Hourglass, Coke bottle, whatever you want to call it—it’s the body shape a lot of women want. Whether it’s a product of evolution, media worship, the fashion industry, or just plain genetics, just because we know desiring a specific body shape might not be healthy or reasonable doesn’t make us want it any less. However, the odds of any woman being born with a “perfect Coke bottle figure” are pretty slim. Most of us are naturally more muscular in some areas, less in others, and we all carry excess fat in different degrees at different locations.
By far, the most well-known and so-called desired measurements are 36x24x36 (this was long before Sir Mixalot made those numbers famous). There are numerous theories about how these particular measurements became the ideal in pop culture, but there’s no denying they’ve stuck. In the steepest downward spiral of my eating disorder (ED), I decided that would be one of my primary goals. Since I’m also just barely five-foot-seven when I stand up really straight, the same as Kate Moss, I also decided the most common weight I could find listed for her (around 105-110) would also be my goal.
It was ridiculously stupid. And I made it happen.
Okay, I cheated. I naturally have a somewhat hourglass figure as it is, complete with very wide hip bones that make is relatively easy for me to achieve a thigh gap even at a healthy weight (which, of course, was excellent fodder for an ED). At the worst of it, I even got down to 35×24.5×35. At this point, it didn’t matter that losing so much weight meant that I wasn’t society’s proclaimed “ideal.” I was happy to be even less than that.
But still. Those numbers tugged at me. There was immense either satisfaction or terror in the number on the scale and the number on the measuring tape. What those numbers were determined how much I could eat that day, how much cardio was required, how many minutes in the steam room to sweat out a few more ounces, and how much extra water I could take (when your waist is so unnaturally small for your frame, even an extra glass of water can bloat it). It didn’t matter that I knew water bloat and/or steam water loss was “fake.”
It was all about the numbers.
A Numbers Game
Like many on the road to recovery, it’s been recommended to me to not weigh myself—ever. Instead, I go by occasional measurements to get an idea of where I am. Even that isn’t necessarily encouraged, but it’s somehow a lot less stressful than a scale. At least, with a tape measurer, my brain somehow processes that these numbers can and will change, sometimes radically, even day to day. It’s a lot less scary to see a tape measurer go up half an inch than to see even half a pound on a scale. I’m not sure why that’s true, but I know it’s a fact for me.
Also like a lot of people in this too-common scenario, I have a touch of body dysmorphia. Although I’m quick to point out I do not believe I have diagnosable Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) which is a very serious disorder with key parameters required for diagnosis. Just like the difference between disordered eating and a diagnosed eating disorder, there are many similarities but a big difference.
That being said, I can also honestly say I have no idea what I look like. Whether in regards to my body, face, or anything else. I do, and always have, looked to others to tell me whether I was “valid,” acceptable, and so on (yes, that’s something you work on in ED therapy). The only thing that gives me a hint at all are those measurements. At least with them, in lieu of a scale, I can work towards a healthier dimension instead of strictly a smaller one.
Is “Gain” Really a 4-letter Word?
Building muscle became a key aspect of my recovery. It was about strength instead of starvation. Gains instead of losses. And I found something beautiful in it: The ability to change my body, to make it bigger in areas I desired—more powerful—by means of lifting and proper nutrition. That’s right. You can’t lift without good nutrition and plenty of protein. (Well, you can, but it’s pretty pointless).
Instead of losing inches, my goal began to gain them in areas of my choosing. Sporting a classic “flat Indian butt” (thanks, Dad) and living in the Era of Booty (thanks Nicki Minaj and many Kardashians), getting a bigger booty and matching chest/back became a goal. It turns out it isn’t that difficult if you work, then feed, your muscles. Now, sporting a 37×25,37 frame, most of the time I feel stronger. However, there are still moments when the thought of those bigger numbers are nearly paralyzing. Still, it’s never been enough to stop by lifting schedule or to downgrade my whole food and protein intake.
None of this is supposed to mean that certain measurements are better than another. In fact, not measuring yourself at all might be the healthiest approach! It’s simply a reflection of a tool that’s been useful in crawling out from a very sticky and dark place. It’s also a reflection of the incredible ability of our bodies. To be able to change them, shape them, and mold them is a massive amount of responsibility, and it should be treated seriously, gently and with love.
(Photo from iStock)