Let’s Talk About the “Ideal Female Body”
Through the ages, the female form has inspired artists, literature, musicians, and even started wars. However, the definition of the “perfect female body” has changed throughout history. In the Renaissance, plump women were the ideal. In the 1990s, thin was in. And today, we see a shift towards a “love your curves” revolution that is more inclusive to a variety of bodies.
With all these messages coming at us from all angles, it’s hard to know which message is correct.
What We Imagine the Perfect Body Looks Like
In 2012, British researchers asked 80 young adults (40 men and 40 women) to create 3D images of their ideal bodies, and the ideal bodies of a romantic partner. The findings? When men drew an ideal female form, there were softer lines and more curves. But when women were asked to create their ideal bodies, they often represented unrealistic measurements – the type only achieved through starvation and plastic surgery, in many cases.
Over generations, women have been bombarded with media telling us how we should look. From a young age, when many of us received a Barbie doll, we were conditioned to think that “beautiful” meant impossibly thin waists, large breasts, non-existent hips, and long, lean lines.
However, movements like CrossFit are changing the ideal. As more and more women take on extreme fitness, the ideal female form takes on new meaning.
Is there truly an ideal female body? And if so, how can we achieve it?
There are Many Shapes and Sizes
No two people are the same. Each of us is unique, and our body shapes are as varied as our personalities. And while body shape can be a predictor of your overall health, that’s not always the case. Many thin people are still at risk for heart disease, and many curvy women are in picture-perfect health.
There’s not just one ideal body type. In fact, there are several common body types:
If you’ve always been naturally thin and find it hard to put on weight, you’re probably an ectomorph. This body type has a smaller frame, thinner bones, and flatter chest and glutes. Your body processes food quickly, making it hard to build muscle.
This body type has a larger bone structure, shorter limbs, and more body fat and muscle. If you’re an endomorph, you find it incredibly easy to put on weight – especially in your lower belly and hips – but incredibly hard to lose the pounds. Your body likely stores high-carb foods as fat instead of burning them.
Mesomorphs are the “athletic build:” broad shoulders, narrow waists, and low body fat. Many elite athletes fall into this category, including bodybuilders and endurance athletes. Mesomorphs can both gain and lose weight quickly, making them well-suited to a variety of activities.
More common in women than in men, a pear shape combines an ectomorph upper body with an endomorph lower body. That is, a slim upper body with larger hips and thighs.
Apple-shaped bodies have more fat around the belly, with thinner legs and arms. This is the most dangerous body type because belly fat increases the risk of heart disease, Type II Diabetes, and high cholesterol.
What Really Matters: Your BMI, What You Eat, and How You Move
Your body shape is just one piece of the health puzzle. Knowing and understanding your natural body shape is important, but what you put into your body, and the activity your body performs are the most critical factors.
Today, many physicians and nutritionists use the Body Mass Index, or BMI, to indicate your overall health. Your BMI is calculated based on your weight and height. However, this is an imperfect measurement as it doesn’t take into account your body type, physical activity, or other dynamics.
More importantly, the “ideal body” should be healthy. That’s where what you put into your body and how you move your body come into play. If you have a “healthy” BMI but aren’t feeding your body the nutritious food it needs to thrive, is it really ideal? And if you fit into that teenie-tiny dress, but you aren’t working your muscles, is that ideal?
Healthy bodies are ideal bodies.
The New Ideal Female Body: Strong is Sexy
As CrossFit and other high-intensity workouts gain in popularity, our cultural views of femininity are shifting as well. While there are still plenty of media images of stick-thin women, we are turning our focus to strong women as the ideal.
CrossFit, American Ninja Warrior, and an emphasis on professional female athletes are showing girls that strong is sexy.
To that end, let’s start shifting the way we look at our own bodies. Muscle, strong shoulders, and bulging biceps mean you’ve spent hours training, pushing the limits of your physical capabilities. Instead of thinking, “I wish I were thin,” take pride in the hard work it took to get your body here.
And before you start cutting back those calories, remember that gaining muscle and earning those ripped abs requires healthy food – and a lot of it. Feed your body what it needs to keep up with your training.
Your body is strong. It is capable of great things. And that truly is an ideal body.