In pagan culture, personal body image isnt often talked about. Every once in a while you hear someone speak a little about the fertility goddesses of the past and their "huskier" body types... but that is about it. I write this now because I am jumping on the diet train again to take off a couple pesky pounds that have - yet again- creeped on to me. I am not a "big girl" but i have learned from past experience that it is easier to loose 5 lbs than 50 lbs. It made me think about how dieting is pretty much a non-subject as it pertains to paganism... why?
When I dieted the first time and talked to a few other pagans about the subject, they poo-pooed away my reasons for dieting. They told me to accept and find beauty in who I was. That certainly has value! People of all shapes and sized are beautiful, and I think it is wonderful that our culture accepts a wide range of body types. That said, my reasons were:
a) health; i had gestational diabetes when i was pregnant and i was told that by loosing weight I could reduce my chances of becoming a type 2 diabetic.
b) self image; good of bad, I didn't see the person in the mirror who I FELT inside... i didn't want to be a supermodel, but I wanted to feel sexy, pretty, and young
c)To prove I wasn't just another "victim of genetics"- my mom, her mom, and a long line of moms before me never could get off their "baby weight"- and they all said that I was doomed to be "fat" forever... that stung
So i really worked my butt off (quite litterally) to get to "thin". Now i have gained approx. 5 lbs and i am getting back down to MY ideal weight.
So the question about body image in paganism... is what constitutes a good body type? How do we support people who choose to loose weight for WHATEVER reason, and still find beauty and value in people who are "voluptuous" and choose to stay that way.
If I feel* fat at 165 lbs- that doesn't mean that I think everyone else who is "that big" is fat. It is a strange concept I know... but I just feel that some people are truly MADE to be big, and some aren't. I had a dear friend in college who was absolutely gorgeous at 160 lbs and 5'3. She had a tiny waist, wide "child bearing" hips. soft shoulders and she was stunning. I looked like an overstuffed sausage (in my opinion). She is BEST bigger, and I am BEST a little, leaner.
History shows that today's unnaturally skinny ideal just replaces a long line of body images. The ancients had "venus of willendorf" ideas about womanhood. In a time when winter and drought starvation was a very real and ever present danger, the ability to gain and maintain weight was impressive. Men wanted stocky, strong, fertile women who could carry a baby a full 9 months during times of scant food, and still be able to care for them. Later, when agriculture began to change women weer more ideal if they had SOME fat... but especially if the were youthful like the greek statues- ready to produce babies for many years. Breasts have always been important... but the SIZE varies from era to era, culture to culture. In egypt we see many hieroglyphs that indicate that women of that culture wore their breasts exposed. We know today that "belly fat" is a health risk often caused more by stress than by diet, and for a long time a tiny waist in women, and sometimes men, has been a mark of beauty (hense corsets)... However paintings in the mideaval period seen to indicate that the woman's fashion of that era was gathered in the front to make the belly look "poofed out"- so much that in several paintings all the women look pregnant. In the baroque period (Marie Antionette's age) women were voluptious and indulgence and decadence exemplified beauty. Painters like Paul Reubens painted the classical gods and goddesses of greece as broad, pale youths... with small breasts and scant signs of puberty. Today, with the aid of plastic surgery, airbrushing, and photoshop... "being ideal" is more about wealth and power than ever before!
So in women, the "ideal" changes so much, one era's beauty is often unrecognizable to the next... usually beauty indicates health and wealth... But what of men?
The early greek "kouros" statues show a muscled body type, low body fat, and youthful. Soft muscle definition, and normal weight seems to be the ideal throughout many cultures. What has changed is the age of the "ideal"... in ancient cultures some praised "maturity" - where the leaders grew long beardsm or in the case of the egyptians- wore false beards. That said... intrestingly around the years 1000 ad... jesus is depicted in a few places with a bigger "gut"- perhaps during this time the ideal changed... like in "Maiestas Domini" 1096 AD in Toulouse, France. In the early rennaisance it seems that men were depicted relatively thin... and then the "greek ideal" returns with a fury, reenstating muscle definition and youth. The Baroque period preferred even more muscle-y mature men... with well defined, large biceps, thighs, glutes, and wide shoulders... In the roccocco and colonial ages, men were much more, delicate... with rounded faces, the wealthy wearing blushed cheaks. In that era the ideal was the opposite of "rugged"- in fact quite "feminine" compared to other eras. This gradually faded till we reached the last century... where muscle bound has once again become the norm... but today's ideal is nearly impossible for the average guy to reach- without steroids. Huge muscles and zero body fat makes achieving perfection for men as hard as it is for women.
However, we don't diet to be perfect.... we diet and exercise to look "better" or sometimes be healthier. It is commendable when a person goes through all that hard work to get to wherever they feel "good" about themselves. Too often do people act like it is merely "good luck" when someone looses a lot of weight. It is hard dedicated work... maybe harder for some than others, but when someone works to achieve that goal, the deserve to be proud! That isnt to say that someone who has a hard time dieting, or chooses not to - should be "ashamed" or is "less" than anyone else... one person achieving their own goal is NOT a reflection on anyone but themselves. My mother always says "backhanded" things like "oh you just lost it because you are young, older people can't lose weight like that". Statements like these are degrading, though it may BE harder for "older" people, that shouldn't diminish the hard work and dedication I put it! The balance is finding inner self-worth BEYOND outer appearances, while still being proud of the work you have accomplished.
I had to accept after loosing my baby weight that even though the scale was the same number as when I was 17 and "youthful" my body would never be THAT again. Just one look at my beautiful baby and all of the stretchmarks and "pooch" is worth it. I think all pagans should find their "inner goddess or god"- use your will to change those things you can (diet- exercise- stress), but also use your divine connection to come to a place where when you look in the mirror you can see perfect, beautiful, divine, you. If that is 300 lbs or 120 lbs, super strong, or super lean... it doesnt matter. If you think a "boob job" or losing a few pounds will get you there, than more power to you! When you feel beautiful - YOU ARE beautiful!
* or handsome lol