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.