In my role as an Image Consultant & Stylist I see a lot of undressed women (I can hear the men cheering about loving a job like that!) But the thing I see and hear most often is how no matter what a womens size or shape we all have body issues and would like to change the way we look.
Women’s hatred of their bodies is such an everyday phenomenon that we pay no heed to just how deeply it cuts into our sense of self. One of the driving forces is that women are increasingly influenced by celebrities & social media – who let’s face it don’t live a normal life – and it can make a cruel comparison for real women trying to juggle work and family.
If there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s this: it’s all a waste of time. Diets don’t always work; the perfect bodies in magazines and on billboards are digitally enhanced; the fashion industry only makes clothes for the slim & tall; however much weight you lose, it will never be enough for you. You might as well give up now. The only alternative is to embark on a lifetime of miserable attempts at self-improvement, regularly interspersed with binges on fat, sugar and the purest despair. Far better to get beyond the bargaining and depression and reach acceptance, the final stage of grieving for the body you’ll never have.
Yet most women of my acquaintance never seem to get there. Oh, we know how we’re meant to feel. Our abject failure to accept ourselves, love our bodies and celebrate our curves compounds the shame we feel at not having achieved perfection in the first place. It might have been okay to feel this way when we were younger – all teenage girls hate themselves, right? – but we know we shouldn’t feel it now. Shouldn’t we have bigger fish to fry? (Or to bake, with just a drizzle of olive oil, another wretched meal to overwrite with My Last Ever Chocolate & Wine Binge.)
When you look in the mirror, what do you see? Your perception of how your body looks forms your body image. Interestingly, a perfectly-toned 20 year old fitness model could have a very poor body image, while an average-shaped 50 year old man or woman could have a great body image. Regardless of how closely your actual figure resembles your perception, your body image can affect your self-esteem, your eating and exercise behaviours, and your relationships with others.
Once upon a time we may have been angry about this. Fat was a feminist issue. Beauty was a myth. Oppression was structural and bodies were real. Now it’s every identity for itself. We have no desire to name the female body yet we manage to reject and abuse it all the same. An amazing achievement, to be disembodied creatures weighed down by so much flesh. Why, we ask ourselves time and again, can’t we just get over it?
An everyday kind of hate
When my friend Sarah was in her teens, she fantasised about losing both her legs in an accident. “Just so I didn’t have them. I hated those legs.” Although I appreciate this is extreme…She appreciated being able to walk and run but still, the alternative – not having legs to think about – seemed more valuable. I try to explain this to my husband. “Well, some people have strange fantasies like that,” he says. He doesn’t understand that it’s not about being incapacitated; it’s just about not having parts of yourself to hate. I used to feel unhappy with my body in my late teens because I was curvy and had hips and a stomach, nowadays I would give anything for that size 10 frame and flat stomach. Why did I never appreciate it when I had it?
Women’s hatred of their bodies is such an everyday phenomenon that we pay no heed to just how deeply it cuts into our sense of self. It’s the teenage girl who doesn’t know she’s beautiful (“but that’s what makes you beautiful,” annoyingly enough). It’s the woman in her twenties who doesn’t understand that “men like women of all shapes”. It’s the middle-aged woman, frowning in front of the mirror, too vain to realise that IT DOESN’T MATTER ANY MORE. It’s the elderly woman, reaching the end of her life, still engaged in the attempt to make less of herself before she gets there. All of these women, wasting so much time, all, quite literally, for nothing. Why hasn’t it been possible to patronise them out of it? How many Dove & Simply Be adverts would it take?
However there is a misconception that’s its just bigger ladies that have the issues – believe me its not! Recently I have met with many petite ladies between a size 6 – 8 and they have just the same body issues! They want the curves & boobs! Comments like: Being told that it isn’t fair that you’re so skinny, being told that you need to eat something. When you can’t fit into adult clothing so you resort to shopping in the kids’ section…in your twenties! People constantly asking if you’re OK because they are worried about your appearance and people insisting on picking you up only to comment on how light you are.
No one is happy!
When I meet a woman for the first time, I like to think she’s not like this. That she’s too sensible and attractive, or simply too old for this way of thinking but sadly its always the same. I genuinely find that most females are unhappy with their bodies.
Ladies we are amazing, you can run marathons, make babies, run a home and hold down a job, please think yourself a million miles away from this train of thought. I can only try to help women see their bodies in a different way, or at least learn to love parts of them and work with that. There is nothing for fulfilling in my job than seeing a women start to smile at her own reflection. So celebrate your body and the marvelous things it can do when you are fit and healthy. So often, we take these things for granted.