Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Honoring Our Health, Honoring Ourselves

Here is a vintage, 1940s pin-up girl drawing by famed artist Alberto Vargas. Vargas' work has become synonymous with the image of classic feminine beauty. I love how artists from this era, both male and female, depicted women with healthy body types. The voluptuous "pin-up girl" could inspire the 'boys over there' to fight for victory and still be your best friend.

However, in the 1960s, the fashion began to change from curvy and proportional to lanky and angular. The pin up of the 40s and 50s ala Ava Garnder and Bettie Page became the gamine Audrey Hepburn and Twiggy of the Vietnam era. Clothing was no longer made to fit a woman's curves. Designers instead created dresses with straight and boxy lines that skimmed the body. The look was boyish.

In the late 1970s and 80s, models like Cheryl Tiegs and Carol Alt who graced the covers of Vogue and strutted down the runways in Halston and Lauren represented the new era celebrating the sporty, girl-next door. The look was that of the tan and blond 'beach babe' who played volleyball in the sand and tennis on the back court.

When I was a kid growing up during the late 70s and into the 80s, I felt like a total outsider. I was a redhead covered in freckles. Despite my mother's diligence with the sunblock, my super pale skin literally cooked in the sun. I was that weird kid on the beach wearing a big straw hat, white tee over her bathing suit, and a huge white stripe of zinc on her speckled nose. I was like the pale warrior hero ala Braveheart meets General MacArthur: "I came, I saw, I burned." No matter how hard I tried, I knew I could never be the tan, blond girl every boy in my elementary school pined for. Nope. My sister was blessed with the blond and tan gene thanks to our father's Norwegian DNA. I, instead, got the Irish genes (thanks, Mom). You know, the ones that evolved after living thousands of years in a country where it ALWAYS seems to be cloudy, cold, and rainy!

Despite my skin and hair, I was a thin kid. I mean, skinny. I was *always* hungry. My mom and dad had a thing for organic food and as a result, they restricted my diet. At lunch time, my classmates drank Capri Sun and dined on Hostess cupcakes and Doritos, while I begrudgingly choked down Roman Meal sandwiches made with ham and cheese accompanied with 'oh-so-appetizing' celery and carrot sticks.

The day after Halloween, my parents took my candy away. After walking the streets all night, my pillow case-sized bounty was relocated to one measly ziplock bag. Most of the candy was either tossed out or given to my dad so that he and his co-workers could revel in Whoppers, Milk Duds, and Sweet Tarts.

However, when I got my first job in 1992 at Kings Dominion, I found myself relying on fast food and the offerings from the employee cafeteria. My best friend, Tracy and I would often eat McDonald's for breakfast on the way to work and at lunch, we would dine on pizza slices, fountain drinks, and ice cream sandwiches. Let me tell you, I was in heaven. I was no longer subject to my parents' celery-stick laden mercy and there was no stopping me!

When I left for college a year later, my food-lust was just beginning. I ate Lucky Charms for dinner and munched on Cool Ranch Doritos between classes. I was also in ROTC at the time so I was able to burn most of the calories off. Eventually, after school ended, my unhealthy ways started to become noticeable, with a vengence.

This is me and the husband before we got married. It is 1994, I am 19, and I was about to complete my first year of college. I was about 115 pounds.

Now, here is me, 10 years later:

This is me and the husband visiting Puerto Rico during a cruise in November 2004. I was 156 pounds. I was miserable. I ate like crap and felt like it too. My blood pressure was high and I was always tired.

When I turned 30, five years ago, I knew I had to change. I visited my doctor and we formed a healthy weight loss plan. In April 2005, I weighed in at 155 pounds and by January 2006, I was 122. I not only got healthy, I learned to love working out, I learned about portion control and healthy eating, and my blood pressure was good.

However, during the early stages of my weight loss maintenance, I started to get a little 'crazy' with my caloric restriction. I kept a record of my workouts and food along with a list detailing the number of calories consumed each day. At one point I was only consuming 820 calories daily and I was trying to go even lower. One night I went out to eat with my parents. I ordered the steamed fish with steamed vegetables and when my dad got a slice of chocolate cake with his coffee, I was in a panic. I knew I wanted some cake but I was scared by the very thought of taking in sugar. I ended up having only a couple of bites. As we drove home, I could feel myself starting to freak out about the cake. Later that night, I waited until everyone went to bed. I then snuck into my parents' cold garage and rode their 80s exercise bike for about 2 hours. Even though the shoddy seat hurt my butt, I kept pedaling. When I awoke the next day, I felt I had to scrimp on the calories to make up for my "evil cake mistake." At this point my husband began to take notice and told me that I was going to make myself very sick. I wanted to tell him off at first but then I realized he was right.

I refocused my healthy efforts and began anew. I also realized that in order to be truly healthy, we have to be happy. I have to be balance of health while celebrating life. I love food and that is okay. I cannot restrict myself to the point where I may end up dead. I also cannot eat like a teenager my whole life and expect my heart and cholesterol levels to be healthy. It is all about finding our balance and discovering our own happiness.

Now, when I see models like this wearing repro vintage, I get so happy:

This is Doris MayDay! She is just beautiful! She reminds me of the real, classic pin-ups of the 40s and 50s! She looks healthy and her curves are proportional.

However, when I see models like this wearing repro vintage, I get worried:

This girl just doesn't look small, she looks, I hate to even say it: anorexic. Just look at her arms! Even my 16 year-old niece's arms are not that thin!

Like I said earlier, the 1960s introduced the thin ideal for women. This thinness made a huge comeback in the 90s and it seems it is here for a while. Everyone from Stop Staring, Ralph Lauren, Bebe, the editors of Vogue (ahem, Anna Wintour!) to the red carpet seems to be promoting (and cashing in on) the image of the malnourished woman!

I know that trends for women's bodies come and go, but I have learned over the years that I prefer a balanced view, a happier view for myself. I am a 5ft 3in, 126 pound, pale, freckled-face, redheaded vintage girl who has a big butt and great legs. I may not be able to tan, be 5ft 10in, or weigh 100 pounds, and I am okay with that. I run 5 days a week, I lift weights, do yoga, eat brownies, and drink martinis. And when all is said and done, I will know that I truly *lived.*

Celebrate who YOU are! Honor yourself each day.


  1. What a wonderful post. Thank you SO much for writing it, and I hope tons of ladies read it. Just amazing. :)

  2. Thank you for your response and compliments, Kristen. I hope all women, vintage or not, honor themselves each day. We should celebrate our bodies and ignore the pressures of shallow fashion trends.

  3. OMG when I saw the new model for Stop Staring I wanted to scream!! What are they thinking???That model is beyond 'model skinny', and the whole thing about vintage beauty is that those women had curves. And if they didnt, their underware and clothing gave them curves. I'm so disappointed in them for their choice. Its not just an unachievable goal to look like her, its unhealthy and unattractive.

  4. Temperamental,

    I agree completely about the newer Stop Staring model. I was actually taken aback when I saw her wearing the floral dress on the website. Even my husband was shocked.

    My mother-in-law was a teen in the 50s/early 60s and she said that they would tighten the belt on their dresses as far as it would go to create a curvier look! They wanted to emulate little waists with lovely girly hips!

    Whenever I am in the salon getting hair done, I will flip through InStyle or Vogue as I wait for my color to process. Most of the ads for Versace, St. John, Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Prada, etc all promote the stick-thin ideal! I cannot understand it!

    If a girl is thin naturally, that is her shape. My sister is like this. But when someone starves themselves to the point they look shockingly thin, that is bad.

    As for Stop Staring, I loved the fact that their models looks like vintage girls. I hope they are not doing the anorexic thing because some celebs have been seen wearing their clothes.

  5. I love this post, you are spot on!

  6. Thank you for your comments, Cherry! I hope every girl feels good about being herself!