What we decide “looking healthy” looks like is a cultural aesthetic. Meaning that collectively we evolve to see certain attributes as favorable and better and beautiful and right. What I think is deeply interesting is that what we deem as healthy looking may or may not be healthy at all. That’s right, you can be a size zero and be totally unhealthy. This may seem like a duh, but I think it needs to be reiterated again and again. The state of our health is a complex picture not just represented by “nice glutes”.
When we flip through magazines, we see woman featured with concave stomachs and postures that list to the side and thighs and knees that are purposely turned in to look smaller. We see men who are so built, so defined muscularly that they can barely straighten their arms over-head. We are inundated with these images and after a while we think, this is what beautiful and healthy look like. Now I can say that if we look at any culture, we will find that each has their own definition of what health/beauty look like. All of which create adaptations of the body, with their own expression of both success and failure.
The truth is, many body types work. By “work”, I mean a body that is structurally and functionally in a state of well-being. When assessing someone’s body, I think it helps to consider:
- Body size
- The proportionality and shape of how the body is carrying its mass
- Body composition
- How well the body moves
- Health of basic body functions
Instead of just thinking that six-pack abs is the definition of health, the body invites us to consider a more complex picture of ourselves and our body image in connection with health.
Body size differs in height and weight, shape and composition. Consider your body: How tall are you? How much do you weigh? Now think about how you carry that height and weight. Look in a mirror and notice the asymmetries of your body and the symmetries. Is your weight evenly distributed or is there an obvious discrepancy? Body composition is determined by measurements, but even with an untrained eye, can you tell where you have muscle? Where you carry adipose tissue? Pause, sidebar:
What is adipose tissue? Fat tissue. I know, the dreaded word FAT! Can I offer something that puts me way at ease and in healthier relationship to my own extra pounds? Fat tissue is incredibly valuable stored energy. Your organs have some fat around them as stored energy wells to keep normal functioning consistent in periods of starvation or famine. Remember, your body model is still a hunter-gatherer at heart. When you eat, your body uses what is necessary, yes necessary, to maintain normal functioning. If things can't be excreted, then they are stored. Stored as glycogen in the muscles and as fat tissue as well. If you eat more than you need on a regular basis, your body will increase in size and store more and more. So when I see more adipose tissue, I think, that is a lot of stored energy! That is a lot of potentiality ready to be used. If the weight and excess is extreme, the burden the excess creates on the body absolutely undermines function. This is an imbalance that if not corrected will destroy health and function. But fat tissue is not bad!!!!!! It is necessary. Just relative proportions.
Okay, we are back. Now based on what we mentioned — size, shape, and composition — how well do you move? Can you get up and down off the floor without using your hands? Sit down in a chair, sit up without using your arms? Can you stretch your arms up and overhead without moving your ribs or bending your elbows? If you don't know, come to class! We would be happy to assess. Can you walk a mile? When you stand up do you look like a curving and swaying line? Or do your bones stack or line up in such a way that the body's mass is distributed in the most economically way?
Now functional health, what color is your pee? Do you poop every day? How many hours do you sleep? What is your body temperature? Blood pressure? Do you eat mostly processed food? Or more whole foods? Do you smoke? Do you drink alcohol on a regular basis? This list can go on for a while. But you are complex.
Can you see by just the long list of questions that six-pack abs just doesn't cut the picture of health? Many size bodies can work, we just have to develop a more whole body understanding of what that includes. And just in case you forgot, you will not find that in most magazines or advertising campaigns.