What is your perfect shape?
Picture yourself in perfect shape. What do you look like? Wait. Think carefully. Is it really you? This is a mistake that is made too often. We form an ideal in our head that has no basis in reality. And we allow that imaginary ideal to rob us of enjoying both our progress and our temporary peaks of perfection.
What is your shape? Don’t tell me it is fat or something like that. We can discuss ideal weight later. Right now, just think about what your basic shape is. Or what would it be if it didn’t have some extra padding.
Everyone’s basic shape is made up of a combination of factors. Nearly everyone complains about their shape at one time or another and wishes they had someone else’s shape. There is a pervasive illusion that someone else’s shape would magically make staying in shape effort free.
Why do cartoons have extra large eyes?
Part of the problem is the way two dimensional images look. It is very difficult to capture the vitality of someone in photos, drawing, and even cartoons. All kinds of tricks are used to make up for this flatness. What often happens as a result is that we forget what normal bodies look like.
For instance, I remember the first time I realized that the drawings on sewing patterns always had extraordinarily long, thin legs. I have never seen anyone in real life with legs that long, not even when aided with high heels. This was a technique to sell the styles because that is how people want to look.
I also learned that how a real, photographed model stood might be hiding something about the pattern or at least giving a false impression of how the garment would usually look. She was probably also standing in a way that was almost cartoonish, meaning people just don’t stand like that a lot in real life. I learned to ask myself how often I would be in that actual pose.
Speaking of cartoons, have you ever noticed how abnormally huge certain features are made? This usually looks nice on the cartoon, but would look hideous on a real person. We need to be careful what we compare ourselves to.
What about our perception of real people?
There are two main pitfalls when it comes to comparing ourselves to other people’s “shapes.” First, we often concentrate on their desirable features and don’t notice their problem areas (or what they think their problem areas are). Secondly, we tend to see them at a particular optimum moment. If they are good at picking styles that work for their shape or just have good posture, we may misinterpret the effect.
Once when I was working out at the gym, one of the trainers came up to share something encouraging with me. She had just had an appointment with a newcomer. When asked what her goals were, the new woman had looked around and pointed at me saying, “I want to look like her.”
Obviously, I appreciated the compliment, but I was not who I would have picked to look like. Also, as I glanced at her, it was unlikely she would ever look like me. It is ironic that some of the features in myself that I think are “less than feminine” are often what give some women the impression of something they want to be. I say “impression” because I get a pretty good idea of what they think they are seeing. They don’t understand the whole package.
Like an amoeba
I’m getting better about not complaining about my shape. I try to spend my energy on working with it. One thing that has helped me is being realistic about how bodies change with things like position, use, time.
We move and our bodies change shape as we move. That is normal. Sometimes, some parts of us scrunch up, like when we bend forward in the middle. If there is no bunching of flesh when we do that, we are probably ghastly thin.
Our shapes, being a large part water, also change if we hang one way or another. My cheeks are notorious for this. I KNOW I use my mouth enough for my cheeks to “be in shape,” so it is not fair that they go with gravity at the slightest opportunity!
Because our shapes change as we move, clothes that are not designed to accommodate this will be too tight in some positions or too baggy in others. This does not mean that we are the wrong shape or that we are too fat (again, a subject for another time). This is why yoga pants are so popular. Even an amoeba might be able to wear a pair of yoga pants!
Life experiences may alter our shape potential. For women, the most obvious example of this is child birth. An abdomen that has been stretched to that degree will rarely get back to pre-birth shape.
As we age, all of us have to face decreasing skin turgor and comparative loss of muscle capacity. We can recognize this and still make amazing progress toward both a healthy and visually pleasing shape.
Before you whip yourself into shape…
If you want to make progress toward your optimum shape, there are realities you need to be aware of.
- Good health is not limited to a certain shape.
- Not everyone is attracted to the same shapes.
- People tend to gain weight in different places.
- Use of devices to obtain a certain shape will restrict and weaken the body.
- How you feel may be at odds with your idea of the perfect shape.
- Zero body fat is not very shapely.
We each may have to experiment with what weight and muscle tone combination results in a shape we can be happy with. We also need to choose to be happy along the way to our occasional personal peaks of perfection. We need to give ourselves permission to be satisfied with our bodies in general. It is not selfish or vain to be content with the body that you were given. You can do that at the same time as working on keeping it in good shape, for both aesthetic and functional reasons!