Measuring Up

Deborah J. Sergeant


My mother tells me that when she was a girl in the 50's, dimples and chubby elbows—a la Shirley Temple—were the rage.  Popular media portrayed round-faced youth as well-fed, happy examples of America’s success. We won the war and good times were back again. Naturally thin girls, like Mom, were considered sickly creatures that needed fattening up. Strangers asked her, “Doesn't it hurt to be so thin?”


People ate food that tasted good and was generally homemade and wholesome. Exercise was how people lived. They walked on errands and children enjoyed playing vigorous games such as jump rope, kick- the-can and hopscotch. Health was a lifestyle,


not something that had to be planned and calculated.  Body mass ratio? What was that?


Fast forward to the 70's. My sister was an adolescent at the height of Twiggy’s popularity, maturing in her stick-figure shadow. Forget about plump elbows and dimpled cheeks. 


Thin was in, and the thinner the better. Exercise was something that only boys and athletes did. After all, you don't want to get big, ugly muscles, do you girls?


Along with America’s newfound thin obsession came absurd lettuce diets, grapefruit diets, and chalky shake diets. Sis tried them all to no avail. Society demanded she had to be thin to be beautiful, despite her lovely curves, doe eyes and thick, dark tresses. Yet another woman in my family couldn't live up to Western culture’s shifting ideal of beauty.


Now fast-forward to the 80’s and my girlhood. Thin still reigned and even icons such as the Campbell’s Soup kids were trim. At least we had wised up a little about eating nutritiously while dieting. 


We were told to work out, drink milk and work out some more. “No pain, no gain.” 


Tell that to me, a klutzy, lactose-intolerant, endurance-less youth. More often than not, the volleyball landed on my face. I couldn't follow an aerobic routine without falling behind the awkward movements. I was too puny, too weak for the bigger-than, better-than 80’s. I didn't even have big hair.


Nearing the seventh year of the new millennium, the pendulum is starting to swing back towards a balanced approach. We're encouraged to eat three well-balanced meals a day. Exercise can include walking (Ah! There’s something I've mastered!), gardening and fun sports we like. Sensible eating, moderate exercise, enjoyable activities. Ring any bells, Mom? 


Even hourglass figures are coming back in vogue with shapely models such as Emme leading the way. Curvaceous actresses and models are becoming mainstream instead of being pigeonholed into a different category. They're simply “models,” and “actresses” without tacking on the qualifying term “plus-sized.”


Maybe someday, we women can simply accept who we are and how we are and forget about fulfilling society’s expectations for us. We can focus on living heartily. Now that is a trend worth following.


Deborah J. Sergeant is a freelance writer living in Wolcott, N.Y. Her work appears regularly in local newspapers, along with regional and national magazines. To find out more, please visit her website at


Photo Courtesy of dreamstime.



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Article Copyright © 2007 Deborah J. Sergeant. All rights reserved.