body image

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Because You Are Actually Worth It…

How’s the new regime going?

The “new you” that you promised yourself last year? Not good? Don’t despair! You’re not alone.

Part of what makes it tough is that you’re never quite sure if it’s worth it. Deep down we suspect that life is, in fact, a genetic lottery. You can take the very best care of yourself and still drop dead at forty or you can abuse your body and still be hauling your scraggy carcass around nightclubs well into your sixties. Bruce Lee has been dead for years and Peter Stringfellow is still laughing on his speedboat with his stupid mane of hair and his big grey tits flapping in the breeze…it’s understandably galling. It makes no sense. But the very reason these quirks of nature are so visible is precisely because they shirk expectation. So don’t be fooled – it is still worth it.

Pile of glossy magazines - photo: bravenewtravelerAnd yes it’s hard. Until you actually try to get fit and stay that way you’ll have no concept of how hard, as an adult, it is. No concept mainly because you’ve been misled by magazines. Magazines that promise that you can “drop 2 dress sizes in 2 weeks”. Which of course you “can” – if you have violent dysentery or if you exist on rainwater and your own toenails, but you can’t do it safely, healthily or permanently.

Don’t be fooled by magazines’ supposed examples to prove it’s true. “LOOK EVERYONE here’s healthy happy Kerry Katona doing it and surely she eats food from Iceland”. She’s on the prawn ring / profiteroles diet. Scant weeks later she’ll be back in the same magazine under the headline “Belly Fatona lets herself go – nation fears for her health”

For the magazines it’s a circus, a fairground hall of mirrors which has really nothing to do with health and everything to do with bikinis.

If you’ve had kids it’s even worse:
They’ll have articles about supermodel mothers proclaiming they were back in their size zero jeans a quarter Old magazine advert for deodarant and slimming.  Photo: Nessterof an hour after giving birth to massive triplets and before the placenta came out: ready to wow the paparazzi and presumably the midwives in tiny blood drenched denim. As if society is really standing in the maternity ward with a stop-watch and a little black dress, desperate to make you feel inadequate. Talk about a “bloody show”.
And it’s just as bad for the boys, worse perhaps because men don’t want to be thin, not really, they want to be “ripped”. Men’s magazines guarantee “a six pack in six days” which is barely enough time to read this article, let alone grow the chiseled abs of He-Man in time for the summer. They’re just SELLING YOU STUFF really, for every decent article on running plans there are a hundred trying to sell you ever bigger jars of creatine or “luminous solar powered GPS sweatbands” or spray-on hair. Page after page of deeply unconvincing before and after pictures. Men who look like they’ve been painted orange and are just “breathing in” alongside their “old selves”. Men who have painted the bald patch with shoe polish and now “get all the girls”.
And although we can laugh at the obviousness of this trick the glossy magazines are doing exactly the same thing – only better.

And when you realise that it can’t be done as quickly as you’d hoped it can take the wind out of your sails. So there is a period of adjustment where you have to realign your expectations, where you realise that unless you do it slowly and sensibly it can never be a permanent thing, that actually it’s not about a concentrated effort in order to look good for a specific occasion but it’s a change of lifestyle forever. Or at least a good long time. For that you need the support of friends and the advice of people that have done it.

As far as I’m concerned the best thing you can do is reduce your intake of processed rubbish and stop buying these magazines.

Have Your Cake and Eat It.

The other day I ate a piece of cake and felt a little bit guilty about it. That might sound like a perfectly normal sentence for a young female to say. Isn’t it? Now I’ve never felt guilty about eating cake before in my entire life, unless it wasn’t my cake. And even when it was someone else’s cake I only pretended to be guilty so I wouldn’t lose friends over it. I’d changed.Home made cakes decorated with bright icing.  Photo: Nona Fara

I was equating myself with those people who decline a solitary Monster Munch from their friends’ grab bag because they’re trying to ‘be good’. It was horrible. Not because I didn’t want to be like those people, but because I didn’t want to fall into the ‘hate yourself’ trap that society has set for everyone, but more so women and especially young women. I didn’t want to have to eat Special K for all my meals and I didn’t want to fit into a size 8, really. It was never really a priority.

But I felt guilty.

I felt guilty because I’d inadvertently taken in a message which I’d always challenged and discarded. The weight loss and diet industry had got to me and it had made me feel worthless. Worthless like so many people do every day. Yet somehow it’s become taboo for actually fat people to speak about how daft this is. It’s taboo for fat people to be happy with themselves. Hell, it’s taboo for most women to be happy with themselves. Think about that for a second. Then think about how ace you are. I bet you all have really good hair and are excellent at judging exactly how much ketchup to put on your plate, or something like that. Mainly, though, think about how you shouldn’t let anyone shame you for how you look. You especially shouldn’t let anyone shame you for how you look then proceed to make vast amounts of money off said shame. You shouldn’t have to resort to thinking about how great your condiment measuring skills are to feel any sort of pride in yourself or even for confirmation that you’re not subhuman. Fuck that shit.

I’m overweight, yeah, but I’m not unhealthy. And even if I was, who gives anyone the right to judge any other person for something which is so personal. You can’t tell if someone leads a ‘healthy’ lifestyle, or a lifestyle that you approve of by looking at them. There’s a lot of research which shows that, yeah, you can be healthy and fat. Imagine it! I mean I’ve joked before about tricking people into not thinking I’m a vegetarian by being fat, and even though it sounds pretty ridiculous, it’s true. I get funny looks if I dare eat something unhealthy in public. Why do we let this happen? Is it because we’re told to hate not only ourselves for being fat, but other fat people?
Even if you have your own opinions on what is a ‘healthy’ body is, surely you can’t deny letting people have a healthy body image and the chance to not feel guilty and ashamed about how they look. You can’t deny people’s right not to be mentally tormented about their weight.
If you don’t want to be seen as ‘fat positive’, you don’t have to be. Just don’t judge people for their bodies, reject stereotypes about fat people and don’t buy into blaming fat people, shaming them and making them feel guilty. Come on, guys, we’re better than this.

Is the body more than an object?

In modern western society, we live in a culture where a great deal of emphasis is placed on how we look as opposed to what our bodies actually enable us to do and experience.  This creates a sense of our bodies as objects and creates a sense of disconnection between our bodies and our experiencing of our selves.

In the past, our bodies were experienced and appreciated more as means of production, ensuring we remained connected to, and within them. Before the advent of modern technology we used our bodies more; housework was heavier than it is now, people were more actively involved in the growth and production of their own food.  The machines we use today create a distance between those things and our bodies, and we no longer experience the satisfaction of using our bodies for hard labour. And it seems that the less, as a society, we have the need to use our bodies for production or constructive reasons, the more the emphasis has shifted on to how our bodies look.Detail of a Chinese health poster via no tech magazine  - the body as machine

Turning the body into an object to be sculpted, to be dieted or exercised into an ideal dictated to us by the media and peer pressure, disconnects us from our selves.  Our bodies are part of our selves.  Our bodies are how we present our selves to the world.  Our bodies are from where we relate to other people.  Our bodies are also what enable us to experience our thoughts, feelings and experiences through our five senses.  And yet, by viewing them as objects which need to be changed to fit society’s ideals and expectations, it’s easy to lose sight of, or to lose touch with, the true value and meaning of our bodies; as experiential containers of our selves.

In modern Britain, it’s almost an accepted norm that women especially, but increasingly men too, will be weight and body conscious, or on some kind of restricting diet in order to mould themselves into an ‘ideal’ shape constructed by the media and society.  It seems that many people are more concerned with what society and our culture tell us about how we should look than with listening to their own Selves, to their own bodies. And this is where disordered eating can begin to creep in as people lose touch with their body’s own hunger signals in their attempts to mould their body to fit these ideals. Our bodies, if we learn how to listen clearly to them will tell us what we need to eat.  Our bodies, if we listen to them and satisfy their physiological hunger will settle at a weight that’s right for them; very difficult to achieve though in a culture which prizes thinness, and often thinness to a point below the natural weight of many women.

Our modern Western world is still based on a patriarchal system where the masculine is prized over the feminine. The masculine principles of individuality, rational thought, autonomy and independence are prized above the feminine principles of intuition, feelings and emotion.  A spiritual theory of eating disorders views eating disorders as a ‘Spiritual Hunger’, as a woman’s disconnection from her Self, her Inner Goddess and her inner feminine as a result of trying to fit into this Western world.  People with Greek statue of Aprodite leaning on a pillar - photo credit mharrscheating disorders tend to have highly developed masculine principles to the detriment of their feminine and spiritual side which shows itself both in their character traits and their determination to eliminate their physical feminine body.

The accepted female shape, or what is considered ‘attractive’ has changed considerably over time.  In past centuries, and even today in other cultures, female bodies are valued and worshipped for the amazing vessels which they are; bodies which nourish and create life.   The idea of woman as a goddess, prevalent in ancient times, has been lost in our society, and today instead, we’re fed images of often painfully, or unrealistically, thin models to aspire to.  A healthy woman’s body is meant to contain a percentage of fat (between 21% & 36%, compared to 10% & 25% for men), it’s meant to be curvy to house her internal organs and prepare her for nurturing children.  A female curvy body with rounded stomach, thighs and hips were once valued and worshipped.  Yet today, women strive to eliminate all such curves; and by doing so disconnect themselves from their full experiencing of them-Selves and their experience of living as a woman in a woman’s body.

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