Let me preface this by stating that there is no one ideal body, and there is no one perfect way to eat. If your body is thin, medium-sized, short, tall, bulky, athletic, or round, I hope you strut your stuff around this unfortunately steep campus and everywhere else. And whether you eat salads for every meal or chocolate chip pancakes or a steak with a side of bacon, I hope you enjoy every forkful. However, it is no secret that today’s fashion magazines and runways all look pretty similar in regards to the body type they feature, and sometimes this body type is achieved through dangerous eating patterns that includes not eating at all or binging and purging. It’s also not much of a mystery that the American diet favors frequenting the McDonald’s drive thru, trying every flavor of donut in one sitting and hydrating ourselves with carbonated solutions of sugar and caffeine. And if you’re anything like me, these things get consumed in the privacy of your own home so that you can satisfy that gnarly sweet tooth and still fit in with the other nutrition majors. These phenomena exist simultaneously, creating a paradox so eloquently described by Barbara Kingsolver: “Our most celebrated models of beauty are starved people. But we’re still an animal that must eat to live.”
There is a clear disconnect between what is considered the “ideal body” and the food that is available and affordable for that body. Magazines continue to print covers with abs carved like Greek statues, yet even on Cornell’s campus, a salad with less than 500 calories is nine dollars and a veggie-less sandwich with over 1000 calories is six dollars. So what is a broke college student, a single mom with two kids or a child experiencing food insecurity going to choose? They’re going to McPick 2 for two dollars because that’s half the price of a salad, even though it’s twice the risk for cardiovascular events — and I’m not talking about the heart efficiently pumping oxygenated blood throughout the body. Then what will happen? People will gain weight due to an economic strain forcing them to choose cheap and accessible foods laden with calories, sugar and fat. They’ll become a social stigma because they don’t fit into the clothes that were made to fit one specific body type that gets showcased after models stop eating solid foods for a week and stop drinking water twelve hours before everyone’s favorite fashion show. At least now we know Victoria’s secret — thanks, Adriana Lima.
Don’t think that this paradox only exists for women. Guys aren’t excluded from the fun. There are hot dog eating contests and buffalo wing challenges that are generally targeted towards males, but men’s magazines feature chiseled abs and biceps the size of cantaloupes. If your shirt doesn’t rip at the seams when you put it on, either it’s too big or you need to suck down more protein shakes while simultaneously moving weight seven times greater than your own mass. I’m five-foot-two girl sporting size small in everything, and these covers make me question why I can’t look like the Hulk too.
So what do we do, as a society that has to eat to survive, do to overcome this paradox so that we don’t have to choose constantly between eating and looking like the people in magazines who don’t even really look like their pictures? Do we change our standards of beauty? Thankfully, many clothing lines and brands (Aerie, we see you and appreciate you) are beginning to be more inclusive of other (beautiful) body types in their advertising campaigns. Do we protest the price difference in foods here on campus, in grocery stores and in restaurants all over the country? Do we turn to the food industry and tell them to stop putting so much sugar and fat in our food that is not only hurting all of our chances of being on America’s Next Top Model (oh wait, I’m too short anyway) but also our arteries and internal organs? Better yet, do we head straight to the top and fight against government subsidies of commodity crops like wheat, corn and soybeans and lobby for subsidies of fruits and vegetables?
Maybe there’s only one answer to the problem and maybe there’s multiple, but the divide between the perfect body and the available diet seems to be growing about as fast as our waistlines, especially since Subway doesn’t have a five-dollar footlong anymore. For now, it seems the best we can do is keep the lettuce and tomato on our two dollar cheeseburgers and take a couple laps around Cornell’s campus that is oh-so-perfect for incline training.