Thursday, January 20, 2011

In the land of real women

By James J. Gormley

Although winter has much of the U.S. in its icy grip, many Americans like going to Florida or other sunny climes in February and especially in March, when Spring Break is upon us. With sun-kissed beaches come the tiny, itsy bitsy polka dot bikinis with which sandy diversions are often associated. Many young women (not to mention, lots of men) are alternately looking at the calendar and peeking at the mirror, worried that they will not be able to fit into that swimsuit that’s two sizes too small that was bought as an “incentive” after New Year’s Eve.

What’s with all of this bikini anxiety? As I pointed out in 1999, in an article called “Giving Barbie the ‘Boot”: (1) real women have different body types than do most fashion models, who are often emaciated and (2) typical diets don’t work. In addition, the Barbie body-myth acculturation is now beginning in very young girls who should, arguably, be excited about many things -- such as science, math, sports, and jump-rope -- but not about losing weight!

Rachel Caplin, author of I’m Beautiful, Dammit! Waging Your Own Curvolution and co-founder of Curvolution, a Calif.-based entertainment company that’s working to put real women, of all sizes, into the media, said in a 2006 interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: “The fact that it’s bathing suit season doesn’t mean that this is the moment in time where you have to be what the season is telling you to be.”

Our society’s bathing suit obsession becomes even clearer when we look at a few stats on women, girls, and weight extracted from the book, The 7 Secrets of Slim People, by Vikki Hansen, M.S.W., and Shawn Goodman:

• The average American woman is 5'4", weighs 140 lbs., and wears a size 14 dress.
• 33% of American women wear a size 16 or larger.
• 50% of American women are on a diet at any one time.
• 90 to 99% of diets fail to achieve permanent weight loss.
• 50% of 9-year-old girls and 80% of 10-year-old girls have dieted.
• 90% of high-school junior and senior girls diet regularly, even though only between 10-15% are over the "recommended" weight.

And when I learned from authors Hansen and Goodman, that “young girls are more afraid of becoming fat than they are of nuclear war, cancer, and losing their parents,” then it makes me more determined than ever to try to encourage my (trim) teenaged daughter to enjoy her summer and not get sucked into the dysfunctional body-type vortex that surrounds us.

Adding to bikini anxiety is its kissing cousin, fitness anxiety: Are we buff enough? Although we can sometimes feel stress as we unfairly judge ourselves by looking at the aerobics instructor next to us on the StairMaster®, we might not be aware that many everyday activities --- including shopping at the mall! --- really help us to be more fit and burn more calories each day.

For example, did you know that 25 minutes of brisk walking at the mall (the best way to avoid buying too much!) or 30 minutes of washing windows burn the same amount of calories as 20 minutes of medium aerobics or 20 minutes of tennis? Better yet: did you know that 30 minutes of mowing the lawn (although be careful in the heat) or 45 minutes of washing dishes offer the same calorie-burning as the aerobics? All true. That’s what I call putting things in perspective.

So what if it gives us another excuse to go to the mall!


  1. Anonymous2:23 AM

    That puts washing dishes in a new light!

  2. HAHA! I thought that stepper machine was some sort of Darth Vader thing at first.
    Great article.

  3. haha, it does look Sith-like, doesn't it? GLad you liked the article!!! Love your blog! ( :


The Gormley Files - Blogged