This is not the post I intended to write this morning.In fact this is not even something I feel very comfortable discussing at all (now I am no longer a secret blogger!). As far as subject matters go, you could say it’s a bit close to home.
This morning I read an article by Elizabeth Aram: “Body Shaming – Why is this a thing?” with mixed emotions. The author confidently challenges the social standards of beauty while admitting to feeling the pressure to strive for physical ‘perfection’, (despite being a standard UK Size 10 /US Size 6). Her body is, as she describes it “socially acceptable, but not ideal”.
Socially acceptable, but not ideal. These five words sum up how I’ve perceived my body for as long as I can remember. These days I’m size 10ish (8 on a good week, if I’ve dropped a few pounds to squeeze into something fancy). I’m not going to bore you with my long list of body hang-ups but needless to say, at 5’3″ I will never achieve anything remotely resembling the long (thigh gap)-legged, big boobied idea of perfection however hard I try. Nevertheless, I continue to make those comparisons EVERY SINGLE DAY in my head. Reinforcing the ‘not good enough’ mentality that so many women* felt when they looked in the mirror this morning. While social media has been buzzing with excitement at the warm weather we’ve been experiencing this week ,I’ve been filled with dread at the prospect of my nemesis, The Summer Wardrobe, making a very unwelcome return.
So while I waste yet another day obsessing about how many calories are in half a tub of cottage cheese (or, ahem, a whole packet of coconut macaroons…) I wonder if anyone on the school run noticed that my jeans were a bit ‘skinnier’ than usual this morning ? Or knew that I had to pinch the button a bit tighter to do it up? No, of course they bloody didn’t because they’re all too busy checking that the kids have their factor 50 on and scribbling initials on the inside of sun hats! So why does it matter so much to me? Why do so many otherwise reasonable, intelligent women have such a downer on themselves over something which, in the grand scheme of things, really isn’t that big a deal.
It’s easy to point the finger at the diet or fitness industries, who of course reinforce then prey on our insecurities in order to succeed, or the body shaming magazine articles berating celebrities for daring to ‘pile on the pounds’ but actually I think we need to bear some responsibility ourselves. Who could do with an inspirational quote right now ?
I know it’s not easy to be thick skinned in a world where we are all judged on our appearance, but if we can somehow instill the right mindset of confidence and self worth from a young age then imagine how different things could be? I have a 1957 copy of Vogue magazine and flicking through it these ads show how little things have changed in the last 50 years, how sad that in 2016 women are still bombarded with the same message, ‘You are not good enough’.
In all honesty I AM my own worst critic, I doubt there is anything anyone could say to me about my appearance that I haven’t already told myself many times over. This is MY problem, no one else’s, but to use a well known phrase: ‘What others think of you is none of your business’. It is up to us to decide that we won’t be made to feel inferior any more. Not by the dieting industry, or the fitness industry (Are YOU beach body ready??) or the media. I desperately want to prepare my 5 year old daughter for the pressure she is almost certain to experience in the coming years but I feel like whatever I do it won’t be nearly enough. She loves her food and although she’s usually satisfied with a handful of carrot sticks, there is a point where I just have to say “No more food!” Obviously I think she is beautiful and perfect but I also know that in the real world she will eventually be subjected to comments about her weight which will result in her confidence being knocked, cue a lifetime of food/body issues.
Although there are a handful of body positive role models for girls in public eye today (Adele, Lena Dunham, Meghan Trainor) they are the exception and we are still a long way from acceptance of women regardless of their size and shape. Unfortunately it will always mainly be women from the entertainment industry considered worthy to grace the magazine covers and so it will always be these images that girls are presented with rather than the athletes, engineers, entrepreneurs, or explorers (or presidents?!) . It made a refreshing change to see the below article on the cover of the paper today The ‘perfect body is a lie’. In it Lindy West tells how, as a ‘big’ girl, believing in the perfect body affected her terribly growing up until she eventually realised that the perfect body is a lie. Which makes perfect sense, I mean when you think about it logically, who gets to decide???
For my daughter’s sake I would love to see this issue receive a lot more attention in the media, from the government and in the classroom. Surely body confidence and appreciation from a young age would have a huge positive impact on other areas of children’s lives giving them a healthy, informed view and allowing them to realise that ‘body-shaming’ is bulls**t. Unfortunately I have never managed this confidence for myself but now as a mother I feel it’s my job to be a real-life (not so glamorous) role model. To try to focus on nurturing a healthy attitude to our bodies, whatever size or shape and appreciate just how amazing they are.
I am under no illusion that this is going to be easy, especially as my daughter gets older, but I am learning and I am determined. For her sake I will do what I can to prepare her for the big, bad body-shamers. The below plaque hangs in my cloakroom, as a little reminder, some days I have a harder time than others actually believing it – it’s work in progress.
(If you have already experienced any body image issues with your child (young or old) I would be really interested to hear your views or advice on how you are dealing with it.)
*I am aware that increasing numbers of men are being affected by body confidence issues today, however this is a personal blog post based on my own experience on the subject.