I will never forget the night my 6’3″ tall, slender brother and his even taller, slender friend bought two tickets for the 7:15 p.m. showing of the movie “Troy,” starring an unusually ripped and rippled Brad Pitt. At 10:30 that same night my phone rang, and I heard my brother say to me, “My friend and I have decided that we need to go to the gym. We think we need to get in shape.”
They went out for a night of light cinematic escapism and came back with body esteem issues. Two perfectly healthy, well adjusted, intelligent, funny, fit, and loving human beings had not changed that much in just three hours — at least on the outside. But something on the inside had obviously changed.
The American Heart Association reports that as of January 2010, 58 percent of Americans want to improve their health this year. Compare that with the more than 70 percent of women who resolve to lose weight each year, and the 95 percent of successful dieters who turn right around and pack it all back on — and then some — within five years of concluding their diet.
Add to that my brother’s “Troy” experience, and I can’t help but wonder — could we perhaps be confusing our obsession with sleek thighs, six-pack abs, toned behinds, and smaller sizes with something called “health”?
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines “health” as a “state of complete physical, mental, and social well being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” To the WHO, health is a fluid, ongoing, ever-evolving, multi-level process which has less to do with appearance and more to do with comprehensive bio-psycho-social functionality.
Consider this — when we are little, we are aware of our body as a functional entity. It runs when we want to run, jumps when we want to jump, sleeps when we want to sleep. As long as it works, we are perfectly happy with it.
As a child, I was of this mindset myself until a few weeks into my sixth grade year, when my best friend since kindergarten informed me in front of a cafeteria full of our peers that I was “too fat to fit into the social circle she wanted to run with.” She then requested – politely – that I refrain from telling others that we knew each other. Stunned into silence, I could only nod and acquiesce.
In that moment, any such working definition as I may have had of “health” ala the WHO instantly changed. In fact, in that moment, health on any other level was no longer of any consequence — size was all that mattered. I was “too big.” I needed to “get smaller.” If I didn’t do this, I was in danger of never being accepted, wanted, valued, included, loved. Sadly, I even found myself feeling grateful for the heads-up, accompanied as it was by such crystalline clear-cut instructions for what to do about it.