Hello and welcome my new column! I’m excited to be joining Zusterschap for a journey through the world of body image, and what a vast world that is.
Body image is a major problem in our society. It is estimated that roughly two thirds of adults suffer from negative body image.* Having an unhealthy relationship with your body damages confidence and mental health, which in turn can affect your entire life; your life-choices, the respect for yourself and others, and your ambitions.
So who am I to be telling you this? I’m no expert, I’m not a doctor and I certainly haven’t found peace with myself yet, but I’m trying to turn my experiences into something positive. I have never been thin. I was bullied a lot. I grew up thinking it was normal for women to be constantly dieting, striving to be as attractive as possible.
“70% of adult women and 40% of adult men report that they have felt pressure from television and magazines to have a perfect body. 34% of adolescent boys and 49% of girls have been on a diet to change their body shape or to lose weight.”**
It’s taken me 32 years of life to start accepting myself the way I am, and it’s still a work in progress. I had some health problems a few years ago which forced me to review the relationship I had with my body. I did a lot of partying, a lot of travelling (but a lot of living!) and my gut decided not to be my friend anymore. I then went to India, and was sick, sick and more sick. I got back, and stayed sick for a few more years, battling through different elimination diets to figure out what I might be sensitive too. I gave up booze for a year, meat for 8 months, gluten for 3 months, dairy for 3 months, and various other random other things which anyone would suggest. I had every test going, tried many types of holistic therapies, took weird powders, drank Chinese herbal remedies and ate Indian medicine pastes which tasted like Vaseline. Whether or not I was ‘too fat’ in society’s view became the least of my problems, I just longed to be healthy on the inside irrelevant of how that looked on the outside.
Of all the different places I’ve lived – living different lifestyles and eating different diets – my weight just didn’t change all that much. Only on the shit-yourself-thin-diet that India kindly offers did I lose a little bit of weight, but I was very unwell. I realised that for me to change my natural body shape I’d have to use forceful measures, which would be neither fun nor healthy. Yet in our society often a slimmer person is automatically judged as healthier than a larger person, irrelevant of what the person has to endure to attain that thinness.
There is no quick fix for health, it seems. I just started to listen to my body, tried to be kind to it and began doing regular yoga. I started to get slightly better, but very very gradually. I couldn’t eat a lot of foods I loved for a long time, and now I’m lucky to be able enjoy them again, but in moderation. There’s way too much good food in the world to deny yourself. Especially cake. Cake surely has to be a basic human right.
I went through an internal battle with myself which was worse than anything any bullies could ever say. I’m thankful to my body for getting me through this. Now if somebody thinks I’m too fat for their liking, then fuck them. My body is not here for their gratification. Nobody can judge somebody’s health by their body shape, and even if they could, it’s none of their business. Your body is yours, you take responsibility for it and they take responsibility for theirs. End of.
Our society has very specific ideals. Thin is good, fat is not. Smooth is good, hairy is not. Tanned is good, pale is not. Boobs can be big as long as waists are small, and bums can be shapely as long as you have a thigh gap – and the excruciating list goes on. But we’re not Barbie dolls. We’re not plastic-moulded playthings designed to sell, we’re just people. We have minds and personalities beyond the skin, hair and fat.
The media are a colossal governing force which has programmed our brains into thinking there’s a perfect image of attractiveness, but we’re in need of re-programming. If we’d seen sexualised fat women in the media for the last 30 years we would probably see beauty in a completely different way.
“77% of adults think society puts too much pressure on women to have a sexualised appearance, and 47% think the way you look affects what you can achieve in life”*
It’s not about promoting being fat, or shaming being skinny. Shaming shouldn’t be happening full stop. It’s about being kind and compassionate to our own bodies first, and only then we can extend that to others and out into the wider community and society as a whole. Maybe if we start being more accepting of ourselves, we might find a way to be more accepting of each other.
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Ghandi
*From the All Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image and Central YMCA
**From Body confidence findings from the British Social attitudes survey 2014 (from the Government equalities office)
Author. Blogger. Screenwriter. Feminist. Likes cooking, yoga and cinema but not all at the same time.