Pop Culture
Mar 13, 2008, 05:19AM

Five Foot Three: Where Are My Skinny Genes?

In a culture where skinny remains the standard of beauty, even a confident woman cannot resist the urge to be thin.

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I used to think that media had only so much influence over my life. Sure, I remember commercial jingles, and I really do believe that Diet Dr. Pepper tastes the same as regular Dr. Pepper. And yes, my daily existence is saturated with images of ideal beauty on TV and in magazines, even plastered on highway billboards. But I'm an intelligent, confident woman.  I like the way I look and I know that there is more to life than impossibly thin thighs and perfectly toned arms. Or at least I thought I did.

There is a woman at my gym who always seems to start running on the treadmill at the same time that I've begun my weight workout. The weight machines face the back of a row of treadmills that overlook the harbor and I watch her as she runs; the setting sun comes through the West-facing windows and a trick of the light makes her glow like some golden idol of unthinkable thinness. I want to be this woman, it occurred to me the other day. I want a back that is so free of fleshiness that you can make out each, individual vertebrae of my spine beneath a tight, spandex top. I want shoulder blades that are so sharp and pronounced they could practically cut glass. I wish my upper thighs were so tiny that I could wrap my hands around them and interlock my fingers. I wish you could see every tendon in my legs, maybe every ligament as well. I wish all the strange, awkward knobs that I didn't even know existed on my hipbones were obvious through my yoga pants. Watching her run, it is the only time in my life that I really, truly want to be impossibly, sickeningly, dangerously thin.  

I use the leg press machine and think about what it would take to be her. Maybe if I cut back on carbs. Cut out all refined sugars. But I don't like to eat too much meat, and going without pasta makes me feel tired and sad—I need the serotonin. So maybe the key is to just cut back altogether. Drop my daily caloric intake to half of what it is now. Work out harder, longer. I think, if I drink enough water, I'll probably feel plenty full. Maybe I don't have to eat at all. Maybe I can just drink water all day long and then sweat it off later. The longer I watch her run, the more insane I get. I've nearly got myself convinced that, starting tomorrow I won't eat anything at all. I won't even drink water, because that will leave me feeling bloated and huge. When I'm hungry, I'll just go to sleep. I won't exercise, because I won't have the energy. I won't go out at night. I won't go out during the day. I'll simply sit at home and watch the pounds melt away, revel in the fact that my collarbones have started to protrude further than my breasts. 

It sounds completely ridiculous, I feel absurd even thinking it. But when I'm there, watching this woman work out, I can't help myself. It's like a momentary sickness. A brief psychosis takes over my mind and all I see are those celebrity images I thought I had ignored throughout the day.

The fact is, I am not immune and it terrifies me. As a former psychology student, I've learned plenty about eating disorders. I've done research, written papers. I know the grotesque, intricate details of anorexia and bulimia. And while I honestly believe I'd never feel so desperate as to resort to such actions, I have to admit that the desire to be thin pulls on me. It gets hold of me and I have to force myself to take a step back and be realistic. I'm 5'3" and 135 pounds. I'm never going to be 5'9" with legs that look like stilts. Pictures in magazines are airbrushed. Actresses have the help of personal trainers, professional stylists. There is more to life than achieving the thin ideal, and in reality few men (especially the ones I know) find the skeletal look at all appealing.  

We live in a culture of beauty, though. Rather than deny it, or assume I'm impervious to its influence, it is better to embrace it as an absurd, irrational ideal. Apart from the minor adjustments of having a healthier and more fit lifestyle, my appearance is unlikely to change. I look like my mother, and she's a beautiful woman. That should be enough. My sister is three inches shorter than me and thus even less likely to have that long, leggy look, but I think she's absolutely gorgeous and I feel immensely lucky that she and I look so much alike. It is unfair that young women should feel forced to scrutinize every aspect of their appearance.  There is no easy solution to this problem. No quick fix for something so culturally ingrained. All we can do is accept that an unrealistic standard exists and try our best to remember that we are fine, better than fine, just the way we are. Maybe there are women out there that are far more beautiful than we will ever be.

Or maybe it is just a trick of the light.


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