Warning: this girl is in rant mode. 😉
I am currently drinking a bottle of coke. As a matter of protest, actually. It was a choice between coke and red bull, and mostly I need red bull. (zzzzz fibro flare up, grim chesty cough and headache and no sleep, zzzzz) but I opted for coke instead. This one bottle is 5% of my daily recommended calorie intake but at current state of play it probably will account for 75% at least of calorie intake of today. 0% fat (really?) but 28% of my recommended daily sugar intake. Not too bad?
But oho. Read the small print. Those percentages are based on a 250ml bottle and this bottle is 500ml. (again, really?!) So actually, there’s over 200 calories in this drink, and over 50% of my daily recommended sugar intake. Currently relying on sugar to live, I don’t really mind. Calorie count? Makes me go cold.
So why am I still drinking it? Don’t get me wrong, when I realised the truth of the percentages, I nearly gagged, and felt my stomach churn with panic. But as I say, I’m drinking it out of protest. Because the thing is, I realised the percentages before buying the blasted thing. I didn’t look at the red bull percentages but I don’t expect they were much better but they do at least keep me awake. But the reason I bought the bottle was because of the magazines next to the drinks. Every single magazine had a photograph of some ridiculously ‘attractive’ woman grinning at me from the front page (if ‘attractive’ for you means airbrushed, bronzed, with teeth that make you squint because they’re too bright, *perfect* hair, perfectly formed face with no lines or bags or tiredness – in short, if ‘attractive’ for you means ‘impossibly perfect’). Honestly, the photos made me feel sick – about myself. The little niggly voice in my head piped up, “god look how beautiful they all are. You’ll never look anything like that. You’re always going to be stuck looking like this, and with a daft complexion, bags under your eyes, normal teeth, stupid unmanageable hair, far too small, completely out of proportion body sizes [size 14 chest, size 4 waist. thanks body]. You’ll never be perfect. You’ll always look like you, ugly duckling, compared to her…and her…and her…and her…nobody will ever want you, they will always want those perfect girls instead.” And the voice was right. I will never look like them, unless I spend a frankly ridiculous amount of money and time, and also be airbrushed and sat in front of a wind machine and generally be turned into a doll. Not real. A doll.
And it occurred to me – at least when I look at a photograph of myself, I know it’s me I’m looking at. I know it’s the real me. It’s not been airbrushed or photoshopped to make me thinner/fatter/paler/browner/taller/shorter/line-free. I hate seeing myself but I equally know it’s real. What must these celeb women think when they see these photos of themselves? When was the last time they saw their real self? Do they have a body image complex when they see the perfected doll version of them on the magazine, compared to their REAL human version in reality? Do they look at the magazine and see how many daft changes have been made and think ‘wow. If I needed that many changes to be made pretty, I must look hideous in real life?’ I know I would. I think someone turning a real photograph of me as a person into a glossy doll version of me would do me far more psychological damage than being faced with the harsh reality – I am one of the ugly ducklings. Fine.
And then aside from the photos of these dolls, all the titles were about losing weight. Losing your love handles. Losing your bingo wings. Losing that stubborn double chin, or roll of tummy that just WON’T budge. (PS, women, you kinda require that roll if you want to have kids. Just saying. Think of kangaroos and their pouches. You need extra layer of warmth for littlun!! But don’t jump like a kangaroo. We’re not quite the same.) Top 10 tips for losing a stone in a month. (tip number one should be – don’t, you’ll feel horrendously ill, trust me. I know). How to achieve the perfect bikini body (well I say – wear a bikini, on your body, and hey presto – you have a bikini body). How to achieve the perfect thighs. How to ‘look good naked when fat’. How to please your partner in bed if you’re overweight…how to keep your partner’s attention…because obviously the magazine can know what every partner wants, and speak for every partner, and thus generalise for the whole population. Not only now was the magazine attacking a woman’s body image, but also attacking her relationship with her partner by producing this seed of doubt that if she’s overweight, she can’t be pleasing her partner unless she’s read and learnt how to. Absolutely ridiculous.
The list went on. I flicked through each magazine in turn and felt physically sick. Every photograph of a ‘fat’ woman actually was a photograph of a woman far more beautiful than the doll on the front page… ‘fat’ is now what ‘curvy’ used to be.
Angry with this, I bought the coke, and some chocolate. Ate the chocolate in front of the magazine, then gave it my middle finger, and I’m now drinking the coke. I feel sick. It’s possibly the highest amount of sugar I’ve had in a while. I am also feeling extremely panicky and anxious about having consumed a quite large amount of calories. But I saw a row of magazines speaking for every sodding woman, and their partners, (so pretty much the majority of the adult population) and I won’t let them speak for me. I refuse to get lost in this spiral of brainwashed madness. I would rather be obese and a total panicked wreck than conform to the extremely dangerous and impossible ideals presented to us. And what about our children? Who watch their mothers try to become this impossible perfection, and believe that they can’t be loved properly if they aren’t perfect? Our children who are fed these images of fakeness everytime they go shopping with their parents and see a magazine on the shelf. What are we creating except a generation of people with body-image issues?
What pressure does it put on the celebrities, who may wish to be a positive role model but aren’t really given much of a fair shot? Cindy Crawford (supermodel) once said “I wish I looked like Cindy Crawford.” That is perhaps one of the most powerful things a celebrity could say. Everytime a celebrity dares to leave their house without make-up on (god forbid), their photo is taken a million times and plastered in the next magazine, with some completely ridiculous story about how said celeb must be having a mid-life crisis and is in a very bad place and can’t cope anymore. No, I think they just wanted to buy some milk from the shop and/or remind themselves of what they look like beneath the stupid layer of make-up they are made to wear everyday. God help society if I ever become a celeb (god help me too, Jesus). I’ll be out in baggy jeans, hoodies, little or no make-up, crazy hair, drinking coke and eating chocolate. Oh the controversy…!
These magazines, ads, products in shops advertise themselves by selling to you that: you’ll look amazing, be better in bed, have bigger lips, bigger boobs, twinklier eyes, eyelashes longer than your hair, skin so shiny that you could use your arm as a mirror to apply the lip-plumping gloss and complexion-smoothening cream, blah blah blah blah…. how can they make such conclusions? They don’t know what you look like, faceless and nameless buyer! Maybe your lips are plenty big enough. Maybe you’re fine in bed. Maybe you already do look amazing. Maybe you don’t want spiders for eye lashes or be able to see your face everytime you look at your arm. These products no longer just sell…products. They sell so much more. They sell values which we don’t necessarily think we want but believe we need. They sell our identities, which aren’t really our identities but we’re made to believe that they are. Really, WE are selling OUR identity to them. They sell impossible goals. They build an entire society up to believe impossible perfection is absolutely achievable and wanted. There is pressure to become perfect, rather than space to become you.
And who are we trying to please, actually? For me, my low sense of body-image is reflected by my self-esteem. For me, looking good is an effort to mirror how good I feel. I don’t feel good, so I don’t look good….and as I don’t look, I don’t feel good. For me, and so many others, it’s a massively vicious cycle. A huge amount of my body image issues have inevitably come from the abusers, most predominantly from my ex-girlfriend. And because she was my ex-girlfriend, some part of my head has attached itself to the idea that I can only be loved by a partner if I look *amazing*. She didn’t love me and because of the type of abuse inflicted, a damaged part of my head has concluded she hated me so much because of how hideous I look. I would love to say society breaks this idea but it just doesn’t, as the above rant shows. I starve myself, for a variety of reasons, but body image is up there high on the list. If I starve myself, I look amazing. I think. But as I starve myself, I look *exhausted*. But then my head goes, ‘well just eat even less. Eventually you’ll look good.’ And round and round and round it goes. And then adverts pop up all over the place, when I’m calmly working at a computer, all about how to achieve the perfect bikini body in time for summer, how to look good, how to lose weight, how to lose weight fast as though it’s not only a question of needing to be thin, but also being in competition with everyone else – including ourselves.
I read the most amazing, and disturbing, article yesterday written by Hannah Betts (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-health/10607040/Getting-thin-why-is-it-the-ultimate-female-ambition.html) which showed that however much the media and magazines might try and make us feel ‘we must be a bag of bones in order to keep our partners’ attention and look good in society etc blah blah’ – MEN actually in general don’t like thin. It’s a mad women obsession, and fed largely by the media.
And I have to agree with that, at least to a level. Okay as a child and teenager I was only ever a ‘good girl’ for the abusers if I was stick thin, but the ‘good’ men in the wider population didn’t appear to think so. (As a child, obviously, any decent adult didn’t comment on my body shape). As an adolescent/young adult I have received far more positive attention from men when I was a size 8 or 10, compared to now at size 4. As it is, I’m gay so attention from men is meaningless and can be very triggering. But nonetheless, men gently talking to me in a bar, or commenting that I look ‘gorgeous’ and asking *how I am* (interested in me as a person, not just my body)- that was the kind of attention I got from ‘normal’ men. Now? Let me be fairly blunt here – when I lose weight, it does NOT come off of my chest. It’s the bane of my life. Waist, hips, thighs (ish), face – the weight comes off. Chest? Not a chance. So now the attention I get from some men is very negative. Wolf-whistling and drunk men being all sleazy and slobbery when I dare walk to a bar alone on a night out. Unlike the men who tried to chat me up when I had curves (to be gently let down when I told them I was gay), the men now are not interested in *me.* They are interested in my chest, and the fact that with a waist the size of a pencil, my chest is more obvious to them. I’m blonde, 5 foot 1, size 4 waist and a chest that men like. Now the attention is all negative. And sadly, because of that and the fact I find that kind of attention especially triggering, I starve myself even more…. determined that if I eat less and less, my body will eventually go back into being the body of someone much younger, and I can stop being a walking sexualised object for men to drool over. The ‘good’ men who may have approached me months ago are not interested in a walking skeleton.
Whenever friends tell me “you’re not thin enough to have an eating disorder,” I can always hear a note of almost resentment or impatience. One girl said to me, a few weeks ago, “but you look so amazing now, you’re so skinny, why are you worried? I’m so jealous.” Like the article from Hannah says, a lot of women (but not all) have an obsession with being thin, and so eating disorders are ever-more fuelled on, and everything grows quickly more dangerous. This has meant that at times when I have tried to admit I have a problem, it’s been quickly stamped upon by a lot of girls. It’s not their fault. They undoubtedly feel the pressure put on us by examples such as impossibly perfect women in magazines. The problem with an eating disorder is that I so so often try to deny it’s existence, so when people around me deny it…it simply fuels my denial, and I retreat further into my shell.
Being skinny means I’m more sexualised and attractive to men who just want a one night stand. Which is completely fair enough, they’re not doing anything wrong, and some women also want a one night stand and so it all ends happy. But it’s damaging for me. I’m using men as an example here just because I have the most examples based on male attention. Being skinny is making some girls see me as direct competition, and I have noticed a distinct increase in the level of bitchiness around people when someone is on a diet and losing weight. What utter madness is this that we’ll view our fellow friends/students/colleagues as direct competition when losing weight? With that insecurity and bitchiness, comes rumours and a heightened focussed attention on everyone else’s body’s and image. That fuels the media’s role for selling the idea of a perfect body, because everyone’s focussing on it. That increases competition and bitchiness. And so the sick circle goes on…
But the problem is, that’s what the media make us feel – that everyone else is competition, because not only does someone else being skinny make us more aware of the fact we are not necessarily skinny (and therefore not ‘perfect’), it also means that skinny person might be seen as more attractive to YOUR partner (!!) The magazines are speaking for all of us, and in that are causing tensions/strains/anxieties that are needless and damaging. It’s a terribly sad state…
And what for those who are naturally skinny? Do they now just always face bitchiness, competition, wistfulness? And for those naturally overweight? Must they always be faced with being told at every waking moment that they aren’t perfect and their partners will leave them? What the hell?!
And what’s frightening is how it impacts on our children. There are reported cases now of children as young as six being treated for anorexia, and toddlers even showing anorexic tendencies. What are we doing to our children?
So, I’m drinking this coke with stubbornness. As I say, I’m anxious and frightened and on the verge of a huge panic attack. But I refuse point blank to become one of the media’s puppets. I urge you all to do the same. The only way they will stop is if we stop playing their game, and frankly we are not only making our own generation ill and body obsessed, we risk making our children’s generation one of chaos and walking skeletons…
Dear media, please leave my body alone. What I wear and look like is absolutely none of your business. Creeps.