Down With Cindy Crawford: Reclaiming Body Image
A while back I bought Cindy Crawford's Shape Your Body workout tape. I was convinced that if I could master the many thigh-tummy-bun-busters of Cindy's, then I would be the object of desire of any stud within a three-mile radius. Actually, I just wanted to stop that rasping noise I thought I heard every time my thighs rubbed against each other. Although deep down I knew that I would never actually achieve the "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful" plateau, I figured I might, someday, reach supermodel status. That's the myth. The reality is that I'm barely 5'1", the only competitive sport I play is Pictionary, and the only part of me you could fit into a size two are my feet. If everyone out there buying a Cindy Crawford tape is thinking that they're going to look even remotely like her, they are very sadly mistaken. It's hard to mold cottage cheese into cream, and it's almost impossible to look like the images you see around you every day that tell you "You're not quite good enough, keep trying." I began my re-dedication to aerobics two weeks ago. In the last few months, my workout schedule has included so little actual working out that I wish I would've been using the money I paid to the YMCA for some decent groceries. (Think of all the Twinkies I could've bought during that time!) Since reviving my "thigh control" belief system, I've come to realize there are two main types of people that are coming to exercise. Some are into image and some are into reality.IMAGE: On my fourth day of working out I see a woman in aerobics that makes my mind scream with a very loud, "Huh?" She is tall, about 5'10", and is as thin as the bow of a violin. Her dark hair is slightly frizzy, and past her shoulders. She is very obviously wearing a layer or two of hair spray, because when she steps on the bench, her hair doesn't move of its own accord. She's moving, but she's not really going anywhere.On this woman's face is a mask. Her blush looks like it was drawn by a small child -- the marks on her cheeks are unblended and look brightly out-of-place on her pale face. The scarlet lipstick she wears looks like a wax mouth, and her eyelids are hooded with a broody purple shade. In short, she and her color-coordinated exercise clothes give her the appearance of a mannequin. The woman is thin, but that doesn't mean she's in shape. Her skin is loose on her frame, and she's clearly not what you'd call "toned." Once the class begins, she seems to not pay attention to what the instructor is saying. She giggles when she periodically bumps into the person next to her, and she makes little effort to even keep in tune with the fluid, if somewhat difficult, moves the instructor is making. She is flipping her hair back and forth quite vigorously, but that doesn't burn very many fat calories now, does it? She probably goes home and feels good that she made it to aerobics, but it seems that the only reason she is really there is to say, "Look at me -- I may not be getting a great workout, but don't I look fabulous?" No, sweetie, you don't look fabulous. You look like you're trying not to get your makeup messed up by doing something icky like actually sweating and elevating your heart rate. You're trying to be an image, and it's not working. Cindy Crawford looks great on tape. Sure, she looks a little warm, but her hair doesn't stick to her head, her face doesn't get red and splotchy, and she seems to glow like a Madonna when she quips, "Don't forget to breathe!" But here's the catch. Cindy has this crazy little personal trainer named Radu and a camera and makeup crew ready to take her sweaty body and make it look like it's actually refreshing to do 200 sit-ups. She has cameras scrutinizing her on a regular basis, and makes her living on the premise that people with great bodies and great skin are somehow happier, somehow better able to deal with life. She is the embodiment of what women are taught to strive for, yet makes millions of dollars because so many of us who aren't like her are trying to be like her. We're trying so hard to have "Buns of Steel" and "Amazing Abs" that we sometimes forget the reality.REALITY: A person's worth should not be based upon the size of their workout thong, the number of times they yell "Woo Woo!" during aerobics class, or their ability not to sweat. We have one instructor who defines fitness. Her workout clothes are not "outfits" -- she is usually wearing somewhat loose shorts or cut-off sweats and a T-shirt. She keeps her hair out of her face, and the only thing visible on her face are beads of perspiration and the occasional droplets of water she splashes on herself during breaks. She shows us the correct way to glide over the bench, and when someone is confused, she takes the time to help them without making them look like they have absolutely no idea what they're doing. If someone is doing something that can hurt their body, she lets them know. And guess what -- she doesn't make us smile or act excited if we don't want to. She also makes mistakes. She admits that she isn't infallible, and encourages us to work hard, but not to overwork ourselves. Where working out is concerned, reality is what we want for ourselves. It isn't about looking good for somebody else or being the prettiest girl on the aerobics step. It's about working hard so that you're happy with what you see in the mirror. It's about keeping yourself healthy so that you can continue an active lifestyle and be comfortable with yourself. And guess what -- it's different for everybody. The reality of being in shape and being healthy is not having to curl your hair or shave your legs or make sure your lip gloss is shiny enough to pass an Eileen Ford makeup exam. It's not about showing that you've got the biggest muscles or the tightest butt or the most defined cleavage. Mostly, reality is knowing in your mind that what you are doing is giving yourself a sound body and a sound mind. If you're just getting up in the morning or rushing to the gym after work hoping that people will like you better if you look better, then you'd better think again. Being fit is a lifetime activity, not just something to pass the time so that you can get a date or be admired for your shockingly large pecs. It's about knowing inside that what you're doing is a long-term health care process. And if you don't have that attitude, you may as well sit back on the couch and devour the Twinkies by the boxful, because you're poisoning your mind as much as you are your body by pretending that your worth is measured by how you look instead of how you act.Right now getting to the gym four or five times a week is a chore. I'm at the point where I want to be in better shape, yet I'm not quite dedicated enough to be insanely happy every time my alarm goes off at 6 a.m. and I force myself to trudge to the StairMaster or don a bathing suit that makes me feel like Shamu. But in two weeks of steadily working out I can feel the difference -- both outside and in. Sure, there's no discernible change in my appearance yet. But I feel better. I have more energy and I'm slowly starting to like working out again. Soon, I hope, I'll feel strange if I haven't exercised my body on a regular basis. Sure, it'll feel good when somebody says, "Gosh, you look great! Have you been working out?" But I'll know that even though other people are admiring me, it'll be what I think and admire about myself that matters the most.If you feel you need anything like lipstick or hair spray to help you get through your workout, then go ahead. But don't let that limit what you can do or feel that your image is all that's important. And if you see a woman who looks suspiciously like Cindy Crawford walking down your street, don't worry -- it's not me. I learned a long time ago that unless someone invents a gene-altering chemical, I'm stuck with the short little body that I've got. I'm not trying to make myself look like someone I'm not -- I'm making myself look a little more like the me I want to be.