One of the biggest personal issues women face today is their body image. We are barraged with pictures of slim, perfectly formed women online, in magazines and on billboards. A huge number of women in the public eye seem to have unattainably fit bodies. Even though we know in our hearts that many of these women have personal trainers and chefs, and that photos can be digitally altered very easily, it does not make us feel any better. We measure ourselves against these women, and their images, and we come up short. We are too thin or too fat, too tall or too short, our breasts are too big or too small. Everything is ‘too’ something. Nothing seems to be ‘just right’.
These feelings of inadequacy can start young. Many of us have grown up with distorted images of our own bodies, and the digitally altered beauty we see all around us has grown up with us. It is estimated that one to two percent of women in the UK are anorexic and that eight million Americans suffer from an eating disorder. Reports show girls as young as five years of age have weight concerns and have considered going on a diet. And it’s nothing new.
Until the invention of corsets, being voluptuous was the image of beauty in both art and life. Then someone discovered that whalebone, a bit of bondage and pure brute strength could transform the female body into the perfect hourglass. An eighteen-inch waist became the ideal, and women began to mutilate their bodies, in some cases actually moving internal organs, wearing corsetry that became more and more advanced and restrictive. Then the 1920’s came along and while corsets were thankfully pushed aside, thin, flat-chested flappers became the fashion. By the time I was born Twiggy was an icon. While the television series Mad Men may have encouraged us to believe the 1950s and 60s were a time of voluptuous women, sizes were cut smaller then, and there was still incredible pressure on ordinary women to be slim. It used to be reported that Marilyn Monroe wore a size 16, but this has since been refuted, and the size 12 she is more likely to have worn would have been cut smaller than a size 12 today.
I do not remember even one moment of my childhood when I was not worried about my weight. Many of the women I speak to say exactly the same thing. To be fair, I was not a slim child. I developed quickly and by age ten was a child in a woman’s body. Every day was a battle with my weight, with the body that didn’t feel right, didn’t fit right, and frankly confused the life out of me. Ironically, photos reveal I was not nearly as big as I thought I was. One of the times I felt the biggest, I was actually quite slim. But the scales ruled in our house and numbers didn’t lie. (My mother suffered from anorexia and bulimia, but like so many who suffer from the disease, she kept it extremely well hidden.) At age 16, one day the scale hit 96 pounds and I was ecstatic. I’d trace the edges of my collarbone, ribs and hip bones, and rejoice. It was a long journey back from there to normality.
I’m nothing like that now. I wear a size 14 and while I would like to say I’m happy with that, I would still love to be a couple of sizes smaller. Even though turning forty helped me to finally accept that I’m never going to be tall and skinny, I still struggle with issues around my appearance. I honestly can’t remember a time when I didn’t think of the calorie count before putting anything in my mouth, and while I now value my health more than my dress size, I have to remind myself – often – that my self worth should not in any way be related to the number on the scale or the label of my dress.
Each of us has a different body shape and although a certain amount of change is possible, you are never going to fundamentally change the actual physiology of your shape. Yes, you can re-shape parts of your body – my shoulders, back and stomach are positive proof of that – but even when I was anorexic, my hips were still big in proportion to the rest of my body. It’s just the way I’m built. It goes without saying that eating well, exercising and being a healthy weight are important. However trying to fit into an ideal size or shape, be it someone else’s perception of ideal or your own, is soul destroying and a complete waste of time.
Whatever your size and shape right now, at this very moment, you are perfect just as you are. There is no reason to judge yourself or allow yourself to be unhappy because of it. Beauty truly is a whole lot more than skin deep, and I firmly believe that every woman is beautiful in some way. We all have our flaws, we all have our good points, and it is the sum of these things that make us, perfectly us.
From this moment forward, please join me in striving to focus on the good things about our bodies. Whether it’s slim ankles, great legs, shapely shoulders, great skin, sparkling eyes or a beautiful smile, celebrate the good things and look kindly on the less than perfect. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes when you look in the mirror.
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