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The Unfair Female Beauty Burden

women face unrealistic pressure

BY Terry Duschinski

Leave it to Larry. More than a decade ago, before I was married and when Larry was divorcing, I took him for a night on the O-town, bachelor style.

Our first stop was one of those high-energy disco-type night clubs. Figured it was a good place to engage a lively discussion on the theory of relativity. After an initial round circulating in all our coolness, I was eager to hear Larry's reaction to Orlando's singles' bonanza.

"I'm glad I'm an ugly guy," he said, pausing for effect. I thought Larry was going to say something noble, like disdaining such a den of iniquity. But no. His statement in its entirety:

"I'm glad I'm an ugly guy . . . instead of an ugly girl."

That capsulizes it. Physical attractiveness is gender-partial issue. It's Americana.

It is very easy for a woman to feel inadequate. We are inundated with images refined and retouched ones of beautiful women. Television, movies and advertising have merchandised women to such an extent that we meaning men place unrealistic expectations upon them, and they meaning women accept them.

Decades ago, we were subject to far less manufactured beauty. Now it's everywhere billboards, magazines, cybersapce, and anything designed to entertain us. Getting into shape has become the new moral imperative -- an alluring substitute for altruism and good work; the desire to look good replacing the desire to do good.

These statistics are out of date but probably still accurate. Aesthetic surgery was up 61 percent in the 1980's over the previous decade. Surgeons have crafted larger chests via implants, reshaped thighs and buttocks through liposuction, and turned back Father Time by means of a face lift.

"Dateline" or one of its cousins explored magazine cover photography several months ago. Lighting, makeup, hair, camera angles, padding, pinning there's no trick left out of the mix. Then a computer retouches every blemish that couldn't be hidden in the original photo. A Cindy Crawford photo had about 37 spots of retouching, everything from making her lips puffier to taking wrinkles out of her hand.

Put top professionals to work on your hair and makeup, have experts in lighting and camera angles orchestrate your visonage, use a stand-in as needed, use a computer to retouch every blemish, and you'd look awesome, too! Anybody who has seen the Ted-and-Jane pans on Braves' baseball telecasts knows that's not the same wrinkle-free face you see in magazines and on her workout-video covers.

Diligent exercising and disciplined eating are worthwhile pursuits, so long as they don't become obsessive. I market Fitness Express based on people's desire to improve appearance. But the process used to attain that improvement is an extremely healthful endeavor. Like a food that tastes good and is good for you, the marketing emphasis is on the taste, and so here it is on appearance.

Appearance concern needs tempering with realistic expectations and the concept of inner beauty. God did not endow every woman with Heather Locklear's figure, nor every man Jim Palmer's physique. Spare yourself the useless shame, frustration and guilt a few pounds of flab can cause. Do not expect to match the ultimate template of beauty. I haven't seen the movie, but I wonder what Demi's $12 million body really looks like!

Factors of attractiveness

Maybe your waistline isn't too big; maybe your hips are just too small? An article in the December Reader's Digest discussed what makes us attractive. In facial features, the ideal female has a higher forehead, fuller lips, a shorter jaw, and narrower chin. A big jaw, broad chin, and imposing brow make men handsome. Symmetry of facial features is also important for each.

Presumably, however, sex appeal emanates from the female torso. It isn't so much the overall size. Men like a waist-to-hip ratio at or near 67 percent. This means that your waist is 2/3rds the size of your hips. If your hips are 40 inches, a 26.8-inch waist makes you appealing to the typical man.

To determine your WHR (waist-to-hip ratio), divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement. If you want to know what your "ideal" waist measurement is, take you hip circumference and multiply by .67.

Genetic study at the mall

You'll notice them stride-by-stride at the mall. Pear-shaped mommas have little girls who grow into such configuration. Or, there are tall-and-slender tandems, or mom-to-daughter passing of wide hips, protruding bellies, sloping shoulders, double chins, beefy thighs, or other distinguishing features.

Yes, shopping malls are laboratories of genetic research. In many cases the physiological inheritance is striking. The best examples are the 30-something daughter and mom of 50- to 60-year vintage. They match best when both have experienced child bearing. (Certainly dad's gene pool is evident in his daughter also, but they're not as likely to shop together.)

I've seen a lot of daughters at the mall who should be alarmed. The youth factor preserves an attractive figure only so long. They sooner good fitness habits are mastered, the longer age deterioration is delayed.

What we blame on age is actually a combination of increased calorie consumption, decreased activity and exercise, and gradually growing older.

Somatatyping is the term applied to body-type categorizing. The three basic bodies are endomorph (soft roundness), mesomorph (muscularity), and ectomorph (slimness).

This system assumes that a person's body type is not altered due to age, diet, or exercise. But some experts believe that somatyping can be partially altered by exercise during puberty. All agree, however, that by age 16 or 17, everybody's basic body type has been permanently established.

High-waisted women (long legs, short torsos) or low-waisted women (short legs, long torsos) pass their skeletal formation to their offspring. Hair, eyes, teeth, mannerisms, skin textures, and the whole assortment of physical characteristics show strong resemblances.

Generally, your body will register between two of the types, usually a little closer to one than the other. Few of us fall strictly into one type; most of us are a blend.

Exercise and diet can enhance but cannot change our body type. While muscle-to-fat ratio can be improved, our basic fat-distribution pattern is outside our control.

Another factor in body shape is bone structure. You may burn the fat off your hips, but they're never going to be thinner than the width of the bones; you may increase deltoid muscle mass, but your shoulders cannot set wider than your collarbone. Fitness goals are worthwhile. Realistic expectations are mandatory.

Study your parents' bodies. They portend what yours is destined or doomed to look like.

Don't think it's hopeless. Even though our body type is inherited and aging is inevitable eating and exercising are within our control.

Copyright Florida Fitness Reprinted at with permission. recommends the following books from


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