I was thirteen when I got my first copy of Seventeen magazine. To this day, I can still remember exactly what that magazine looked like, because I was so excited to have been allowed to buy it from the magazine stand. It was May, 1990, and the three girls on the cover were in modest, one-piece Cindy Crawford swimsuits. Looking back, I remember that the cover models didn’t seem that much older than me, and size-wise, didn’t look that much different. All three girls were healthy looking, attractive teenagers. At that time, I was still shaped like a kid, and hadn’t grown into my adult body yet. It didn’t seem like a far stretch that I could also be a model, if this is what model bodies looked like.
Living in a rural area, there wasn’t much opportunity for a career as a teen model. It wasn’t a dream that I actually thought would turn into reality or actively tried to pursue, but it didn’t stop me from secretly wishing that I’d be discovered one day and make my way onto magazine covers. Reality of not, I’d still look at models on each page, scrutinizing their faces and bodies to try to determine what made them different than me. That early on in my magazine-buying days, the girls, while often wearing clothes I’d never be able to afford, had realistic bodies that didn’t make me feel like the American ideal was too unattainable.
As I moved into high school, I was busy with sports and music, and didn’t have time for magazines as much as I did in middle school, so I’m not really sure when the drastic shift occurred where the healthy models featured in some of my first teen magazines morphed into the super skinny, gazelle-legged versions that we see on the covers today. It certainly became intimidating to page through magazines, seeing body after body that didn’t even slightly look like mine. No matter how much I exercised, how many meals I trimmed down, or how much wishing I did, could never and will never look like a model by today’s standards.
I can only think that there are millions of other girls and women out there, who also compare themselves to an unrealistic standard that’s unobtainable for ninety-nine percent of the population. It’s sad that there are many people who may judge their worth or attractiveness to others because they look for contrasts between their bodies and those of cover models. It’s also sad that many men may also believe these body images are representative of what real women look like, causing regular girls to feel as if they’ve fallen short of expectations.
Now, I’d love to say that I completely accept my body just the way it is, but that’s not the total truth. Something I have come to accept is that I’ve got a strong, capable body. I’m still playing soccer, can run, swim, compete, and try just about any new form of fitness that comes to my gym. I’ve learned the proper form when exercising, and never feel intimidated in the free weight room. When I analyze this body part or that body part, looking for ways to make improvements, it’s not because I believe that I’m going to become rail thin and model-like, but because I want to see more muscle definition, build strength, or figure out ways to have that muscle make me faster.
I’ve learned that strong is the new sexy, and that looking like a skinny fashion model isn’t obtainable, nor should it be. While there are parts of me I’d love to change, I realize that eating real food and genetics are factors that will keep me looking like me, and not a model. As long as I’m healthy and strong, I need to be excited about what my body can do, and not how it doesn’t look in comparison to someone else. If that’s not sexy, then I don’t know what is.