There is a long list of things I don’t watch on television, one of them being the Miss America Pageant. I do, however, watch my facebook news feed and Today Show clips and yesterday, all the talk about one of the contestants, Miss Indiana, and her “normal” body, caught my eye.
If you haven’t seen the news, headlines like “Miss Indiana Mekayla Diehl: ‘I didn’t go to extremes’ for my body” (Fox News) or “Miss Indiana Mekayla Diehl ‘Blown Away’ by Being Called ‘Normal’” (ABC News). Afterwards, Miss Indiana has been talking about how she chose to maintain her healthy lifestyle rather than starve herself or go to extremes to get ready for the swimsuit portion of the competition. She says that the response from the world of social media, where people have applauded her for her “normal” body, has been positively overwhelming.
But along with the praise for her body also came questions over just how “normal” her body is. The Los Angeles Times included a chart of what an actual “normal” woman would look like and compared that to Miss Indiana’s proportions. They include her BMI (18) and her height and conclude,” A bag of bones she is not, but she is far from average.”
There are a couple of reasons why I don’t think all of this is all good. I am all for people talking about body image and for expanding the range of bodies we think are beautiful. But all of this talk about Miss Indiana’s body versus the “normal” body of a woman does something that I think is problematic: it normalizes talking about how acceptable another woman’s body is. Sure, we can say that it’s okay because if she is unacceptable it’s not because she’s too big, but I don’t think it is. Today, though, it’s normal to print and talk about how much someone weighs. It’s also normal to critique their bodies, and this kind of discussion needs to come with a little bit of caution.
I don’t see men’s magazines discussing Miss Indiana’s body. These women are all beauties–they wouldn’t be on that stage if they weren’t. I don’t think it’s as normal for men to dissect and critique each others’ bodies to decide publicly if they’re acceptable. Maybe this is because women know that they’ve spent a long time being told to look a way that is unrealistic for them. But what we need to do isn’t to come up with a new realistic ideal for all women to aim for. Jezebel’s “Miss Indiana’s ‘Normal’ Body is Nowhere Near Normal” makes a point about this reflecting women’s obsession with matching some norm, saying, “…[P]ublic response to Diehl exposes something else about the way that the media has warped people’s ideas of how women should or do look. It reveals how badly we want to see ourselves reflected in society’s ideal, and how much we’re willing to ignore reality in order to seek that identification.”
The more we discuss her body and whether it’s “normal” enough for us to feel happy, the more we normalize this kind of dissection of how other women look and the less we question whether or not we should all be trying to look the same. We don’t take the time, then, to consider the effects of the pageant itself when we get sucked into discussing whether or not the winner is too thin or now that she isn’t quite as thin, not not thin enough.What if we just didn’t watch it in the first place?
I’ve talked about this before–in relation to “strong is the new skinny:” We will never win when we shift what’s normal without discussing why we think we should all be “normal.” When we talk about her not being average, do we want her to be average? Isn’t the majority of the population, if you believe the statistics, inactive and unhealthy?
Regardless, when we try to make one body type that we unquestioningly assume is healthy (whether or not it is) the new normal, we aren’t fixing things. We are looking at one body type and saying all the others are wrong. We aren’t thinking about all the things that go into having a healthy body and a healthy life:
- Does that “normal” woman love her body?
- Does that normal woman move it in ways that make it feel good and function well?
- Does that normal woman eat enough real food?
- Does that normal woman get enough sleep?
To that end, Miss Indiana seems to be nailing it. She’s active. She talks about liking her body. Those are two big important parts of living a healthy life, in my opinion.
But this is really about us.
- Do we love our bodies?
- Do we move in ways that make us feel good and function well?
- Do we eat enough real food?
- Do we get enough sleep?
It’s a lot easier to complain about things outside of us and big that we probably can’t control than it is to address what we can: how we relate to and how we take care of our own bodies. If we can learn to love our bodies, we don’t need to worry about matching an ideal, because we will be our own ideal.
I’m at the point where if I was going to bother wishing I had someone else’s body, I’d be wishing it was one of someone who does something that awes me: how about a pro cyclist or maybe a top CrossFit athlete? And then, rather than feeling bad about not matching up, what would happen if I used those women as examples of what’s possible and started to work on doing the things that would make me more capable like them? I’m still striving, but it seems to me to be in a much healthier direction.
We don’t need “normal” beauty pageant competitors—we need to see that our bodies are normal and are all that we can really control. If we are healthy and taking care of ourselves, we need to rest assured that that makes our bodies good enough, whether or not people on the interwebs agree.
What did you think about the Miss Indiana news and discussion?
Do you watch beauty pageants?
What kind of body do you strive for? One that looks a certain way, or one that does certain things?