Friday, February 24, 2012

THE RACE: Body Image and the Pinterest Debate Over the Mermaid and the Whale

I recently posted a blog about how the website Pinterest can be a useful resource for nutrition, workouts, and general inspiration.  Who'da thunk it could be used to stir up a huge controversy? Not I, when I pinned an article from one of my favorite websites, Mind Body Green.

I love Mind Body Green...I follow them on Facebook and Twitter because they send a lot of great articles on spirituality, workouts, yoga, balancing life, etc.  They recently posted an article - actually a parable - entitled Body Image Parable Goes Viral: Mermaid or Whale? And along with it, they posted the following picture of plus size model, Tara Lynn:

Now, before you start freaking out over the title "Mermaid or Whale" and the picture, read the parable.  I won't even try to summarize it, I'm just going to copy it here so that you will actually read it:

A while back, at the entrance of a gym, there was a picture of a very thin and beautiful woman. The caption was "This summer, do you want to be a mermaid or a whale?"

The story goes, a woman (of clothing size unknown) answered the following way:

"Dear people, whales are always surrounded by friends (dolphins, seals, curious humans), they are sexually active and raise their children with great tenderness.
They entertain like crazy with dolphins and eat lots of prawns. They swim all day and travel to fantastic places like Patagonia, the Barents Sea or the coral reefs of Polynesia.
They sing incredibly well and sometimes even are on cds. They are impressive and dearly loved animals, which everyone defend and admires.

Mermaids do not exist.

But if they existed, they would line up to see a psychologist because of a problem of split personality: woman or fish?
They would have no sex life and could not bear children.
Yes, they would be lovely, but lonely and sad.
And, who wants a girl that smells like fish by his side?

Without a doubt, I'd rather be a whale.

At a time when the media tells us that only thin is beautiful, I prefer to eat ice cream with my kids, to have dinner with my husband, to eat and drink and have fun with my friends.

We women, we gain weight because we accumulate so much wisdom and knowledge that there isn't enough space in our heads, and it spreads all over our bodies.
We are not fat, we are greatly cultivated.
Every time I see my curves in the mirror, I tell myself: "How amazing am I ?! "

I thought this was AWESOME - and yes in BOLD ALL CAPS!  I also thought that Tara Lynn was drop dead gorgeous.  So, I pinned it on Pinterest, along with the picture of Tara Lynn, on my Health & Fitness pin board, thinking a lot of women would be inspired by it.  I also said in the caption for the pin: "A must read for all women with body image issues...would you rather be a mermaid or a whale? I'd choose whale... And READ THE ARTICLE (click the picture) to understand. This is NOT a judgment about this woman's figure. It's a story about a whale, a mermaid, and what's REAL."
Then the sparks started flying...  

Here's the link to my Pinterest pin, which I really hope you can open so that you can read the plethora of comments...and prepare to be riled up, one way or another: My Pinterest pin

Let's just say that the first two comments were from two men:  one saying "diabetes" and the other saying "that's disgusting."  One of the guys even wondered why I pinned this on my "fitness" board when, in his opinion, she clearly wasn't fit. When you start that low, you wouldn't think there'd be any further down to go...but they somehow managed, by then assuming to know what her body mass index ("BMI") was and concluding that there's no way she could be healthy....

Oy!  First, I wonder if any of these people have jobs because they were doing a lot of commenting!

Second, if you want to find a way to rile up a bunch of women - take a lesson from those two guys.  I guarantee that if their addresses/phone numbers are publicly available, they're going to be getting prank calls and bags of shit-on-fire thrown at their houses.  I have to say, I've never been so proud to be a woman as I was when I was reading these women's comments - none of whom I've ever met - and saw how they all rallied together to blast these two guys.  These women were all on the same page, raging for the same cause:  beauty is only skin-deep and, not only that, but it's all subjective.

Third, why are two dudes looking at my Pinterest Health/Fitness board anyway?  I think they were just trolling for images of hot women (which you won't find on my boards, with the exception of Tara's picture)...

Finally, and most importantly, the whole debate, for me, really underscored the importance of the lessons of that parable.  I posted a very loooong reply on Pinterest, but I'll summarize it here....

We are all like icebergs - most of our mass (the stuff that really matters) is below the surface, out of anyone's superficial sight.  Only if you go below the surface can you truly see what lies beneath.  Whether you are skinny or overweight, it's your insides that matter - both literally and figuratively.  They matter literally because you should want to be as healthy as you can be - and that's different for each person - whatever size you are. You should want to take care of yourself, but that doesn't necessarily mean you have to be 110lbs.

And your insides matter figuratively because at least 50% (or more) of "health & fitness" is mental.  Health and fitness isn't just physical.  Your mind has to want to be healthy or engage in physical activity, and to do it for the right reasons - not for reasons that society says you should.  If you're someone who is so depressed because you're overweight, your hardest battle isn't going to be losing weight - it's going to be setting your mind on actually doing it.  That's why I posted this on my Health/Fitness board - because it takes both the mental and physical.

Also, the parable isn't just about seeing past what someone looks like - it's about seeing past what you look like.  ALL beauty is subjective.  So even when you think something negative about yourself, chances are there is someone out there who is not thinking the same thing.  So next time you start picking on yourself because you need to lose 5, 10 or 50 pounds, or because you hate your nose, or your boobs are too small, try to find something you love about yourself instead.  Like the whale, you have a lot of great just have to notice them.

Finally, we ALL judge people.  We are imperfect humans.  Even when we try not to, we make snap judgments, or see a woman on the street in a weird outfit, or someone who weighs 300 lbs, and we make a judgment.  But, when those judgments manifest as hateful, rude criticisms intended to hurt, that tells me is that the person doing the criticizing actually has very low self esteem.  People do and say mean, hurtful things because they're insecure, and they want other people to feel as insecure as they do. They want to feel more powerful, in-charge, "better-than."  I actually feel sorry for those kinds of people because to levy such hurtful things at another person, they must really be hating themselves inside...And the ironic twist is that it's those people - like the two guys who blasted the hurtful comments - who could really benefit the most from the parable's lesson to find the good qualities about yourself.

So what's all this have to do with endurance sports? Plenty...We always judge ourselves for not being fast enough or strong enough, not having rock-hard abs, not looking like someone else.  And we also judge other people we see on the race course...I'll admit it: when I see a heavier person pass me on the run, I get a little upset.  But I know nothing about what the person has overcome, how they've trained, what's motivating them...All I know is what I think they look like.  We get so wrapped up in our judgments about our performance and our physical looks, that we forget to honor what we've achieved.  We're so hard on our outsides that we neglect to thank the insides for helping us decide to step up to the start line in the first place...

It seems that Tara Lynn has learned the lesson of the parable.  By "society's" standards (and the two guys on Pinterest), she isn't "thin" (whatever that is).  But she obviously embraces her looks, and I'm guessing it's because of how she views herself as a whole - inside and out.  Hell, I weigh 125 and there's no way I'd be comfortable enough to take my clothes off for a photo shoot!  And by the way, here are some other pictures of Tara Lynn from the same photo shoot (which was for the French Elle magazine)...yeah, she's totally "disgusting" (said with dripping sarcasm)...

Bottom line - whether someone is a whale or a mermaid, fat or skinny, attractive or not, the exterior shouldn't matter...  

Challenge yourself:  Next time you catch yourself making a snap judgment about someone's looks, try to turn it around by finding something positive about that person...even if the one you're judging is YOU! 

And would any of you be comfortable taking your clothes off for a photo shoot like Tara's? 

(To leave a comment below, click on the # of comments and it will pull up a comment window).


Anonymous said...


Jen said...

Another excellent post. I was just thinking today that I'm too harsh on myself and wondering why, when I'm so kind to others in my thoughts. I saw a heavier than me person running and seemed to be struggling and I thought, "what a rockstar!" and yet beat myself up about my pace on my run not an hour later. I rarely allow pictures of a fully clothed me to be taken, I cannot imagine having the courage to allow a naked picture.

I <3 your blog, thank you for writing it.

Life Through Endurance said...

Thanks, Jen! You're so kind! And take those pictures...years from now you and your kids will wish you had! (Well, I'm talking about ones with clothes on!)

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