I love wearing a size 10 shoe. I love being a large framed woman no matter how much weight I’m carrying. I love my large hands and my strong, thick legs. I enjoy being tall, being able to jump high, and run 3 miles through the woods. I’m glad I can work in the garden all day without it being a strain. I can have a day of hiking with Ivy on my back and enjoy the physicality of it. I feel best when I am strong and fit.
I was part of a larger conversation on the topic of how far should a person, in this case – a woman, take physical fitness. How thin should we be? How muscular? Should we restrict and/or enhance our diet to attain results?
I take a natural approach to life in general. I believe that we were equipped by nature to live the healthiest possible life. In so many ways, our culture equates a pencil thin body with beauty and often health. As females, we are exposed to the images of very thin women from a very young age and told by the media and those around us that they are beautiful. So many of us disregard health to attain this thin beauty. Healthy is beautiful however, so, the question we should be asking is what is the natural, healthy state of a woman’s body. A body that isn’t interfered with through processed, sugary foods, fad diets, or plastic surgery. A body that is physically capable of survival and has optimal nutrition.
These questions made me ask what were the bodies of our ancestors like? Not the women of Renaissance paintings or the old photographs in family albums (though there is a lot to learn there too), but the women who had to struggle and work with their physical bodies for mere survival. I did a little research into the life of Paleolithic women to find out about their general health and physical capabilities. These women were living in a era of human history before farming and keeping livestock. They lived a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. There is even a current school of thought on eating based on this lifestyle.
Human population density was very low, around only one person per square mile. This was most likely due to low body fat, infanticide, women regularly engaging in intense endurance exercise, late weaning of infants and a nomadic lifestyle.
It is also unlikely that Paleolithic hunter-gatherers were affected by modern diseases of affluence such as Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and cerebrovascular disease, because they ate mostly lean meats and plants and frequently engaged in intense physical activity.
– info from Wikipedia
The Paleolithic woman lived to be about 30 years of age.
So, from this I can gather that life was extremely difficult for them. The average lifespan was age thirty. I am now thirty and I feel like I’m just getting started. 🙂 However, they weren’t malnourished often, nor did they go without food in a famine type situation. They were capable of long periods of intense activity, but the info from Wikipedia is contradictory. The intense exercise kept them from diseases that plague modern culture, but it is also a reason they may have not lived as long. Are we to assume great physical stress from exercise, or accidents because of the physical activity is what took their lives?
Their low body fat could also have been a contributing factor in the short lives of the women. These women were carrying children and breastfeeding them. Our bodies need stores of fat to do these things, otherwise it will pull nutrients from wherever it can find them – like our bones, muscles, and tissues. In a sense our body will digest itself. They were nursing children for extended periods of time, likely until the children could contribute to the hunting and gathering of food. This was probably very taxing on a woman’s body that had little body fat and also experienced intense periods of needing physical stamina. So, my conclusion is that low levels of body fat is not healthy for a woman’s body. We can take long distance runners, gymnasts, and some dancers who train to the point of very low body fat and in turn experience an absence of menses as an example. Though we may be elated by a missed period here and there, it is not a healthy thing for a prolonged time, and it is a sign of the body’s lack of what it needs to function properly.
The articles also mentioned that these women had more leisure time and were treated better by males than women in farming cultures. They had less children (probably due to lack of menstruation).
My conclusion from all of this is that a woman’s perfect body lies somewhere between Paleolithic women and those voluptuous Renaissance beauties I mentioned before. I will take pride in having curves. I will strive to be strong and able bodied. I will push my limitations of physical endurance (within reason). I will enjoy my health not because the number on the scale reads as some BMI chart says it should, but because I know my diet and my physical body are in the best possible condition they can be in my current situation. I will take pride that my body carried two beautiful babies and has allowed me to continually nurse them for going on 4 years. It allowed me to nurse one daughter through the pregnancy of the other, and still grow an eleven pound infant. I will be happy that I have been able to educate myself about what I am eating and what I am feeding my family. I will maintain physical health as a means to mental and spiritual health.
I am raising two daughters. I have a choice to pass on a heritage of looking in the mirror and being disappointed, or re-naming that heritage. I can equip them with the ability to make educated choices about how they choose to treat their bodies. Show them the beauty in the varied and unique forms that a healthy woman’s body can take. I can show by example that it isn’t about striving to be magazine “perfect”, but happy and well taken care of. It is my job to help them be secure in their bodies the best way I can.