I do not remember how old I was the first time I stood in front of my full-length mirror and judged myself.
I cannot remember the last time I didn't think about how other people thought I looked.
I do not know when my appearance began to matter inside, nor do I understand why a person's appearance is always a factor concerning who they are.
I do not know how, when or why this constant train of thought, this never-ending comparison, this undeniable sense of self-doubt started. But I do know that I am not alone. I do know that there are men, women, adolescents, even children who not only feel exactly how I do but also feel sadly even worse.
I do know that society holds appearance to a higher standard than it should. And I do know that not only is appearance too important but also that the expectations behind it are unrealistic as well. We are such a visual culture, and because our lives are constantly surrounded by images, we have come to depend on them. I also know that while blame can be placed on the standards the media casts upon us, it's not going to stop any time soon … but what can change is the way we view these images.
We need to recognize that the world concentrates on two extremes. The good or the bad, the right or the wrong, the just or unjust … the skinny or the fat; we rarely recognize the in-between, the happy medium, the average. We know that a middle ground exists, but we have a hard time reading between the lines, and it is this that has the negative impact.
Because our culture tends to rely on the extremes, the average has become abnormal. For example, we are constantly exposed to the images of models. There is the traditional super-skinny super-model, who, while acknowledged as too thin, is still portrayed as beautiful. Then, there are the plus-sized models. While these women are really not significantly larger than the average American woman, they are labeled as "plus-sized," giving emphasis to their figure and the difference between them and the super-model. But what about the in-between? Where is the representation of the average American women? Sure there are times when a media icon will more closely hit the average proportions, but is she dominant in the mainstream? No – and because she isn't we have fallen into believing that we can only be one of the two extremes; that if we aren't super skinny, then we must be overweight. The representation of the average women is disappearing, and we are beginning to doubt ourselves because she is.
This problem is not in pop culture alone. Medical reports, health studies, the news, even education center on these two viewpoints just as severely. While there is often focus on the dangers and consequences of eating disorders, stories concerning the rise of obesity in America are more frequent every day. Again enforcing two extremes: not eating and being too skinny, or eating too much and becoming overweight. Because the stories regarding the people who eat sufficiently and live healthy lives are ignored, we force people to think they can only be one or the other.
The acceptance of these extreme representations has gone too far. They have become so established in society, that we unconsciously acknowledge them as the only two ways a body can look. This is why we push ourselves to be skinny, because our culture makes it seem that if you aren't thin, then you must be too big, and as consumers this scares us, because there is so much negative exposure on being overweight.
However, just because we have forgotten the in-between, doesn't mean it has disappeared. The average doesn't have to be abnormal. Yes, the two extremes are overwhelmingly prevalent, but the power of confidence, the courage of self-belief and the freedom of acceptance are the true reigning forces in society. In the end it comes down to us – we accepted the extremes, but that can change. We can refuse them and enable ourselves the confidence, courage and freedom to reaccept the beauty of the average.
Kelly Hagenah is a senior speech communications major. Her columns run every Wednesday in the Collegian.