Today I realised something that might just change my little life: having a positive body image is our duty. Or, at least trying to is. I really have no right to lecture you on this, as a paid-up tummy-hating, fat-fearing, wrinkle-abhorring member of the If Only I Could Change Everything About Myself Life Would Be So Much Better club. But then I watched this video by Dove, and something clicked.
I am so far away from having a daughter. It could be years until I have a baby, because to be honest I am a long way off bagging myself a husband, let alone reproducing. But I think this video has value to us all. Do we not believe we were wonderfully and fearfully created? Do we not think we were made in His image? Then why are we hating on our laughter lines and love handles? We were knitted together. Every inch of us planned, and best of all, loved. That is a message we need to be sharing with everyone, not just our offspring.
New research released on Monday to coincide with Body Confidence week claims that 10 million people are “depressed” by what they see when they look in the mirror. They aren’t just a bit worried about the way their jeans are getting a little snug or concerned that a grey hair is popping up here or there – they’re actually depressed. And one in four of them will have to be treated with pills and therapy for these feelings.
A quarter of us skip meals to lose weight. Because of the way we feel, 36 per cent of us feel we can’t exercise. More than half feel powerless to society’s obsession with looks. This has got to stop. It’s not something that only affects women, of course, but the problem does disproportionately capture us. But where does it start?
As girls, we are taught to be small. I was never the little one at school. “Big-boned” was how my mum put it. Tallest in the class when we lined up for the photos. Bottom of the pyramid because I was the heaviest in gymnastics. Back of the stage because I didn’t look as good as the others in a leotard when dancing. The small children are the ones cooed over; they’re the ones who the older children look after in the playground and help cross the road at the end of the day. I was never small, but knew from a young age that I should be.
Magazines teach us how to lose weight. Films show us what beauty looks like: with the Julia Roberts, the Cameron Diazs, the Sarah Jessica Parkers. Now, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter show us how celebrities eat, drink and work out.
Weight loss is the ultimate achievement, it can seem.
Chimamanda Adichie, during a talk for a TED conference on Why We Should All Be Feminists, featured on Beyonce’s ***Flawless – which is why I know it off by heart – said: “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls: ‘You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise you will threaten the man.’”
When was the last time we told a man he should be smaller? Thinner, maybe, but smaller? For men, the current ideal is to be as big as possible. Boys hit the gym, hit the protein shakes and then sometimes hit each other to prove they are the biggest and the strongest. Could you imagine women doing the same?
At the gym, the female members of my classes are obsessed with not “getting too big and bulky”. We’re not talking fat, here. These are fit woman who run marathons, take part in triathlons and think Tough Mudder is a good day out. Yet they fear their arms have moved beyond ‘toned’ – the aim, obv – and into ‘muscley’ territory. It’s a fine line.
And ambition, does that have to stay small, too? Sometimes.
We are incredibly blessed to have been born when we did. Never before have we had more opportunities available to us. The potential to achieve great things is within us. But we are also incredibly limited, often by ourselves, through those lessons we learn as children.
I am sure there are many amazing women out there who relate to nothing I have written so far. You are the strong girls that the rest of us envy. The ones who do what they want, say what they want and know that they are loved. I bet you’d dye your hair pink, if you felt like it. I bet you’re as comfortable in your old clothes as you are in a brand new outfit. I bet you post that picture on Twitter, regardless of the fact that you don’t look your absolute best, because you had the best day and want to share it with friends.
But the results of the survey out this week suggest there are probably times that all of us are plagued with doubts about our body, even those of you thinking I need to ‘man-up’ – oh, there we go again, crediting strength solely to men.
My point is, as young men and women who believe they are created, shouldn’t we be doing our best to look past our perceived faults and step out of the shadow that the mirror casts? I’m up there with the worst of those who need to change how they look at their body, but will you join me in this journey? I think we could all do with a little support.