Two events recently transpired that brought me to a worthy insight. It is one that may save women hours of pointless critical analysis of our bodies, and useless wishing that we were taller, shorter, finer boned, bigger boned, longer legged, smaller footed.
The first event was a conversation I overheard the other day among a handful of my Grade 5 students. They were discussing that age-old childhood question: What sort of wild animal would you be if you could be a wild animal?
One little guy thought soaring through the sky was the way to go, so he wanted to be a bird of some kind (I didn’t catch which kind). Another thought exploring the depths of the ocean would be cool, so he said he’d be a dolphin. The others, those with more bravado and less scientific curiosity, chose one of a variety of big cats – cougars, jaguars, cheetahs and lions.
Me? I’d choose a wolf. I love my dog and can speak her language, so it’s not difficult for me to imagine what life as a wolf would be like, roaming the forests in search of rabbits and small rodents.
The second event occurred in a busy mall where a pretty red dress caught my attention. I just had to try it on. While on the hanger, it appeared the perfect size and shape for me. But, in reality, it was too long, falling almost to my knees, and the red ribbon around the waist sat closer to my armpits than my actual waist.
As I stood there trying to decide why the dress fit so horribly wrong on me, I noticed in the mirror that another woman was trying on the very same red dress. And she looked divine. With her long, slender legs, the dress fell exactly where it should above her knees. And, since she was more evenly proportioned than me, the ribbon fell exactly at her waist, encircling it smoothly and demurely.
I was instantly jealous and immediately critical of my own (perfectly good) body. As I stood there wishing my legs were longer and slimmer and my torso better proportioned, it occurred to me that the childhood question shouldn’t be what sort of wild animal you would be if you could be a wild animal. Rather, we should ask: What breed of dog do you see yourself as?
I had been comparing apples and oranges. This other woman, the one looking gorgeous in my dress, was like a slender, fine-boned greyhound dog. I, on the other hand, resemble a stockier breed, something more utilitarian like a small retriever or, better yet, a corgi with its short legs and long body.
Imagine the heartache we could save ourselves if we all recognized our body shapes as “breeds” akin to the myriad sizes and shapes of dogs in the world. Think of all the female bodies you would no longer feel inadequate comparing yourself to.
Before I argue my point further, let’s be clear that I am talking only of physique. Let’s take intellectual differences off the table. There is no denying that the basset hound that awakes upon your return from a three-hour absence and looks at you as if to say, “Were you gone?” is not on par with the border collie that has a vocabulary of 200 words.
So, intellectual differences are beside the point. I’m talking only of physical parameters of size, shape and silhouette.
I have a friend who is 5-foot-nothing and 100 pounds soaking wet. She’s a chihuahua, petite and fine-boned. Another friend, at 5-foot-9 with a body to die for, is perhaps a standard poodle, strong and elegant and perfectly proportioned.
My body looks nothing like either of these women, so wouldn’t it be nice if designers designed for the different breeds? Imagine if clothes weren’t made with supermodels’ bodies in mind – those long-legged, fine-boned, sallow-cheeked Afghans, greyhounds or Salukis.
Imagine if instead of taking that one design and merely adding or subtracting fabric for the rest of us, we had a bulldog boutique for those of us on the shorter, stockier side. Or a clothing line especially designed for the Pyrenean Mountain dogs or Newfoundlanders among us. So that when you tried on a dress and noticed someone else reflected in the mirror wearing the same dress, you could compare apples with apples.
If it didn’t look good on you, perhaps you would have a talk with yourself about joining the gym to lose those 10 pounds you’ve been carrying around for years. But you wouldn’t be wishing your legs were longer or your bum was flatter or your neck was shorter. After all, those aren’t the features of your breed. And they aren’t things that all the wishing and self-criticizing in the world will ever have the power to change.
At least that way when you scrutinize yourself in the mirror, as women are wont to do, you can focus on what can be changed, if need be. Losing weight, dying your hair, applying a little makeup, getting a haircut – things that all the other spaniels and terriers and hounds are doing, things that all the breeds do.
I defy you to change your bone structure by agonizing over not looking like the model du jour on the latest issue of Vogue. You’re not supposed to. She’s a whippet and you’re a mutt.
Sheila Zanyk lives in Guelph, Ont.