To think of the first time I idealized the human body—and in turn first pitted that ideal body against my own—is to bluntly consider just how pervasive our society's impossible standards are. I couldn't have been much older than 10 or 11 when I consciously noticed the slender legs of the models in my mother's fashion magazines and the actresses on my television screen, all the while pondering the way my thighs stuck together whenever I sat down. I was healthy and athletic, loved and cared for, and still, even at such a young age, I recognized that this might not be enough. For the first time, I internalized an idea of "perfect," and the notion would haunt me well into adulthood.
Even at the tail end of a labored journey to body acceptance, it's still difficult for me not to feel hopeless about our cultural demands, especially as they only seem to compound with the rise of technology and interconnectedness. The age of Instagram has given way to a frightening, all-permeating paradox: Never have we had such an opportunity to share honest snapshots of our existence to the world, nor have we ever had such an opportunity to curate, edit, and warp those snapshots. Save for the handful of people we connect with in real life, there's no real way of knowing whether someone's social media persona is authentic or "authentic."
And thus, with perfectly shaded abs, Facetuned skin, and cherub-faced, genetically blessed Hadids dominating our social media feeds, the expectations for our bodies have never been so impossibly high. If you're inclined to chalk that up to conjecture, data from a recent survey suggests otherwise.
The website Treadmill Review recently polled more than 1000 Americans for their "ideal" body type. According to the results, the "perfect" female body is 5'5" and 128 pounds, with a 26-inch waist. (FWIW, she also works out six days a week and is a brunette.)
To be clear, the weight-to-height ratio isn't necessarily problematic at face value; it technically falls under the "healthy" BMI range. But a 26-inch waist is very slim for those proportions and would require an extremely low body fat percentage to be conceivable. But even that statement ignores the most obvious issue with this data, which is that by instituting these arbitrary ideas as the thing to aspire to, we're automatically setting ourselves up for dissatisfaction.
The way I see it—the way I have to see it, in order to maintain my sanity—there is hope on the horizon. Sports Illustrated's extremely inclusive 2017 Swimsuit Issue was a good start. Gorgeous models like Barbie Ferreira and Ashley Graham continue to prove that bodies are breathtaking at any size. Another palpable shift: Women were told for too long that they needed to act a certain way in order to be deemed acceptable by society. Now more than ever, it's never been cooler to unapologetically be ourselves. I can only hope that in addition to personality, this more inclusive way of thinking soon extends to our appearance as well.
As is paralleled in so many aspects of our society at the moment, true appreciation for diversity has never felt so simultaneously under threat and within reach. Imagine if our ideal was just us, in all our perfect imperfection. Is that really such a radical thought?
Cleveland Clinic. Body mass index and body fat. Updated September 18, 2019.