A Happier Summer Ahead

Meira Fiber-Munro, Staff Writer

Happy almost-summer 2021! Time to lose weight, right? Wrong. 

One of the most common messages sent by the media during springtime is the importance of losing weight, but at what cost? There are an abundance of ways to improve our day to day lives without restricting food intake. However, it seems that body shaming and a focus on weight loss and appearance can be found even in the most surprising of places. 

Besides the annual diet culture propaganda, I was disappointed to find so many restrictions and unhealthy idealisms within my religious community. Recently, struggles with disordered eating have become a rising concern among Jewish women

Certain holiday traditions surrounding food can exacerbate temptations and behaviors. For example, fasting during the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur is based on the idea that we have to starve ourselves as repentance for our sins. This can emphasize the idea that food is “earned” and that restriction is an appropriate response to guilt and shame. 

I first experienced impulses to participate in these restrictive behaviors when I observed Kashrut, which refers to a set of dietary restrictions including a commitment to refraining from eating certain meats, and serving dairy and meat products separately. In addition, our religious book, the Torah, shares the view of showing modesty towards bodies and treating bodies in the “image of God” so there is pressure to diet or maintain a certain image within the community. This shows how religion shares the same influence of diet culture that regular society has. 

This unrealistic and unhealthy concept of the ‘image of God’ is perpetuated in the expectation for young girls and women by forcing them to wear corsets and bustiers in order to present as “more attractive” to the men in their society. 

What are we giving up in order to assimilate to a society that sexualizes and objectifies all genders, sexualities, and races? How do these frequent body image trends impact our well being? Common consequences of disordered eating behaviors include but are not limited to fatigue, dehydration, and infertility. How much are you willing to risk for a “more appealing” appearance? 

We should keep this in mind when we come across ads for weight loss training, apps for tracking calorie intake, and dieting commercials. Over 28.8 million Americans will have an eating disorder in their lifetime, and that only covers diagnosed cases. It’s easier than you may think to develop an unhealthy relationship with your body. 

Even though this is a long term issue, we’ve made some headway recently. Mainstream celebrities such as Lizzo and Tess Holliday have recently been vocal about issues surrounding body positivity, and send the message that all bodies are beautiful. We are highly encouraged by clothing brands such as Aerie (by American Eagle) to diversify the media we digest every day. However, I recently came across an unexpected blast from the past. 

Through my obsession with Greek mythology, I realized that the image of the goddess of beauty, Aphrodite, in her earlier-era depictions, was in contrast much more realistic than modern-day female icons. She had stomach rolls, which are constantly pointed out and criticized in celebrity media, which creates a harmful standard of a flat stomach. However, her body has been manipulated to look many different ways, which raises the question: what is beautiful?  

The many ways people have depicted her body over time and the amount of diverse representation is ultimately a good thing, because there are more people who can point to manipulations of Aphrodite’s body and see their body. As representations of body diversity expands, so do resources with body-positive, and body neutral messages. This is the goal, and as different parts of society begin to adapt based on body standards, we will slowly move towards an environment where body-acceptance is the new normal. 

The fact is that if we all shared the same lifestyle, diet, and fitness routine, we would all have different bodies, so the best thing we can do for ourselves and our health is to develop a healthy relationship with food and our bodies. The truth is that as long as there are standards for appearance and attractiveness, there will be people that don’t fit them. 

To answer the question: ‘what is beautiful?’, I ask myself what I appreciate about people the most. I always notice people’s eyes first, and I think their smile says a lot about them. However, the aspects of people we tend to focus on are often not related to appearance. We usually form lasting connections based on character and shared interests, not weight or body proportions. With that in mind, we should all do our best not to compare bodies, as they are incomparable, and work on accepting our bodies, or simply appreciating our bodies for all that they do.

So this summer, let’s stop commenting on people’s bodies. This summer, let’s nourish our bodies, minds, and spirits. This summer, do yourself a favor and give yourself grace going into every month, every week, and every day. Learn self-compassion, practice time management, and stay hydrated! I guarantee this is a goal worth striving for.