When an icon like Jennifer Aniston laments that a perfectly healthy, thin body is too heavy for her liking, we, as a society, have a problem.
Accepting my body has never been easy for me. Even at my smallest, I saw what I believed were imperfections: the dimpling on my right hip, the skin that pressed out under my bra strap. I weighed myself obsessively, and believed I could only be attractive under a certain number—and that number was very small.
I surrounded myself with women just like me, and it all felt normal. It felt normal to be a size 0 or 00. It felt normal to just not eat until dinner, or to chew gum and smoke cigarettes instead of eating. It felt normal to look at our bodies, all lined up, and say, “You look great. I look terrible” only to have the next girl say, “No YOU look great. Look at my thighs. Ugh.”
These types of conversations are the meat of many women’s relationships, they’re one of our default ways of connecting, especially when we’re young. How can we help but fall into body talk? Everywhere we turn, we’re told that the firmness of our bodies, how we’re aging, or how we’re shaping up after having a baby matters. The billion-dollar beauty industry holds a stake in our body shame, as does Hollywood and the celebrity media, which hold images of so-called perfection up for our aspirational use and abuse every single day.
But what happens when you are one of those bodies held up by millions of women (and men) as the embodiment of said Western perfection? Do you become immune to the daily insecurities many of us mere mortals face, or does that internal critic become amplified?
Jennifer Aniston has been a beauty and style icon for two decades. She’s the kind of clean-cut, healthy-looking, white-but-tanned American girl we love to put up on a pedestal.
She’s spoken publicly about her commitment to yoga and drinking lots of water to stay healthy, which are both great endorsements. But a recent interview with Yahoo! Beauty hinted at something slightly more ominous lurking beneath this seemingly effortless beauty.
Aniston spoke with makeup artist and beauty mogul Bobbi Brown, an icon herself, about her beauty routines and how not-effortless her effortless style is (hint: she has everything tailored, even T-shirts). In what has become controversial, Aniston also admits that she is five pounds heavier than she’d like to be. She even states exactly what she’s most comfortable weighing—and it’s very, very thin. In fact, it’s just about the same weight I was committed to when I was struggling with my own distorted body image issues and unhealthy eating. It was even a little triggering for me to read.
I’m not saying Aniston has any of the problems I’ve had. But I think it’s important to note that most women are not going to be able to reach such a low weight without an extreme amount of effort, possibly at the expense of their health.
If I’m being honest, I’m angry that Aniston made it seem normal to refer to her very thin body as being too heavy. It makes me angry because she should know better than to feed into the diet and beauty industry’s machinery, a monster that is eating women alive.
Aniston’s weight and diet may be healthy and normal for her. All of our bodies are different, and she has the right to make the choices that work for her without us disparaging her appearance or her food. The last thing we, as women-identified people, need in our lives is more body or food policing.
However, when an icon like Aniston laments that a perfectly healthy, thin body is too heavy for her liking, we, as a society, have a problem.
On the other end of the celebrity spectrum, but also seemingly plagued with body issues, is Kim Kardashian-West. The oft-maligned reality star has recently been complaining, with heartbreaking honesty, about her post-baby body on Twitter.
do any of u moms see their bodies just not the same? a different shape? ughhhh my hips & butt are huge now! they were big to begin with!
— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) August 5, 2014
Regardless of how you feel about Kardashian-West’s fame, if you’re a woman raised in this culture, you can probably relate to how she feels about the way her body changed after having baby North, and how hard it is to keep weight off now that she’s a mom.
Yes, our bodies do often change after we have babies, for a number of reasons. But we have to be very careful not to fall into the trap of believing that our bodies are now, somehow, objectively worse—that the newer curve, or lack of curve, or rippled texture of our skin, or whatever else is happening to us with age and experience—is somehow objectively bad.
When Kim tweeted a photo of herself pre-baby, longing for the body of those lost days, my heart ached for her. I remember doing that. I remember staring at a photo of myself taken before my two kids and thinking, “If I could look that once, I could look like it again.”
And I tried. I tried until I was very, very sick. I tried until I was miserable. Realizing my body today is different, but beautiful in a different way, was a revelation. But it’s something I have to battle every single day as I run my hands over my skin.
I want Kim Kardashian to know that her body is miraculous: her butt and her hips, her belly and her arms. Every part. It made a baby. Even if it hadn’t, it would still be the body that moves her through the world every single day. Our bodies are gifts.
I want her to understand that so many of us know how she feels, and that some of us rage against the shame society has put on us. I’d love to see Kim become a model of body acceptance for moms, not just another voice crying out against our own magnificent selves. We don’t have to be our own worst enemies.
And I hope that Jennifer Aniston will take a cue from other women in Hollywood and understand the importance of being a good role model. That involves not complaining about a weight that is already low on the BMI charts. I want her to decide against feeding into the damage being done to women every single day by the media and the beauty industry.
Celebrities are showing body pride, and we need to salute them and hold them up for the good they do. The gorgeous, talented Amber Riley from the hit show Glee is quoted as saying, “I’m not going to conform and hurt myself and do something crazy to be a size 2.”
Christina Aguilera said, “The female body is something that’s so beautiful. I wish women would be proud of their bodies and not diss other women for being proud of theirs!”
Of course Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence has something to add, “If anybody even tries to whisper the word ‘diet,’ I’m like, ‘You can go f**k yourself.”
Meryl Streep, the supreme goddess of grace and talent, had a few words of advice when speaking at Indiana University. “For young women, I would say, don’t worry so much about your weight. Girls spend way too much time thinking about that, and there are better things.”
Even in Hollywood, Streep explains, what makes you unique is your gift. “I used to hate my nose,” she continued. “Now I don’t. It’s OK.”
As many studies have shown, being healthy isn’t about a certain weight on the scale. It’s about moving to keep your heart, lungs, bones, and muscles strong. It’s about taking in food that feeds your cells and your soul, food with nutrition, but also food that makes you happy to eat.
I want to hear Jennifer Aniston say that being happy is a part of health, and that joy helps us live longer. And I want Kim Kardashian-West to hear it. I want all of us to hear it and really start believing it.
Joanna Schroeder is a beach-loving, skateboarding, working mom who is totally obsessed with her kids. She serves as Executive Editor of The Good Men Project, is a freelance writer, and is permanently in-progress on a novel and a screenplay. Follow her shenanigans on Twitter.