The broader culture is starting to reflect what science has been pointing to for years: people with model-esque bodies have basically won the genetic lottery. Sure, it’s possible with regular activity and a healthy diet to lose *some* weight, and, more importantly, improve your overall health and wellness, but chasing a size zero frame is often an unattainable goal that will lead down a path of disappointment and further fracture broken relationships with health and fitness.
Additionally, many who have won that genetic lottery are speaking out about the dangerous implications of championing an impossible beauty ideal. In her 2013 TED talk, Cameron Russell, a former Victoria’s Secret model and progressive activist, spoke to the reality of how the shape of our bodies is simultaneously important but difficult to completely control: “Image is powerful… but image is superficial. Barring surgery, there’s not a lot we can do to change the way we look, but how we look, though it’s immutable and superficial, has a huge impact on our lives.”
More recently, another former Victoria’s Secret model, Erin Heatherton, spoke about the pressure to maintain this body ideal. Because even when genetics work in your favor, the bar to meet is so high that it can still require you to engage in unhealthy behaviors: “My last two Victoria’s Secret shows, I was told I had to lose weight…I look back like, ‘Really?' I was really depressed because I was working so hard and I felt like my body was resisting me. And I got to a point where one night I got home from a workout and I remember staring at my food and thinking maybe I should just not eat.”
In the end, she decided she couldn’t continue to be a participant in holding up this impossible image of bodily perfection: “I realized I couldn’t go out into the world—parading my body and myself in front of all these women who look up to me—and tell them that this is easy and simple and everyone can do this.”
Marketers in the fashion industry are slowly starting to follow suit, showcasing models of all body types: plus size model Ashley Graham graced the cover of the 2016 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and Aerie by American Eagle has committed to featuring more diverse models AND refraining from retouching their photos. On the broader cultural front, there’s even a documentary on body diversity in fashion slated to debut in 2017.
While there’s still a lot of progress that needs to be made, it’s heartening to see this ideal being dismantled, if slowly. Embracing many different definitions of beauty will be an important component of helping people rebuild their relationships with health and fitness culture – once you’re no longer worried about losing weight to look perfect, you can start to finally enjoy the host of other beneficial effects of a healthy, active life.