This semester I am wrapping up two master degrees. One is Visual and Critical theory, and the other is Fine Art Photography.
My writings lately have been focused on the ideal body and how the strong and toned body has become idealized for the 21st century, particularly for women, but men feel this too for sure. As women get stronger, men have to too, to heighten their masculinity. So it’s really just a tug of war for people trying to one up each other’s body image.
Due to these writings, and my thesis show in May – I have been reflecting a lot on the journey of becoming fit or skinny. There are two sides of this story on my thoughts.
One is an art perspective.
Being a photographer is interesting, because most people associate photography with photoshop. However, I know many people who don’t even touch the program who are successful photographers. I am really good at the program and used to utilize it much more than I do now – and there are some reasons for this.
- I think it’s wrong to change body compositions, scarring, things that make us, well.. us. If you are photoshopped to a size 5 but are really a size 10 – you may love to share and send that image to everyone you know… but in 5 years you will look back and look down on your current self. Why? Because you are comparing yourself to a version of yourself that never existed. As you look at images you’ll say things like, “man I looked so good then, what happened.” But you never held that specific composition, and to be honest, that doesn’t mean that your current one is “Bad,” which.. is also another problem our society has in itself.
- Ideal bodies do not mean the “right body.” Our society is so screwed up that commonly that sentence listed in the paragraph above is an often phrase. In fact I use it on myself sometimes.. and it’s wrong. There isn’t a right or wrong body. There are bodies. That is all.
- Movies, media, icons, all provide some weird goal for the rest of us to work towards. But remember, they are photoshopped (for better or for worse) in mass media. A still image of someone is a facade of who they are in real life. A little lighting goes a long way. So if you find yourself looking and wishing you looked like someone else, stop.
- I can tell you from seeing millions of nude people a year during weddings (lol), that our thoughts and ideas of perfect are so skewed. That could be from people I think should be confident who aren’t, or it could be from people who represent themselves as so confident, who you think are confident, but then you find out that they have areas of them too that they think are weird or “flawed.” We’re all human, famous or not. We all have ideas of what we should look like based on popular culture. But I will tell you, even in the era of the greek aesthetics, the ideal body was the only one sculpted. That doesn’t mean that normal people didn’t exist, it means that only the facade was replicated and produced for everyone to fixate on, and more than likely, only one percent held this body composition.
From a non-art perspective.
I participate in the bodybuilding culture. I lift weights. I go to the gym 5-6 times a week. I diet, I watch my calories and macros, and I follow a weight training program provided by a doctor. I have a hard time dealing with my body because I have health restraints that leave me completely dumbfounded on how to be a size I was.
Around the time of my wedding, for an entire year, I cut back on food. I ate mostly raw food, and I gymmed a lot. I ran 4 miles a day minimum and lifted for an hour after that. I was a machine. I remember making a lot of tofu, sweet potatoes and avocados and drinking tea when I felt hungry.
What sparked this was my reflections back on my engagement photographs. I thought I looked fat. I hated them. But in all honesty, I look at them now.. and although I wasn’t crazy about my hair, the images were me. It wasn’t some facade Paige I had to live up to, it was me: bad angles and all. Not every image was perfect, but I am not perfect. I am not near perfect from all angles either, and I can’t hate the way I look from all angles, because I can’t change certain qualities of me.
Fast forward to my wedding and I lost a ton of weight. I was the lowest I had been in years after a few surgeries for health reasons, and I held down a good 138 when my normal weight was 155 – and to be honest to keep myself at 138 was torture.
I loved doing before and after photographs.
and to be fair, sometimes I still think about how to achieve these.
But then I was running a lot, weight lifting light weights, and it was before my body was burnt out from it. Actually 6 months after I got married, I kept the same diet and exercise, and my body randomly gained 15 -20 pounds. I was in awe. I didn’t know what to do, but really my body was adjusted to what I was doing and was over it.
From there I sought out help from my current trainer.
After 2 years of getting advice and programs from him, I am continuing, but something that I have opened my eyes to is the worth of really honing in on a strict diet. I have shed off enough weight that I feel good, but as a woman and someone who was focused on the ideal body of the contemporary society, it never feels good enough.
I enjoy seeing results in myself, but I also enjoy having a beer, making new foods, and really experiencing life. I am vegan, and I am very healthy. I don’t eat oils, a lot of breads, and I limit junk foods. I do this because it makes me FEEL better.. and I think that is the mindset that I am aimed towards.
I want to be happy, experience life, try new vegan foods and recipes, but I want to BE healthy and FEEL good, and not be so tuned in on Looking good. Because what is looking good?
It’s simply a construct that has been placed into our mind.
Look this way.
But if you look this way, are you really happy? Was it all worth it?
For my body, I literally can only eat raw foods to be the size that I thought I wanted to be. But after all of this… I decided my goal was to be strong, mentally and physically. And if that means that I am ten pounds more than I thought I should be at… well then so be it.
We can only change the ideal by providing a new ideal.
And that ideal is one that is healthy, strong, confident, and is unapologetic for being itself.