As I stood in the check-out line the other day, I couldn’t help but notice the headlines of all the magazines around me: Slim Down This Summer; Lose 10 Pounds; Get Stronger, Leaner, Faster; Tone Your Thighs; Kiss Cellulite Goodbye. Screw that, I thought. What’s wrong with the way I am?
As women, we’re constantly bombarded with these you-need-to-improve messages, making us feel like we’re not good enough. Like there’s something fundamentally wrong with the way we are. It’s become a cultural norm to inundate us with bullshit messages that equate happiness and femininity with losing weight and having a “perfect” body. And for those of us who are athletes, we’re constantly challenged with the messages that we must do more, work harder… all so we can get better. Some of the advice is fine if you indeed want to change. But what if you don’t?
Yesterday I was at the pool putting in laps for my morning mile. When I stopped to adjust my goggles, the girl next to me (let’s call her an acquaintance and often athletic rival), asked why I was swimming so much lately. (Normally, I’m a twice-a-week swimmer, but given my unrelenting unrelenting Achilles injury, I’ve had to drop all running and cycling from my repertoire for the time being, which puts me at the pool every morning for cardio.) After I explained my situation, she said, “Well, maybe you’ll get better and faster now.” WTF? What if I don’t necessarily want to get better and faster? I already consider myself a decent swimmer (good, but not great); I can do 1.2-mile open water swims for a half-Ironman (and beat this girl’s butt at most of them). So what’s wrong with the way I swim now? I wanted to ask. Instead, I pulled my goggles back down and swam away. But I kept stewing over the question all day, which made me realize this is probably a much bigger issue.
Every day, we women are told we’re not good enough. Don’t believe me? Watch any commercial, read any magazine, look at any billboard. You’ll see ads promising to help you “get happier, richer, thinner NOW.” They’re all trying to capitalize on the fact that women need help, when in fact, many times we don’t. We’re perfectly fine just the way we are, thank you very much. Maybe we should stop letting these people dictate how we feel about ourselves. Maybe we should stop letting others try to tell us we aren’t slim enough, toned enough, strong enough or fast enough.
This is not to say that we don’t have room for improvement. I know I do, and given the fact that 25% of the American population is considered obese, others do too. The point is that all of this pressure to become better all the time leaves us no room to just “be.” It’s no wonder that 50% of adults walk around stressed out all the time. (Which, incidentally, doesn’t help at all with self-improvement of any kind.)
Our parents’ generation wasn’t labeled as “broken” in the mid-1900s. For the most part, they held the same jobs for much of their lives, drove the same car, lived in the same house and kept the same friends. They didn’t walk around stressed out; many of them were happy and satisfied, despite the lack of a quest for something new, different, or better.
In her book, Bodies, psychoanalyst Susie Orbach claims we now see our bodies as projects—not places to live, as she explained to the New York Times:
What I am seeing is franticness about having to get a body. I wish we could treat our bodies as the place we live from, rather than regard it as a place to be worked on, as though it were a disagreeable old kitchen in need of renovation and update.
She says we are at war with ourselves and our lives. I think she’s right. And I think outside influences are to blame.
So, to all the media and people (including the girl at the pool) out there trying to improve us: SHUT UP. We don’t always have to be better. Being good is sometimes good enough.