Your intrepid advice columnist has up and had herself a baby, and will be taking a couple weeks off from her bossing-around duties. In the meantime, she’s arranged a cavalcade of her favorite writers from around the Web to come and take a crack at some of your questions, share their personal style secrets and wisdom, and hopefully keep you entertained while Amy thinks back fondly on the days when she occasionally left the house.
Today’s guest columnist is Jessica Figueroa, a 21-year-old senior at Fordham University at Lincoln Center. Jessica has worked in the beauty departments at Shape, and Harper’s Bazaar, and currently blogs and interns for a wildly popular women’s magazine. She’s also a long-time reader of the Smackdown, and I asked her to tell us a little bit about body image, and the beauty/women’s magazine business — we all know what reading magazines (with their parade of miracle products and quick fitness fixes and Photoshopped spreads) can do to our self-esteem, but what’s it like for a young woman to actually work for one?
Fat Girl Slim sounded too good to be true. It promised to get rid of cellulite and leave me with smooth, model-like legs. Forget about genetics, this miracle cream was going to defy the odds with just one application per day. After my fourth consecutive day using Fat Girl (as I affectionately called it), I stood in front of my mirror and bared all; unfortunately, nothing changed. I reread the directions, followed them religiously, and decided to give it a go for three more days before chucking the jar in the back of my closet. At the end of the week (you can see where this is going), my legs were just as they were before I slathered on the lotion. Feeling defeated, I asked myself: why are you putting your faith into a product that is calling you fat? It was time to take a step back and re-evaluate.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the desire to be thinner, taller, younger, better. As an intern in the beauty department of a popular women’s magazine, I am constantly bombarded with serums and solutions — each promising miraculous results. Quick fixes for wrinkles, dark circles, and large pores; there is a solution for every problem. But the items aren’t being created out of thin air; there’s a large demand for products and procedures that will fix, not flaunt, your flaws. I, myself, am guilty of wanting to improve — as if by losing cellulite or firming up my legs I would look better, feel better. I thought Fat Girl Slim was going to be an instantaneous solution and my saving grace, but seven days later I remained unchanged.
In addition to the world of cosmetics, the diet industry is also fueled off of our distorted definition of beautiful. This summer my 19-year old sister fell victim to the “Master Cleanse”: a strict “detox” that involves drinking gallons of a lemonade-cayenne pepper-maple syrup concoction for a week straight. I tried to talk her out of it, mostly because she has a fabulous figure and no need to diet, but she wanted to shed a few pounds. I suggested cutting back on snacking or switching from diet soda to water, but healthy wasn’t quick enough, she wanted instant results. Sound familiar?
I asked a few of my friends and their mothers about their take on self-image and was surprised: every single person I spoke to has tried at least one get-thin-quick scheme. Some had harrowing tales of binge eating or over-exercising, while others bounced from the South Beach Diet to Weight Watchers to Jenny Craig. It’s scary to think that intelligent, levelheaded women feel pressure to succumb to societal expectations. These 5’11’ frames with toothpick legs, plastered on magazine pages and billboards, are setting the standards for beauty and women are going to extreme measures to get the look.
Unfortunately, the thin-is-beautiful mantra is hard to break. It’s so deep-rooted in the media that we can’t help but be affected; but in order to breakdown these constructs we need to redefine “beauty.” Maintaining a healthy weight through eating well and exercise is important, but shouldn’t be the defining factor when it comes to appreciating our bodies.
As cliche as it sounds, everyone is built differently; we have to learn to embrace our feminine characteristics — our curves, breasts, and hips –and love ourselves from the inside out.
Published October 23, 2008.
Last updated September 16, 2015.