Body Image Debate at Westminster

For most women in the Western world, the importance of being thin is drip fed to us from infancy.

 

We are surrounded by “need-to-lose-weight” conversations as our mothers converse over coffee. We are mesmerized by billboards that sport slim, synthetic bodies as we gaze out of car windows in traffic jams. Articles on dieting shout to our minds from the shelf of the newsagents as we linger to buy sweets. By the time young girls develop into adulthood, they are well and truly conditioned. They’re groomed. They’ve internalised the hypnotic image of the slim, petite figure and a large proportion of their focus and aspiration will pour into this futile quest for the rest of their lives.

The preoccupation with being thin eats up talented, intelligent, capable women.

 

Almost every woman I know suffers from body dissatisfaction. They may not admit it, but almost every female I know is in a perpetual battle with their physical form. Some diet occasionally but think about dieting frequently. Others have serious eating disorders, suffer from depression, exercise far too much or opt for sugary. One of my closest friends from childhood wound up in a clinic for people with eating disorders as she could no longer walk down her road without collapsing. Her teeth rotted because she lived on boiled sweets. It wasn’t pretty. Another local girl – and this really breaks my heart – died of heart failure due to anorexia. She had long dark hair and stunning eyes. She was a talented violinist and Irish Dancer. She was 23 when she died.

 

Why are women and girls – as young three, four and five (yes I know it’s crazy!) – expressing this compulsion to diet and get smaller?

 

Why are we having to live in this constant, guarded deprivation, battling the very bodies that we live in?

 

Why is being “beautiful” synonymous with self acceptance?

 

In January of this year, the ugly truth about “beauty” was bought to Westminster, London. In Jo Swinson’s speech she clearly highlights the issues that are effecting the self esteem of so many women today. Following this day, a discussion was held at Portcullis House during which prominent activists and feminist writers talked about how idealised imagery of the female body in advertising is effecting women and children – an event organised by the Lib Dems for their Real Women campaign. The party also outlined a number of steps that could be taken to tackle the pressure that so many women feel to be thin. One step was that advertisers should declare the extent to which images of women have been airbrushed and altered. This way, when Cheryl Cole is advertising L’Oreal shampoo with hair extensions, we know what we’re actually buying … and comparing ourselves to.

 

Do you feel the pressure to stay young, thin and flawless?

 

How does this impact your life, your activities, the things you will and won’t do?

 

Are you a parent who is worried about the impact your negative body image is having on your daughters – or even sons?

 

I passionately believe that the more we talk about this subject and bring it to the surface, the weaker the “beauty grip” will become. I’d love to know what you have to say.

 

 

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5 thoughts on “Body Image Debate at Westminster

  1. It’s mind boggling how this obsession over body weight/image has grown. Young children become obsess over their bodies wanting to augment every part of it when they reach the legal age. Like you, I think this should be talked about more. Some people try to change the perspective by talking about a healthy body. But I think for the meantime, to avoid looking at the body, it might be best we talk about other things such as talents, gifts, and abilities. I don’t know.
    Evolution studies tells us thin frail bodies aren’t good for evolution. Males unconsciously seek for bodies that show hints of fertility (means its need more body mass). I grew up with people telling me I’m fat. I’m lucky that I had other preoccupations than my weight. These preoccupations took my mind away from my weight. Looking back at my pictures as a kid…i wasn’t fat.
    I do hope we find a way to reverse the messages being promulgated by the world. If we could lessen magazines and tv shows…let kids play out the street and understand the importance of relationship and communication as oppose to being thin, young and ‘perfect.’

  2. I totally agree what you say. I too was accused of being fat as a child, only to look back and see a rosy, happy, healthy, robust little girl.

    The problem with being told that as a kid is that children will often hear the message “you’re fat,” or “you’re skinny,” as meaning “you are worth-less than others.”

    It’s this feeling of worthlessness that becomes so destructive. Children can then grow up to seek “worthiness” in other things such as drugs, alcohol, under-eating or overeating. Add to this the crazy media messages about beauty and the self-worth takes another plunge!

    Like you say, emphasising other talents and gifts is a great way to move forward and reestablish healthy self worth. Once that is raised, then hopefully the person will start to establish a healthier relationship with themselves.

  3. I had a nasty struggle with an eating disorder(starving myself) in my first year at university; ended up so run down I caught mumps and viral meningitis at the same time I was supposed to be taking first year exams. I sat two exams IN bed.
    I find it so hard to accept myself as I am both physically and every other way I sometimes wonder if a total wipeout via ECT might sort me out…..

  4. Hi Viv,

    Sorry it’s taken me awhile to answer this … I’ve been run off my feet with so much and have barely had time to keep up with the blog!

    I guess the thing with any sort of eating disorder is that the disorder itself is the manifestation of some underlying issue of self worth or control. And often, even when the outer symptoms of the disorder appear to have diminished the self worth/control issues can remain if they aren’t dealt with.

    A lot of the people I know who have struggled with body image may not be starving/purging any more, but their preoccupation with their bodies/selves is still evident and it can flair up when they are feeling stressed or life becomes challenging.

    Have you ever sought counselling with someone who specialises in self esteem issues? I am a massive advocate of counselling. So often people cringe at the thought of it, but essentially its about processing your experiences of yourself. Often the gems of learning can become the treasure that you bring to the world. Wishing you lots of love and healing. X

  5. I doubt it would ever be available, to be honest. Last time I sought help via the NHS, I was told I wasn’t ill enough to merit help(ie, on every drug availablem signed off sick and looking like a zombie), all because I do a lot of the work of getting to be walking wounded myself.
    I don’t have the finances to do it privately so I suspect it’ll never happen.
    sorry to hear you’re run off your feet. remember to take care of yourself!
    xx

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