Since the advent of mass media, TV, movies and glossy magazines have portrayed svelte and skinny women as alluring and the epitome of health. These ideals have shaped society’s perceptions about how the female form should look.
Then came social media, which pushed the feminine ideal further to the edges. These platforms also introduced many toxic and often harmful practices, such as body shaming, and created unrealistic perceptions about the ideal female physique, particularly among teenage girls.
From skinny to strong
But counter-culture has since stepped in to redefine what healthy really looks like. The “strong is the new skinny” movement, for example sparked a dialogue around what society deemed acceptable with regard to the female form.
While it was empowering in many ways, this ideal has also polarised views in the opposite direction, with more women pushing to extremes in an effort to achieve overly muscular and extremely lean physiques.
In this quest for ‘the perfect body’, be it strong or skinny, society often conflates health, weight and body type.
The health halo
While a muscular, lean physique may epitomise a healthy lifestyle in modern society, or a skinny woman is often considered beautiful, these attributes are not one and the same.
We’ve been conditioned to use weight as a barometer for our health. When applying this warped lens, the skinnier you are, the healthier you are.
So what is the true measure of ‘health’? How should we adjust our mindsets to disassociate our outward appearance with our concept of wellbeing?
For starters, you need to look beyond what the scale says and what you see in the mirror. Being healthy is, first and foremost, about how you feel, and how your body and mind function on a daily basis.
It’s about physical and mental vitality, emotional wellbeing and living life with boundless energy.
If you’re constantly tired, lack energy and find yourself in a bad space mentally, but you’re skinny or lean and muscular, can you truly consider yourself healthy?
Weighing you down
Conversely, being obese – carrying excess weight for your height, or a body composition that consists disproportionately of body fat – can also negatively impact your health, as can an abnormally low body fat percentage.
Ultimately, though, weight is not the be-all and end-all when it comes to optimal health. You will only ever realise true health when you shift your view to encompass a more holistic approach.
“Healthy” is a multifaceted concept. We need to take into account and nurture all of these facets, including our emotional, physical, and mental state.
The physical aspect
A good way to check how healthy your body is from an exercise and fitness perspective is to monitor how your body moves and functions when you exercise.
A heightened perception of exertion at relatively low intensities or efforts could indicate a body that is out of balance and struggling to cope with the stress of physical activity.
A healthy body should also move freely through a wide range of motion with no pain or restrictions. A healthy body is strong and mobile enough to perform everyday activities such as walking, standing, lifting and bending with ease.
The mental aspect
Your mental state is also a key component of overall health. It’s difficult to properly define optimal mental health – it isn’t just about the absence of depression and anxiety.
Other elements to consider in the equation relate to your ability to enjoy life, your resilience to life’s stresses, and your ability to balance priorities such as family, work, exercise and your social life.
Mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, or eating disorders all contribute to how well someone functions and performs everyday activities. It is, therefore, important to work on all of these areas to achieve holistic mental health.
Ultimately, when you actively address every aspect related to your health in a holistic manner, you’ll craft a healthy lifestyle where a better body is a beneficial by-product, rather than the main focus.
Of course, crafting this lifestyle is highly individualised and will look different for everyone. It is up to you to identify what is most important in your life and the areas that require the greatest focus to establish a more balanced approach.
Here are some signs that you’re on the right track:
- Your menstrual cycle is regular
- Your energy levels are stable
- You can take the stairs and breathe normally
- You go to the bathroom regularly
- You’re able to fall asleep easily and remain asleep for a decent amount of time and wake up feeling refreshed
- You’re rarely sick
- You rarely have skin breakouts
- You’re able to manage life stress
- You have good mobility and range of motion