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The perfect body. Illusion or reality?

Our cave-dwelling ancestors were, I’m fairly sure, unconcerned about what they looked like. They probably only saw their hazy image on the surface of some idle pond when fishing. How heavy their bodies were mattered only if they were balanced on a creaking log while crossing a raging river. What did matter was what their bodies could do; whether they could outrun the woolly mammoth or hold onto the vine long enough to swing across to another perch. What was their source of feedback?  Probably quite simply how their bodies felt and what they were capable of.

In our modern world, us females are primed to think we’re acceptable only when we look “perfect”. Much of our life is spent chasing this illusory state. On one level, we desire that coveted (oh-so-model-esque) beauty. But deep down we know it’s not likely we’ll achieve it. It won’t stop us trying, and we’ll employ all sorts of methods to attempt the task. Our insecurities make us ripe for the picking.

Perfect body promoters

The clothing, make-up, supplement, fitness, food, drink, and medical aesthetic industries are being patronised as never before. All because we have no idea how to love ourselves and accept that perfect is unachievable (and, frankly, not very interesting). A further aspect is that we’ve been brainwashed to crave instant gratification. Taking a pill or having surgery is really attractive. The alternative is putting in time and effort to achieve the same outcome.

Chasing the perfect body ideal

We’ve become perfectionists robbed of the joy of a job well done and the appreciation of ourselves that comes with it. What’s more, the results aren’t sustainable because they’re just not the reality. It’s not possible for anyone to be perfect! (What does perfect even mean?) We’re punitive in our quest to reach uncompromising and unachievable goals. We focus on activities that consume energy, like exercising or dieting to the extreme – more is always better, even if it’s harmful. But we seem to struggle to cultivate energy. Doing “nothing” suggests a lack of motivation or ambition, and what sort of person would I be if I didn’t achieve, achieve, achieve? Even outside of the fact that what we’re achieving isn’t realistic, how long can we sustain the stress of constant achievement before our health suffers?

Aesthetics is everything

Aesthetics is how we seem to measure value in this day and age. The message out there is that if you don’t have the perfect body/hair/lips/eyebrows/arse (insert relevant body part) you offer society no real value. Since when did appearance become synonymous with one’s contribution to the world? Our biggest challenge lies in unpacking and separating these two issues. What you look like has no bearing on your value. 

Appearance-based value drives the success of those previously discussed industries. And the evil-keneevil tools they use to keep us slaves to their rhythm are tools we all know well: the mirror and scale. 

To be clear, both tools are usefulday-to-day grooming and body management is perfectly normal. However, we’ve come to use these two external measures to judge whether we’re acceptable to ourselves and society. We fixate on our form, forgetting to appreciate the trillions of daily jobs our bodies do to keep us alive and functioning. But what does form tell us about our substance; about what were capable of? 

Chasing “killer”grams

The majority of my clients arrive at my door with a magic number in their heads – a number they think will bring them joy. Its always expressed as a unit of weight or as a clothing size. I get that being lean is on everyones goal list (and of course it’s important to keep your weight within a healthy range), but the pressure we put on ourselves for the sake of achieving these arbitrary numbers seems to be out of proportion to the value it adds. In fact, it’s often detrimental.

In the end, our pursuit of the perfectbody cannot guarantee happiness, and we risk the slippery slope of never being satisfied because bodies are primarily built to do. Of course, looking good can be a bonus, but it can also trick you into neglecting the many aspects of self-development you need to be an emotionally grounded person of substance who can live authentically and contribute meaningfully to your world. We need to find a way to feelperfect, not see it.

Tanya Wyatt, Happy Valley pond

Tanya Wyatt

Tanya has written regularly for various health and fitness magazines such as Men’s Health, Marie-Claire, Cosmopolitan and Shape (she also served on the advisory board for Shape), as well as for local South Africa newspaper publications. In 2004, Tanya wrote two internationally released health and fitness-related books, both  published by New Holland. She recently wrote her third book, currently submitted to publishers for consideration.