Naava Ellenberg

Naava Ellenberg is a senior at Barnard College of Columbia University studying American history and is from San Jose, California. After graduation, she plans to pursue a career in politics, journalism, law, or maybe all three! She has been published in Bustle, Teen Vogue, The Mercury News, San Jose Inside, and San Jose Spotlight.

Our Bodies Don’t Need to Be Put on a Pedestal

Girls like me are not going to change their mindsets with branding campaigns trying to demonstrate inclusivity. 

At the insistence of my therapist, I have been to multiple nutritionists—and I have hated every single one of them. Reflecting on this, I realize that nutritionists have a pretty difficult and thankless job. They are often seen by people who don’t really want to hear what they have to say and don’t trust any of their suggestions. That was definitely my position in all of my appointments. 

My therapist recommended that I see a nutritionist after learning about my unhealthy eating habits. I was there in order to gain a better understanding of what healthy eating and behaviors look like. I was not willing to really listen to their suggestions and grew immediately defensive whenever they made any recommendations about changing my diet for the better. 

Because I have failed to listen to nutritionists, and because I have grown up as a typical consumer of popular culture, I can pretty confidently say that I have no actual idea what a “healthy” body looks like. 

For as long as I can remember, the only body type I considered to be healthy was one that was slim. Not too many curves, a completely flat stomach, no big hips or thighs. As a dancer, this was what I saw all around me. This impacted not only how I viewed myself, but how I viewed those around me. 

Without intending to do so, I would have fatphobic thoughts and compare my body type to every other woman I met.  

I had an athletic body type as a kid and young teen. I was by no means a waif, but I was muscular and didn’t have extremely notable curves. I didn’t give much thought to my body. I was dancing every day of the week and therefore not stressed about whether or not I was exercising enough. 

I stopped dancing my junior year of high school. My senior year, I was on birth control and Accutane and had increased my dosage of my anti-depressants. This combination led to some changes in my body, and when I got weighed at the doctor, I lost my mind. I panicked that I was fat and therefore a mess and a failure. I decided that I was unhealthy because of a number on a scale. I started tracking everything I ate and working out every day of the week. 

I wasn’t doing this because I wanted a healthier lifestyle—I was doing this because I hated myself. 

I developed disordered eating habits, and let me tell you—it was terrible. Three and a half years later and I still can’t say that I have a healthy perspective on body image. I still restrict what I eat and panic if I go more than two days without exercising. 

That’s because as much as I try to tell myself that being skinny is not synonymous with being happy or pretty or healthy, a part of me is still clinging to that belief. 

Girls and women are constantly bombarded with messaging that emphasizes the importance of a toned and skinny physique. Nike coming out with plus-size mannequins will not suddenly change how I view myself. The thing is, I know that those efforts are a conscious attempt at inclusivity. But having more bodies included in a campaign does not make me think that those bodies are therefore equal to the skinnier ones, just like Link falling in love with Tracy in “Hairspray” didn’t make me want her body. She was a token, an exception to the rule. These branding attempts at inclusivity have not managed to change how I view myself or those around me. 

I see the mannequins and campaigns and I think, “Wow, so inclusive.” I have yet to find myself thinking, “Wow, so beautiful.”

Everything involving plus-size models and people seems to emphasize the message of “despite.” These models are healthy DESPITE their size; he loved her DESPITE her weight. That body type still just isn’t widely accepted as healthy or beautiful in its own right. 

Some movies and shows are maybe moving in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go. 

The movie “Booksmart” was a step in the right direction. Instead of being judged for her weight, the movie’s main character was dismissed for being annoyingly smart. There was not one mention of her size or how that could be a barrier for her love interest. However, this was an indie film with a female director, so you could hardly say that the message is now readily accepted by mainstream popular culture. But it’s a start.

I genuinely have no idea how to change this mindset—I can’t even change it for myself. 

Maybe we need to listen to the nutritionists telling us that we don’t have to be starving to be healthy and that it isn’t a terrible thing to gain weight or have a curvier body type. Maybe we need to cast people with full figures as the leads of movies that have a plot completely unrelated to their size. Maybe we just need more Lizzos. 

Girls like me are not going to change their mindsets with branding campaigns trying to demonstrate inclusivity. Change will only come when we are genuinely shown that beauty exists in all shapes and sizes. Don’t make a special plus-size line and plus-size mannequins—just include models of those sizes in your main ads and campaigns. These bodies don’t need to be put on a pedestal. They need to be included in the primary narrative.

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