Recently, a popular actress undertook a strenuous training program to portray a prima ballerina that included 16 hour a day practice sessions and losing 20 pounds. The results paid off—she looked like a real ballerina on screen and won an Oscar for her dedication. Once the cameras stopped rolling, she went back to her normal eating habits… but most young women would not know that. All they know is that for two hours on screen an actress was supremely thin and graceful. And a lot of them want more than anything to look like that.

Our culture is obsessed with weight. It’s not hard to see why considering the rise in obesity. It will not be long before heavy people number greater than thin people, which isn’t good for our nation’s overall health. But what most of us do not realize is that we are being taught what is beautiful and what is thin by those dedicated to extremes. One of my friends lives not far from where they shoot a popular TV series. They frequently put out open casting calls and when she went to apply, she read the bold print: “females, size 0-4.”

Maybe the camera does put on ten pounds… or maybe their idea of beautiful is impossible. Most girls are not a healthy size 0! Yet since this standard is everywhere we go, from the photo-shopped magazine covers in check-out lines to our favorite shows, we think only super-thin is beautiful. Whether we like it or not, that is engrained in our minds. Most people would call me “slender,” but when I look in the mirror, I notice that I am not a size 2. I stare at the flaws rather than noticing that I look healthy. I don’t eat junk, I get exercise, and no, I don’t fit into a size 2, but many people envy me. Yet in the mirror, I am critical. I vow to eat better and exercise more and skip lunch. I had to smack myself the other day when I looked at a healthy, curvy young woman on a reality show and thought, “She could stand to lose a few pounds.” Is that really true or an automatic reaction because she’s not a size 4?

Most of us are sensible enough not to hurt ourselves in this quest to be thin. I might wish to be ten pounds lighter but could not last a week on a starvation diet and have the common sense not to try. But not everyone is me. A girl I know had to give up her favorite show because it made her struggle with bulimia. It was hard to stare at a 5’5”, size 0 actress and not think that’s what she had to look like… at any cost.

“Beauty” goes through trends; in the 1950’s it was desirable to look like Marilyn Monroe. Now we need to resemble Twiggy. But I’ll never look like her. I don’t have her body build. So any attempt to do that will result in frustration, self-hatred and general unhealthiness.

You may think your friends don’t struggle emotionally with their weight and how the world sees beauty, and if you are lucky, she doesn’t. But many girls have impossible standards and their inability to achieve them can lead to not appreciating what they have been given, or having little self-confidence in their appearance. We can’t escape what the world defines as beauty—our outward side, rather than our heart, because it is all around us. And most of us cannot help our body type. We have to work what the Good Lord and Grandma gave us. But we can realize that our good heath comes before being skinny, and that our skinny might not be the world’s skinny. ♥