On Body Image
This is a picture of me, ready to brace the heat and cold summer showers that have been inflicted on my city for the last week. It’s also one of the first full-body pictures of myself I’ve associated with in the last year and a half, because I don’t want people to see my body.
There’s a lot of reasons that that statement makes me angry. After all, it doesn’t matter what I look like: my friends will still drink with me and laugh at my godawful puns; my family will not disown me (probably), and the people who employ me will not want to hire me any less based on what I look like. I’m a feminist, and know that the idea that people should be ashamed of the way they look is a cruel, pointless, horrible thing. As a pop culture addict, I understand that the general size and shape of women in the media differs from my own, and that’s where many of my preconceptions about what I should look like come from. I can rationalise these thoughts, but they don’t mean a thing when I catch myself at a bad angle in the mirror and run off to do a bunch of sit-ups because my stomach looks disgusting. Things came to a head last week when I replaced my Evan-Rachel-Wood-in-lingerie screensaver to something that wouldn’t make me loathe myself, because I felt so shitty looking at her slender legs and perfect body. And when my weight problems interfere with my ability to letch over beautiful women who I may or may not be in love with, we’ve got a problem.
It’s doubly ironic, too, because right now I am healthier than I have been in ages- I quit smoking, I exercise every day, and I attempt to eat what my insane appetite will deem a reasonable diet. Two years ago, I was a lot slimmer, because I was eating small amounts of crap in between partying so hard I woke up on the floor or the ladies’ bathroom more than once. I might have been a train-wreck healthwise, but I could fit into a UK size 8 and that was all that I cared about. Then, at the start of last year, I started putting on weight, and went up to a size 12and ever since then I’ve been grappling with the stupidly time-consuming act of hating the way I look.
I think the most irritating part is holding the feminist side of my brain and the body-concious side of my brain in tandem with one another. Because the feminist side of my brain tells me that it doesn’t matter what people look like, that it’s not my buisness to judge them or treat them any differently because of their weight- things I know to be true. And then there’s the other side, which tells me stuff like “well, at least you’re not as big as her” or “she’s just too skinny” so I momentarily don’t feel quite as shit about my own size. But that makes me feel even worse, because I don’t want to be the kind of person who can only be happy with their body if they’re comparing it favourably to someone else’s. That’s gross, and it’s a side of myself I try to shut off whenever I can. I want to celebrate other women, not throw myself back into competition with them, but that’s how body-shaming makes us relate to one another; as targets to be beaten, not actual human beings.
But then, I’m often unsurprised that I’m as self-concious as I am about my weight gain, considering the way we treat people who don’t fit the perscribed beauty mould. Take Colleen McCullogh, neurophysicist, best-selling author, and Yale medical researcher, who’s obituary opened with a jibe about her weight: “Plain of feature and certainly overweight…”. Christ, if a woman as accomplished as her can be reduced down to her size despite all her achievements, what the hell can I be remembered for? “Freakishly small of mouth and thundery of thigh…”. I’m sure I don’t need to explain to you the pervasiveness of the ideal body type across all media, because we’re all bombarded from it at all angles: in magazines, on television, in movies, online…all I’m saying is that if a bunch of us were asked to describe the perfect body, it’s striking how similar our answers would sound.
And that’s the worst thing about having body image problems: it’s so fucking dull. Everyone has issues with their body, no matter what they might be, because we’re constantly told that you need to look a certain way to be successful and loved and admired. And as long as I continue telling myself that it’s bullshit- that I can look however I want, and I will not stop being the person I am right now-maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to re-instate that Even Rachel Wood screensaver.
I’m genuinely curious to hear: how do you feel about your body? It’s a question we don’t hear an honest answer too all that much, for fear of coming across as arrogant or insecure, but here’s your chance. Tweet me, comment on this article, and let me know about your relationship to the way you look.
I relate so much to this! You’re not alone. My whole life I have been overweight and now I’m finally seeing the scale stop ticking upwards, but it does nothing to help in my self confidence.
My father’s side of the family have larger women, and that’s where I get it from. What’s strangest is I’ve never met these women as they’re in New Zealand so whatever eating/exercise habits they have should not imprint on me at all. Every fucking year throughout my childhood and teenage years, my mother would take me to the doctor, sit me down, and start asking him “Why is my daughter overweight?”. I understand that she was only trying to help to improve my health, but at that time I was so active. I would be going out cycling, horse riding and you could never get me out of the swimming pool!
So you could imagine where my low self-esteem comes from. Not only the media, name-calling at school, but from within my own home. I would go through phases of crazy exercising, weird diets and end up seeing no improvement. This promptly led to over-eating, depression and dropping out in any physical activities I enjoyed.
I now have a boyfriend who I love so much. He constantly tells me I’m beautiful etc. But I never believe him. It’s incredibly rare to look at myself in the mirror and say “You know what? I look pretty damn fine today”. I hate my stomach, legs, shoulders, back….anything that has fat on it. The only parts I’m even a little proud of is my face and chest, but even then I can still see them in unflattering angles and reach for the nearest tub of Ben & Jerry’s.
I also judge other women, and I always think “Thank God I’m not completely obese like them!” or “Gee whizz she needs some meat on her bones” and I hate it. I hate being the kind of person that made my self esteem so shit.
All I want to do now is practice loving myself for who I am and not care what size I am. A “healthy weight” these days is still “fat” in the eyes of the media and I don’t want to be “super skinny”. I just want to be happy and healthy now.
❤ I'm sorry you had to go through. Hopefully we'll both get there in the end!
I have so many similar issues to this. In my life I’ve gone between having severe anorexia and being what western science describes as obese more times than I can count. As a feminist, I KNOW body image problems are symptomatic of a sickness in our society. I can look at any person of any shape and think they’re beautiful, but when it comes to myself I’m all, “look at those flabby arms and fat knees.” I’ve tried over and over to love the body I have, but I just can’t seem to do it. Recently I read an article by a trans man saying how he wanted to have surgery not because he felt he was in the wrong body, but because he wanted to bring the body he has in line with the identity in his head. I related to that a lot. My body does some great things, but it simply doesn’t look like me as I am in my head. The fact that there isn’t a lot I can do about it at this point in time is a constant struggle.
I’m sorry to hear about your struggles with your body; I hope you’re at a place where you can be happier now. And yes, reconciling feminism with our own personal body image can be tough!
First off, great article. I agree that no matter a person’s body type, we still tend to compare and see flaws.
My side of the story: I have always fit the stereotypical “acceptable body type”. This has come with what may be a surprising amount of conflicting problems.
Problem #1: I tend to be disliked by those of a curvier body, simply because of my thin body. I’m a feminist, and I’m always telling people about how all body types are beautiful, and everyone is different. Not “wrong”, or any other word people want to use when they decribe a body type that doesn’t fit the “ideal” image. I have had many friends over the years who haven’t fit this “ideal”. I’ve been told “oh, that’s easy for you to say when you don’t have to deal with having a bigger body.” I’ve been called a b*tch for being able to eat whatever I want and not gain weight. These have been things my friends have off-handedly commented, not realizing that it makes me feel bad about my own body, that somehow being thin makes me a bad person.
Problem #2: Superficial thin people somehow think that because I’m thin, I’m the same as them. I’ve been told “it must be nice, being the thinnest and prettiest of your friends”. I’ve never used my friends to make myself look better, yet a lot of people assume this. This goes the other way as well, when seen with my friends who are smaller than “ideal”, I’m picked out as the most “physically mature”, and that my friends must all be younger than me because they “clearly haven’t hit puberty yet”.
Problem #3: People don’t seem to realize that these crazy beauty standards affect me as well. Every single person has at least one part of their body that they dislike. Every girl exposed to these standards has battled with insecurities about their bodies, no matter how close to “ideal” they may be. I do realize that I have “thin privilege”, but this is not what has stopped me from fussing over my body. Pro tip: choose not to give a f*ck about what anybody else thinks, and stop comparing yourself to others. When you’re only worried about your own standards, it gets easier to sculpt your ideals to what fits your own body.
Problem #4: People assume that because I’m thin, I’m also healthy. I don’t have a single person (besides myself) in my life who is concerned about my physical health. And this bothers me. It really goes to show that people assume if you’re a bigger body type, you’re unhealthy. And this is so far from true. Fun fact about me: I can be really lazy when it comes to my health. I eat fast food regularly, I hate things like kale and avacados, and I also don’t exercise. At all. The most activity I have in my life is either walking around a grocery store, or having sex. That’s it. I have a car and drive everywhere. I have two good friends who are larger than me, and they walk everywhere. It amazes me, because I couldn’t do that (that’s too physically exerting, I may actually pass out after walking for a few hours). They also tend to eat healthier than me. Yet they are the ones to be told to exercise more.
These are just a handful of issues I deal with, as an “ideal” body type. And these are all caused by society putting so much pressure on girls and women to look they way my body naturally does. I think we need to lose an “ideal”, and focus on health and confidence. If you are more physically active than me, your body is perfect. You should wear whatever the hell you want, whatever makes you feel good about yourself. I’m so sick of hearing people complain about bigger girls wearing tights or crop tops or bikinis or whatever, because they believe there’s a “certain body type that those are meant for, and that girl doesn’t have it”. Have confidence in yourself, you are beautiful, and so is everybody else. I think it’s impossible to be “prettier” than anyone else. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, so just remember that there’s always going to be someone out there who finds you stunningly gorgeous, just the way you are.
Thanks for your comment!