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What Should We Look Like?

What weight should you be and what kind of body should you have? Time- and culture-bound as we are, women especially can’t help but unconsciously model ourselves after the images we see, the bodies we’re told either to have or avoid. From medicine to the media, we’re focused on two extremes: those who are fat or overweight and those who are ultra-thin or gym-sculpted. We notice these folks, rather than average-looking Jills and Joes, because, for the most part, that’s where the “in the know” fingers are pointing.

Three recent images I recently encountered are perfect examples. Two are from a comedy club. Before the first act, the audience was “entertained” by an oversized TV screen flashing images of some current young diva and her female dance entourage, none of whom looked remotely like anyone I know and few that I see in my daily comings and goings. It was hard not to become mesmerized by these rare flowers, this special subspecies of humanity—long-limbed, sculpted, toned, rippled, with not an ounce of fat or flab to be seen. The size of the screen, their scantily clad bodies and provocative moves screamed, “Notice my body, notice my body.” Well, who couldn’t?

The second image is comedian Tim the Dairy Farmer, who is large and beefy and who joked a great deal about his heft. His look was familiar; I see men and women his size and shape every day because I, too, have succumbed to the popular American pastime of observing weight and body size. We’re so programmed, we almost can’t help but notice. The third image was not comedy, but tragedy, and came from the newspaper: a teenage girl in Africa, starving, along with thousands of others. I shuddered: similar stick figures, nearly as shrunken, routinely stare back at me from (mostly) women’s magazines, the kinds where bones sell fashion. Ah, I thought, this too is familiar.

The truth is, we‘re not attuned to noticing average looking people, those who perhaps looked like our grandmothers or grandfathers, you know, medium weight, soft and round or with muscles coming from a normal, active life. Instead we’re tunnel-visioned toward extremes of thinness, heaviness, and body perfection. Who thinks, Hey, there’s a pretty average looking person who looks fit enough and about “normal” weight? To find and maintain a natural weight, we must begin to search and register the existence of these people. Start looking and you’ll find there are plenty of them around, hidden out there in plain sight. If we want to stop obsessing about pounds and perfection, we must make it our business to notice what’s between the extremes—the different shapes and sizes, heights and widths of humanity. It’s time we make them our new role models.