Body Anxiety & Obesity (NSFW)

I have already mentioned that I’m on a rather extreme diet. I was so sure it was due to worries over my health more than anything but after reading “Uncomfortable in our skin: the body-image report” featured in the Guardian yesterday, I’m not so sure. Maybe I’ve been in denial, and if there’s another unhealthy motive, what do I do now?

The article’s author, Eva Wiseman, researched into what might be causing stupidly high statistics that describe women as being unhappy with their bodies, sometimes even to the point of depression, and how to stop our children from going down that same miserable path. This wasn’t a how-to on losing weight and getting the body you’ve always wanted, instead, it was questioning that entire idea. She found that 50% of girls were smoking to suppress their appetite – literally killing themselves to stay thin. Add to that a large percentage feel to self-conscious to exercise, and over half of 16-21 year olds would consider cosmetic surgery, it starts to get seriously worrying. Firstly, what is making us feel so bad? Secondly, what can possibly be done about it.

One high contender for a pressure on women was the images that are seen day to day on TV, in magazines, etc. Despite the changes being made and attempts by women in the industry to show more realistic ideals, Tina Fey was right when she said that “Technology does not move backwards”, airbrushing and photoshopping are here to stay, it might just mean that to combat this we need an audience/industry that is looking for something different.

I think every woman alive knows that magazines, TV and the internet are crowded with celebrity pictures, fashion shoots, models with no boos, no hips, no butt, and nothing but bones, but I think we’ve just got used to it. Some even try to live up to it. One such example of fashion industry standards that angered me a little while ago was an article about how a model called Lizzie Miller. She was turned down for a Plus Size fashion shoot because she was too fat. By too fat they meant that tiny amount of belly you see on her in the photo on the right.
She looks pretty beautiful too me, and although might be naturally big, does not look overweight or unhealthy in any way. But that small fold excluded her from “the beautiful people”. I hate to think of what they might say about me if this is “too fat”.

Alongside images are the TV programs that revolve around the idea of “you can be happy if you look better/thinner/stop eating”. Now of course TV is only successful when people are watching it, but I hardly think it’s really helping anyone. The way our culture, media culture specifically though not alone, criticises people, tearing them down, pressuring them to change, is sickening. Ms Wiseman used the example of the 546 headlines found in the Mail Online against the way Lauren Goodger (from The Only Way Is Essex) looks. Her sister having suffered from anorexia is a stark reminder of what distorted body image can do. She herself is drained by the onslaught of body comments that are making her body feel like her work.

The fact that there’ significant evidence to suggest that diets do not work, especially so called miracle diets which are plastered over social networking sites and magazines, concerns me personally about what I’m doing. One example from the famed is Adele, whom I have admired somewhat for her don’t care attitude. In a number of articles she’s suggested she enjoys her food, doesn’t like exercise, and hence enjoys being “big”. I too think she is beautiful and wouldn’t ever pull her down for what she looks like (even if I do think smoking is going to do her voice no favours”. However, from the point of view of Alexandra Shulman, editor of Vogue magazine, it was not her that excluded a full-body photograph from the cover of Vogue – in fact she wanted it. Instead Adele would not allow that and so only her face was seen on the cover. People were disgusted by this assuming, apparently wrongly, that Vogue didn’t want a big girl on their cover, preferring Kate Moss style thin models. It was the lowest selling edition ever, but what strikes me is despite what Adele might say about liking her curves, she did not want many other people to see them. This upsets me, because I thought that maybe there was a change coming in fashion and the celebrity culture. Instead, Adele, like me, could just be denying the anxiety she holds about her shape.

Eva Wiseman’s article seems to conclude with the idea that once we know what pressures there are we might be able to stop them effecting us, at least a little. But this seems to imply a no-diet, no-worry world, which I’m not sure can exist in the current climate. Don’t get me wrong, I realise that a huge number of diets are wastes of time energy, and do more harm than good in the long run, but what about the rising obesity in this country. By obesity I don’t mean a little tummy (certainly not when it comes to Lizzie Miller), but the real danger of high sugar levels, fat clogging your arteries, and in some case in fertility, due to bad health. What happens when your anxiety is unhealthy, but your body is too?

For me, it felt like the health issues that spurred me into the diet I am on currently. I worried that the things I noticed with how my body worked, fitness levels, tiredness, pains, etc would only increase until I was in a truly bad state, maybe with diabetes, maybe heart conditions, maybe death. But on the other hand I have been concerned about how I looked for a very long time. When I was about 9 years old I worried about if my legs were too fat, whether I was getting too big. Before secondary school I was a keen and strong swimmer, but once I started worrying about what people thought about me showing so much body, so much fat, I started worrying and can count the number of times swimming since on my fingers. Once you’ve become self-conscious it’s very hard to come back. I was called fat in my classes and felt incapable of a lot of things. I didn’t feel comfortable in PE classes because I firstly, had to change infront of people, and secondly, because I was concerned my tracksuit would burst, or showed too much, plus a number of other issues. The anxiety got so bad I ended up having panic attacks, and was eventually signed off the classes, which although stopped me panicking, hardly helped my body image. I have lived with an unhealthy view of myself for so long I can’t remember not disliking the way I looked; I can’t remember not finding shopping upsetting and difficult, and it has tainted even the best of memories, including my wedding: “Do I really want to look back at photographs of my fat for years to come?”

I know it’s unhealthy, but I have also tried to do something about it a number of times. What’s frustrating is when it doesn’t work. What is possibly more frustrating is the idea that I may never be happy with my body, no matter what.

So knowing I am far too overweight, knowing that something needs to change, but also being told that dieting doesn’t work, knowing that healthy-eating and exercise has never changed anything, and that the diet I’m on may just get me to a weight I can work with, it is increasingly hard to figure out exactly what I am supposed to do. I have been in situations where I feel too scared to exercise, and that has included being in a Race for Life with many other women where they hardly cared what I looked like running. Plus, I know my weakness is comfort eating, and whether you put that down to a lack of willpower or warped childhood psychology, I fight against it. But it is an cycle, a depressing one in which I feel rubbish about my body, get sad so comfort eat something that is likely bad for my body, and hence give myself more reasons to dislike it.

It’s all too easy to justify, coerce yourself, and fall for temptation when it’s all around you.

The truth is our food industry isn’t great either. Even though the diet and healthy-eating lines are huge, so are the fast foods, the cheap takeaways, the microwave dishes, all of which tempt us into giving in. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if the health-food shops and diet-food supplies make them purposefully too difficult, too much like starvation, and too unsuccessful, so that when we fail, are frustrated and sad, what we go to is their bad foods, their fattening tempting foods. It would be an easy and cruel way of making money.

So how to balance body image and obesity in our society? I honestly have no clue. It worries me though that one day I will look down at my daughter, find that she is crying over her arms, her legs, her tummy, her back, her whatever, and when I say she doesn’t have to worry, and that she is fine just the way she is, she will look at me with disdain, point to my wedding pictures and ask why I didn’t want to stay like that then. It will hurt, and I’m not sure my answer will be purely about my health. Maybe I slipped all too easily into the self-denial, maybe it’ll be fine: I’ll succeed at getting to a healthy weight and be able to keep it off sensibly, but maybe I’ll fall for the same trick hundreds of thousands of women do and yo-yo diet, putting the weight on and off again, until I’m drained from trying.I’ve got to hope that I will succeed both physically and mentally to beat this. I want to be able to avoid TV due to the crap they have on, or if I am watch it have enough resolve to shrug off the pressuring implications. I want to be able to cook good, balanced, healthy food from scratch and know that I’m not just eating for comfort. I want to be able to enjoy sports and exercises as I once did, not because I need to shed that extra pound but because I like to. I want to grow up to encourage women to be comfortable in their skin, and see their soul shine with inner beauty. Hopefully, one day I’ll report back and happily tell you of what happened.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. You know what’s truly stupid about that model getting turned down for a Plus Size job for being “too fat” is that Plus Size models aren’t Plus Size at all! They’re actually the average weight (for American women, at least), and I don’t think any of them would fall under the classification of “obese”…there is no such thing as a truly Plus Size model.

    I think part of feeling comfortable with your body is feeling comfortable with yourself. I had no issues as a little kid (I was a stick figure up until middle school anyway), but then I gained weight due to stress and health problems and a new tendency to stay holed up in my bedroom all the time, after getting bullied in late elementary school. I wasn’t bullied for how I looked, I was bullied because I was “weird.”

    And though I admittedly still feel shy sometimes and have a hard time making new friends because, what if they think I’m WEIRD, I’m mostly a lot more confident now. I like who I am, and if people think I’m weird, well, good for them, because there are plenty of people who think I’m interesting, funny, and awesome. And the best part about liking who I am is that it’s helped me DO something about my body. I mean, it’s okay to be overweight, as long as you’re happy that way and are not suffering from adverse health effects, but as I mentioned, I’ve had enough health problems already, plus diabetes runs in my family, and it’s good to stay active. I’m too “big-bone” to ever be a size zero (my shoulders alone are too wide for that), but hey, that just means I’ll have an easier time in childbirth someday. And I don’t need to be a size zero, I just need to be healthy and happy.

    The point is, if you’re confident with who you are, you’ll cut the bull-crap and stop thinking stuff like, “I wish I was skinny.” Instead you’ll start thinking, “Hm, today’s a nice day for a walk/a good day to go to the gym/the perfect day for a salad.” You don’t have to try crazy diets, stop eating, or do a workout that practically kills you. Just have fun and don’t binge!

    I know there are a lot of posts like this going out there right now, but I’m glad you wrote it. We really need to learn to be comfortable in our own skins.

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