Why I WILL Praise Miss Indiana For Her Body

Posted by on Jun 25, 2014

The Huffington Post recently featured a blog that lamented the conversation surrounding the latest Miss USA pageant. Contestant Miss Indiana gained attention for her curvy, “healthy-looking” physique, which stood out against the “bag[s] of bones” said to typically populate the modeling and pageant worlds.

Miss Indiana Mekayla Diehl. (Photo courtesy by Stacey Revere Getty Images)

Miss Indiana Mekayla Diehl. (Photo courtesy by Stacey Revere Getty Images)

Like many who saw Miss Indiana as a counter to our thin-obsessed society, blog author Christina Grasso was glad the pageant pushed the envelope in terms of which body types it deemed beautiful. She goes on to say, however, that the public reaction lauding Miss Indiana’s physique, even with the best intentions, still accentuates shape and size. That attitude does not move us closer toward a society that accepts all bodies as beautiful.

On the one hand, I couldn’t agree more with Grasso. Celebrating someone like Miss Indiana is a vast improvement over extolling thigh gaps and protruding hipbones. I, too, seek any sign that society might strike “the thin ideal” from its sacred list of that-which-will-assuredly-beget-happiness. If that were the case, perhaps those of us who battle eating disorders would have a fighting chance against the loaded guns hidden on our DNA. But ignoring the reality of that thin ideal will not change the conversation.

Jesuit education, of which I am a product, counsels agere contra, which means, “to act against.” In the therapy world, this is similar to “opposite action.” When trapped in some recurring thought or behavioral pattern, you can regain control by doing the opposite. If you are afraid of heights, venture up to the Empire Statue Building observation deck. If public speaking makes you queasy, speak up at your next staff meeting and see what happens. Confronting that thought or behavior proves that it does not wield an oppressive power, and, with time, you can break free.

This is precisely how we must combat eating disorders and poor body image. I remember my initial doubt when I sought intensive treatment for anorexia. I worried that facing it head-on, day in and day out, would actually feed the eating disorder. I wondered if it would be better to try to banish it from my thoughts—to starve it out, in a sense.

As it turns out, Robert Frost was right in saying that “the only way out is through.” Recovery does not happen by silencing the eating disorder voice, but by embracing a new set of thoughts and behaviors and practicing these constantly until they become the new norm. This is agere contra, opposite action—a willful, intense, and continuous acknowledgement of the problem in order to avoid the conflicts that might arise as a result. Otherwise, we come uncomfortably close to a kind of ignorance.

On the societal level, pretending that we don’t notice differences in body shapes and sizes also smacks of ignorance. We do notice these differences, and we might even be more physically attracted to one body type over another. But the merciful part about being rational creatures is that we aren’t bound by those impulsive attractions. Some of us will be attracted to curves and others to slender frames, but all of us can suspend judgment about body types and embrace the fact that the humans who inhabit those bodies are inherently valuable. We can acknowledge that not all bodies are the same, but all are respected.

This willful, intense, and continuous acknowledgement is what will edge us closer toward a society that doesn’t elevate one body type over another. For now, the thin ideal is still too entrenched. But it is possible to loosen this obsession through agere contra—pushing back against unhealthy ideals, embracing curves and healthy habits, and talking openly about loving and respecting all bodies.

Indeed, as Grasso says, the only way to lasting happiness is through acceptance. But there are several steps along the way to acceptance that are too important to skip over.

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