The world we are brought up in teaches us, from the day we are born, to desire thinness above all else.
If we gain weight we are considered to have ‘let ourselves go’, with weight gain being, in our culture/ in the Western world*, synonymous with laziness, ‘slobbishness’ and, perhaps the most, pardon the pun, weighted word we fear, ‘fatness.’
*I say this is true of the Western world and not the world in general because, in cultures which do not associate a woman’s worth with how thin she is, weight gain is not something to be feared. In fact, in some cultures, the opposite is true. A ‘desirable’ woman in most African countries, is a woman who, in our culture/in the West, we would deem to be ‘plus size’ or, for want of a better word, ‘fat.’
The likely reason for the cultural differences in how we perceive our bodies? The prevalence of the media. Just take a look at a study conducted in Fiji to see what I mean by this…
Before the introduction of TV to Fiji in 1995, there was little talk of of body image ‘hang-ups’ on the island, but, 3 years after TV was introduced, the islands inhabitants were 50% more likely to describe themselves as being too ‘big’ or too ‘fat.’ As such, following the introduction of TV, Eating disorders, which were once virtually unheard of in Fiji, were significantly on the rise. Young girls would dream of, not looking like their mothers and aunts (i.e., what they should look like/their natural, healthy weight), but like the much thinner celebrities they were exposed to on TV.
Based on the above then, it can be concluded that, following their exposure to Western TV shows, teenage girls in Fiji ended up succumbing to Western dysmorphia, a dysmorphia which is all too familiar in a society whereby, everywhere we turn the idea of thinness being the ‘superior’ body type is essentially ‘shoved’ in our faces, feeding us the lie that, if we’re not thin then we’re somehow a ‘lesser than’ member of society- less successful, less pretty, less human, almost.
Like the influence TV had in Fiji, the idea of thin being representative of ‘success’ is apparent in every corner of the world where TV is a ‘thing.’ Why is this the case? Because, the women we see on screen/in the media worldwide have, consistently, been representative of only one body type- thin (note here the word ‘thin’- the women presented to us in the media are, often, not even slim but thin– an unrealistic and, oftentimes unhealthy/damaging body type for the average person to maintain).
To see the wider impact of the media on our perception of ‘beauty’, just cast your mind back to the UK in the late 80s/early 90s when the likes of supermodels Kate Moss, Jaime King, and ‘Twiggy’ were in the spotlight, and the whole ‘Heroin Chic’ trend was taking off, when it was seen as ‘desirable’ to emulate the look of, not healthiness, but of sickness– pale skin, dark circles under the eyes, emaciated features, thin hair…
Essentially what the ‘Heroin Chic’ trend did was glamourise drug use, promote disordered eating and champion an unhealthy, unsustainable lifestyle (unsustainable because nothing was ever ‘enough’).
Unfortunately for us, the above is still true today. We can never be ‘enough’, as our capitalist society ensures by constantly shifting the goalposts, reflected in the constantly shifting, wholly unattainable trends we are all expected to follow, trends which only serve to commodify our bodies, all in the name of profit…
If we are told that ‘thin is in’, then we will do all that we can to be thin, at whatever cost our tireless pursuit of thinness incurs, both in monetary terms and in health terms. We will do this because we view the female body as nothing more than yet another ‘trend’ we feel compelled to follow.
With the media promoting such a narrow minded view of the female body and, bigger than that, female worth, an overwhelming proportion of women and girls today are made to feel uncomfortable in themselves and in their bodies.
Such feelings of discomfort in oneself are unsurprising, really, when we consider the fact that, chances are, the most ‘successful’ people girls and women have been brought up seeing and idealising do not represent how they themselves look, or what their healthy weight is. The discrepancies in how an individual perceives their body to how they perceive the body of their favourite singer, for example, can be a catalyst for the development of anxiety around body image/ body dysmorphia and, in far too many cases, can be the onset of potentially fatal eating disorders such as Anorexia and Bulimia, too.
The only way for us to put the brakes on this poor body image ‘epidemic’ we find ourselves in is by embracing diversity, but properly. It doesn’t count to have one ‘plus size’ model amongst a group of 50 other women who are all of the same, thin body type, no. The people we see in the media must represent the people we see in day-to-day life- women. Not labelled as ‘plus size’ or ‘petite’, just women. That is what we should be aiming towards. A society that doesn’t consider it a ‘revolutionary’ thing to see a woman above a size 8, and that’s being generous, playing the lead role in a film, or modelling for a brand, but just see’s it as the norm. Having women of every shape and size in the public eye, as inspirational, aspirational figures- that should already be the norm, just as it’s already the norm in everyday life. Such a seemingly small thing would have the potential to help so many people feel seen, valued, and worthy.
To feel seen, valued, and worthy- that is what I want for my future daughter. I want her to grow up knowing that she is perfect at any size. I want her to grow up knowing that it’s okay for her weight to fluctuate/that there is no shame in gaining weight. The truth is that, unless you’re obese, which is a different post altogether, then gaining weight will not make you unhealthy. In fact, in some cases, gaining weight can actually be the healthiest thing you can do, not just for your physical health, but for your mental health, too. It is only when you stop hyper focusing on your weight, that you free up your mind and, with all your newfound freedom, there will be no limit to what you can achieve, to what women, as a collective, can achieve.
It’s time for us to, finally, realise, and for us to, finally, release, our power
It’s time for us to, finally, escape the misogynistic crap that tells us that staying thin should be a woman’s main purpose in life, for, the female body is not a trend…
Our stomachs do not need to be flat, and, there doesn’t need to be a gap between our thighs for us to be ‘enough.’
Despite what the media wants us to believe, we are enough simply because we are.