Remember in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy, the scarecrow, the tin man, and the lion were walking through the forest with arms linked, afraid of lions and tigers and bears? Are we women fearful that our bodies will burst forth with womanly parts like Dorothy and her companions were scared of the wild animals lurking behind trees and bushes? Where did they go? Where are they – our bellies and buttocks and breasts?

I became an adolescent on the cusp between Marilyn Monroe and Twiggy. Size 12 Marilyn, curvaceous and sexy, and 91 pound Twiggy, fab, fashionable and with an androgynous body. Talk about a radical shift in the beauty ideal! One minute (or so it seemed) the culture was glorifying female flesh (remember the paintings of Rubens, Titian, and Renoir?) and the next minute preadolescent bodies were the rage. What happened?

Some sociologists and feminist writers have theorized that as women have gained more power, as we use our voices, as we demand more equality, as women get bigger, so to speak, our bodies have gotten smaller. They point to 1920 when women won the right to vote and the subsequent decade of flapper bodies that were lean and angular and to the feminist movement of the 1960’s when “mod bods” were the fashion ideal, while women were challenging gender roles and stereotypes.

Regardless of theories, it’s hard to start a business, be a political leader, write a book, run a household, when we’re starving ourselves. It’s hard to have a creative or coherent thought when we wake up in the morning obsessed with food and go to bed each night hungry. I sit with women of all ages and sizes who are consumed with thoughts of food and hatred of their bodies. This cycle keeps them (us) trapped.

Don’t you find it interesting that as a society we have become so much more accepting of so many things – racial, ethnic, and religious differences, sexual orientation, interracial unions? But when it comes to beauty and body size we have a fixed and very limited idea of what is acceptable? Do you see yourself when you open a magazine, turn on the TV, or go the movies? Unless you’re a size 2 or less, you don’t. And as a result, and without our knowing what happened, most of us become marginalized and invisible. If I don’t see myself in the culture at large, do I even exist?

In 1960, the Twilight Zone aired an episode entitled “Eye of the Beholder” in which a woman underwent eleven surgeries in order to make herself “fit in”. When her facial bandages are removed, we see a beautiful young woman with perfect features by our standards but we see disappointment and horror on the faces of the doctors and nurses. When the camera focuses on them we realize that they are deformed, by our standards with heavy brows and pig-like snouts, but the epitome of beauty by theirs. Have we become that society where only thin is beautiful and fat is ugly, where there are only two places to land on the body size continuum – fat or thin?

There are some bright spots on the cultural landscape, however. There are larger models whose bodies are reminiscent of Marilyn’s. And there are some television shows, such as Ugly Betty, Drop Dead Diva, and even Grey’s Anatomy, in which a few of the female leads are larger women – with bellies and buttocks and breasts – who are smart and sexy. Remember the movie “Real Women Have Curves”? We also see Dove products showing women of all shapes and sizes in their skin care commercials.

However, can we wait for the media and the diet industry to give us permission to love our natural shapes and sizes, our womanly parts? I don’t think so! And besides, that’s our job anyway.

Author's Bio: 

Ilene Leshinsky is a licensed, clinical social worker with fifteen years of counseling experience. In her Plattsburgh based private practice, she works with women who want more joy and fulfillment in their lives. Ilene’s BodySense program is open to women of all ages who are in conflict with weight, eating, and body image. She can be reached at 518-570-6164,, or