May 9th 2014
Story originally written and experienced: March 19th 2010
I only did it because I had to.
“In order to pass this class,” the f i n e p r i n t read, “you must complete at least 7 hours of voluntary psychology experiments in order to uphold and obtain a final grade.”
So there I was. Sitting in a seat. Inside a building. Outside a psychology lab. Waiting for my turn. TaPPing my feet against the marble floors and watching the shadows of my legs
m o v e
with every spOntanEous move I decided make.
I looked uP. There was a woman standing in the doorway. She was wearing a gray sweater and her hair was a bit of a mEsS. But truth be told,
Mine was too.
“Hi. That’s me.”
“Right this way, please.”
She held her hand out and pointed towards >>> a long table behind a door. I walked into the room and took a seat. She closed the door. And handed me paperwork. Lots of it. Disclaimers so I understood what was going on.
That I wouldn’t get upset.
That I was there for school credit.
“That this was simply a gathering of information to utilize in a worthwhile study.”
And I checked yes for all.
Handed it all back. Put the cap back on my pen. Crossed my arms. And waited for her next move.
She jotted down notes. Stacked the papers
And then said this:
“Okay. So. You understand that you’re here for an experiment, correct?”
“Okay. Great. Well. Today’s experiment has to do with body image. And I’m going to ask you a series of questions about your body. And I’d like you to answer them as honestly as you can. That being said, you can pass on any question that you don’t feel comfortable answering. Okay?”
At that moment the girl with the gray sweater and the mEsSy hair told me that the experiment was going to take 45 minutes. And that, my friends, is a lot of damn minutes.
To talk to stranger.
About your body.
With a promise to be honest.
Which is probably why. I never forgot this mandatory questionnaire.
And our conversation (conveniently nutshelled) went like this:
“Okay, Olive. First question. How are you?”
“Good. And what did you do today?”
“Umm a lot of things. Reorganized my room before I got here.”
“I don’t know. Sometimes when I feel like I need a change, but I’m not sure what, I physically move things around so I feel like I’ve solved something.”
“And did you feel better?”
“Did you work out today?”
“And did you feel good about it afterwards?”
“Olive, if you could describe the ideal body type, what would it be?”
“For guys or for girls?
“Um. Okay. Well…hm…I guess…I guess I’m not really sure how to do that.”
“Well I mean, there’s the ideal body in a sense where a girl has a perfectly flat stomach. Slender arms and legs with curves that fill out her clothes. And then there are the guys. Bulky arms. Slim stomach. And muscular legs. But. Even then. I wouldn’t necessarily call their bodies ideal.”
“Because even people who have all of those things, aren’t necessarily satisfied with it. Not really. I guess the more ideal body type would be the one that someone is happy with having. Even if it’s a little more out of shape. And photographs less nice. I guess if I felt good about it. And didn’t really second guess it, that would seem the most ideal. To me.”
She jotted down notes.
“Interesting…and would you say that you’re happy with your body? Remember, be honest.”
“Um. Sometimes yes. Sometimes no.”
“So are you saying that you don’t have the ideal body type? Since you’re not always happy with it?”
“I guess I don’t. I think I’m very human. And I think humans, by nature, think of more reasons to bring themselves down than to bring themselves UP. Like, if I were to tell someone they had the ideal body type, instinctually, the first thing they’ll normally do is point out another flaw. ‘Sure they’ve got a great ass,’ they say ‘but their legs? Their legs could use some serious work.’—it’s all subjective.”
She jotted down notes.
“Okay annddd how often would you say you look at your body in the mirror every day?”
“Every day? Often.”
“More than I’d like to admit.”
“Generally speaking, do you think mirrors affect the way that people view themselves?”
“Well, physically I think that mirrors are the only way people really know how to view themselves, other than a picture—which is permanent, usually edited and usually cropped. I mean, I look in the mirror a lot. But I try not to not look more often than I need to.”
“How do you mean?”
“Um. Let’s see, well ideally on any given day I give myself a good look before I walk out the door, maybe once in the middle of the day before I meet friends, and one more time when I get home. It’s what works best for me. And I only say that because I had an addiction to it starting back in high school. In high school, I used to go to the bathroom between every. single.class and look at myself. Even just for 5 seconds. And if I liked what I saw, I’d be in a good mood for the next 53 minute class period. If I didn’t, I could feel my mood dwindle. A lot. I didn’t have any kind of disorder. I was very healthy. But. It was a very vain thing to do every day. Especially because.
There was no reason behind it.
And especially because.
All 7 times I looked at myself in the mirror that day, I looked exactly the same. But that’s not the way I saw it. And pretty soon I realized that my moods would depend on an internal and biased opinion, and I’d be quieter when I didn’t feel great and louder when I was feeling exceptionally self-confident. Just based off of those 5-second opinions I’d make of myself 7 times a day. So I stopped. Or I tried to at least.”
She jotted down notes.
“And what would you say is your favorite aspect about your body?”
“My favorite aspect about my body?”
“Yes if you could choose one.”
“Um, I like my hair?”
“Great. And your least favorite aspect about your body?”
“Oh…um maybe…maybe my arms?”
“Why do you think that is?”
“If you walked into a room and they were giving away free pizza, would you eat it?”
“Like a bear to honey.”
“Do you think you would feel guilty afterwards?”
“Probably not. I’ve got this thing called the 5 pound rule.”
“The 5 pound rule?”
“Yeah so. I’ve got this theory, that if I weighed 5 pounds more or 5 pounds less. My life, as a general whole, wouldn’t change…I’d probably still attract the same people, have the same friends, the same job, the same life…it might just be another excuse I tell myself so I can eat pizza all the time, but I’ve never had a slice of pizza I regretted. And you probably haven’t either.”
She jotted down notes.
“That’s a good rule. I think I’m going to use that rule.”
“Alright. Final question. Why do you think people put so much pressure on having the ‘ideal body?'”
“Well. I guess speaking from personal experience, I know exactly why people feel the need to have it. You could be a dude working at the gym
lifting 50 pound weights just to watch the guy standing next to you lifting 60.
Be a chick who bought a shirt and you liked it, and then you’re photographed in it, and tagged in it and suddenly it went from candid and new to permanently public. And the angle wasn’t right. Or it looked different than you thought. So you untag it and then you feel self conscious because what will people who are stalking your pictures? Who just friended you? Who you’re trying to impress? Who haven’t seen you in a while?—Think? We feel self conscious because people talk about it. A lot. Probably ourselves included. We’re treated differently because of it. Whether it’s in a job interview, socially, or even in a tone of voice. Good looking people are treated well. They just are. And truth be told, I’m not so sure that will ever really change. It’s human nature. And it’s normal. And it’s inevitable. And it has to be okay.”
“And do you think you feel that pressure.”
“Without a doubt. But. It’s like I said before. If I’m ever feeling uneasy. And I need to change something, but I’m not sure what. I’ll go for a run to feel a physical change. Just so I can feel like I’ve solved something.”
“And do you feel better?”
She jotted down notes.
“Well, Olive. That concludes our experiment today. I’ll be sending you an e-mail shortly so you can receive credit for your class. Thank you for your time.”
“Of course. Thank you.”
I walked out of the building that day >> feeling different. And feeling strange.
Only because it was the first time I think I had ever really admitted that I thought about my physical image. Often. But best of all, realizing that
It wasn’t rare.
Not for me. Or for anyone else. Because you dress yourself every day. Feed yourself every day. And compare yourself every.damn.day. We look at body shapes that don’t look like ours. And wonder why we don’t have it. Forgetting that
Your natural shape is your natural shape.
Your genetics are your genetics.
Your efforts are your efforts.
And everyone else?
Is doing the exact same thing.
And I kind of re-realized it that night when I picked up a magazine and I saw a glowing picture of Katy Perry and another of Bradley Cooper. Two incredibly attractive individuals with bodies that could pull off just about anything but a stable relationship. Or so it seems. But. I guess it kind of made me think of how often we associate better biceps with a better life. Bigger boobs for more quality attention. And a nicer face for an extra like. And sometimes that’s exactly the case.
Not always. Because I think. If you were to read the
f i n e p r i n t
of upholding good confidence and obtaining a final say.
You’d read a jotted note that says:
In order to have the perfect body? The best body? And one that’s the most ideal?
Is to look at it—in an imperfect way.
Not by measurement. And not by size.
But how little you second guess it. And how well it’s dressed with a good persona and worthwhile reputation.
It’s an ideal look. And you’ll be able to tell. Even if you look. For just 5 seconds.