This week I've spent most of my time avoiding my mountain of homework, mostly via stumbleupon.com and Hulu. In the spirit of not doing anything productive, I was at the library today browsing around, not writing my art paper, when I found this book entitled, The Unfashionable Human Body. (Copyrighted in 1971, so it's not exactly on the cutting edge.) Plowing through all of the weird Freudian theories on how drinking milk creates a human preoccupation with the breast, I noticed a trend of sorts- every physically damaging fashion statement has a lot to do with constraining women. (Think chinese foot-binding and the corset, not to mention the modern high heel.) Then I started thinking about how this de-emphasis on physical capability in women has continued to the present, and I realized that one of my friends is a perfect example.
She's six feet tall, pretty, and can bench much, much more than me. We would go to the gym together and she would play basketball or go on the stairmaster, while I tried valiantly (if somewhat fruitlessly) to get stronger- bench pressing, arm curling, that sort of thing. Occasionally she would voyage in to the weight room and bench with me, which would turn in to me jealously watching while she put up more than I'll probably ever be able to without steroids. I'd rant to her about how cool it was that she was naturally so strong and tell her that she should take advantage of that and get "hella ripped" to which she would reply that she didn't particularly like being that strong and that she wished she could better fit the profile of a "damsel in distress." I really value being physically capable and couldn't understand her dislike or mistrust of her abilities until I realized that being strong was disadvantageous to being attractive.
As evidenced by the aforementioned book, women being physically incapable has been attractive for centuries, perhaps because strong women intimidate and emasculate men. (I'm generalizing here- obviously for many men strong women are indeed attractive and desirable.) This strikes me as detrimental to the health of women. If you're supposed to be thin but not supposed to be muscular, how else can you achieve this but via purging or starvation?
I'd like to close with a paraphrased quote. (Unfortunately I can't remember the source, otherwise I'd copy-paste and cite.) If you took a group of girls and a group of boys, and encouraged one group to "eat like growing children" and play outside, and the other to wear high heels, avoid pigging out, and play inside, the two groups would physically develop very differently, regardless of which gender was engaged in which lifestyle.