. It's what's on the inside that counts, cheesy or not.
Eating disorders affect up to 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States. These illnesses do not discriminate against age, gender, skin color, zip code, religious faith, or yes, body type. I sincerely hope that Miss Indiana is in good health and living harmoniously with whatever shape or size is optimal for her. But simply because someone has a "normal" or "curvy" looking body does not necessarily mean they are healthy in mind, body, and spirit, nor is anyone somehow, in some way, superior because of a happy collision of genes or metabolic rate.
True beauty does not have a size. All bodies are beautiful, and the only way to lasting happiness is through acceptance.