The American Way

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As Americans, it’s part of our collective conscience to never be satisfied, to always want more.

Generalizing, we’re taught from a young age to always be our best: to get As; to win the football game; to bring home the Gold. We’re encouraged to make money; to buy a nice home.

We’re a very driven people, and you could argue that is what has led to our success as a nation (and also to our potential downfall in the eyes of much of the world, but I’ll save that for a politically-charged commentary elsewhere!)

But when it comes to weight loss and disordered eating issues, “the American way” is truly a double-edged sword, at least in my eyes. Our psyche tells us to keep going, lose more weight…but doesn’t that seek to fuel this kind of behavior?

What if we looked in the mirror at our hips with maybe just a little extra padding, or our thighs that sort of rub together, and didn’t hate on ourselves … but rather saw past physical presence and looked back satisfied on our accomplishments?

Would we be going against the grain, by embracing the present versus striving for something better in the future?

I don’t know.

In other parts of the world, people are grateful to have a roof over their head and a meal on the table.

Sure, body image issues exist everywhere, but it’s here in the U.S. where it’s so prevalent–likely related to our incessant striving for the unattainable: perfection. Which is not what I am reaching for anymore.

I’m always impressed when I go to the beach in El Salvador. Women of all shapes and sizes wear suits of, well, frankly, all shapes and sizes. They don’t appear to be obsessed the way Americans tend to be, with being “perfect” or even being thinner/fitter than (or as thin/as fit as) their friends.

I’m not saying they don’t think some of these thoughts, but it’s not ingrained in their conscious the way it is here, even with the proliferation of media. A curvy body is beautiful there, envy-worthy, if not the norm.

On an American beach, some of these women might be stared at, but there, they aren’t afraid of their bodies! They are who they are and they aren’t conforming to any standard ideals; they live in the tropics and darn it, they like to swim. Swimsuits are for swimming. Not preening.

These women I watch from the poolside, or from my hammock gazing at the beach … they appear confident in their own skin, and aren’t afraid to make a splash.

So who is worse? Me, for secretly thinking the (clearly confident) overweight woman drinking a pina coladamaybe should’ve thought twice about donning that string bikini, or me, who has an ok body but fears showing any skin and wraps myself in a towel the second I get out of the water?

I’d venture to say me, and I think most of us would agree.

I think when push comes to shove, the “American way” of wanting the best and striving to be the best sometimes makes us lose sight of what’s important: self-acceptance. I know I am guilty of this, for sure.

And it’s a fine line to cross, between accepting who you are and loving yourself, or the extremes of “letting yourself go” vs. dieting yourself to oblivion.

I believe the “American way” mentality contributed to how I lost weight–wanting more, wanting to succeed, etc.

But I do think in some ways it has fueled my disordered eating.

Tonight I have my second therapy session, and I’ll be curious to discuss my take on the American way with her.

How about you? I can see both sides of the coin, but do you see “the American way” as a hindrance or a helper, when it comes to losing weight and keeping it off?

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2 thoughts on “The American Way

  1. I totally agree.. I’m spending the summer in Israel and can’t help but be pleasantly surprised by all the not “perfect” but super confident women of all shapes and sizes donning bikinis.
    The American way definitely caused me to want to lose weight. Magazines, tv, and friends that had already lost weight put pressure on me wherever I looked.
    The American way has also caused me to constantly worry about keeping off the weight I lost. Massive portion sizes, unhealthy options in social functions, the American college student diet of pizza and beer..
    Its a constant struggle.

  2. Hi Danielle, it’s amazing, isn’t it, how the rest of the world lives compared to us?! It’s not that vanity doesn’t exist, but I think the pressures here are just greater. Here, weight is like our biggest issue. In Israel, for example, I think the general population has larger issues to contend with!!

    I don’t feel I’ve been jaded magazine or celeb ideals or anything (remember last week’s Olympic post); I lost weight on my own desires–but I can see how the American way DOES pressure us, even if we don’t realize it, it’s part of our subconscious.

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