Why Body Image Matters

Why Body Image Matters

I was very, very interested to read the recommendations from a group of UK MPs the other day suggesting that school children should have body image lessons as part of the curriculum.

I’m going to repeat myself again here – for all the ‘fat girl’ jokiness of this blog, it’s not just about weight loss. I don’t know how many more times I can say it. It’s about being happy, and about living your life to the full – and unfortunately, I think in this society with its enormously unrealistic ideas as to what constitutes a ‘good’ body, that’s incredibly difficult if you don’t look like Kim Kardashian (on the right):

As it turns out, even Kim Kardashian (on the left) doesn’t look like Kim Kardashian (on the right) – so it’d appear that there’s no hope for the rest of us on that front.

Examples like this just prove how much of a difference a quick Photoshop makes – and how rife it is within the media these days. I’ll be honest – until a couple of years ago, I had no idea how pervasive it could be, and it’d never really occurred to me to question whether the model with the unobtainable figure actually had that figure herself. Everything I’ve learned about Photoshopped images has been from blogs and the internet – but if you’re a school age child, reading Teen Vogue (or whatever it is kids read these days) and watching hyper-retouched music videos on the TV, where does the reality check come in?

It’s not even as though poor body image is something you grow out of – look at these figures taken from the Reflections on Body Image report that those MPs were referring to:

  • 60% of adults are ashamed of the way they look.
  • 70% of adult women and 40% of adult men have felt pressure from television and magazines to have the perfect body.
  • 34% of adolescent boys and 49% of adolescent girls have been on a diet to change their body shape or weight.
  • 42% of girls and young women feel that the most negative part about being female is the pressure to look attractive.
  • One third of men would sacrifice a year of their life to have the perfect body.

And if those are the figures for us grown-ups, here’s how it stands for kids:

  • Between one third and half of young girls fear becoming fat and engage in dieting or binge eating.
  • Girls as young as five years old are worried about the way they look and their size.
  • One in four seven year old girls have tried to lose weight at least once.
  • One third of young boys aged 8-12 are dieting to lose weight.

I can’t be alone in finding that really, really sad. And given that at least 1.1 million people in the UK alone are affected by eating disorders, this isn’t just a matter of thinking your thighs are looking a bit flabby today. This is a huge issue that’s making people seriously ill. If you’ve ever heard of Isabelle Caro, the anorexic model who died in 2010 after campaigning publicly for more realistic expectations and tighter controls as to who can model, you’ll know that negative body image isn’t just something that happens to those of us who aren’t on the catwalk.

And it’s ironic that obesity is on the rise at the same time as a quarter of 7 year olds are going on diets to lose weight. It seems to me that it’s symptomatic of a society where there really is a lack of education as to what a healthy body should look like, and how many millions of forms that this healthy body can take. We have a serious problem in that the ideal body that’s promoted by magazines, TV, and across the media is unattainable in anything even resembling real life – and yet if you don’t have this ideal body yourself, it’s all too easy to view yourself as a failure because you’ve been trained to have a negative body image.

And here’s where the perfect storm sets in – as a society, we’re eating and living all wrong to achieve even the ‘healthy’ body, let alone the impossible ideal one. The ‘quick fix’ diet industry, and the huge range of ‘low-fat’ and ‘diet’ products available that are absolutely packed with artificial sweeteners and other health demons (not to mention the extensive promotion of plastic surgery as ‘no big deal’) – these all function because there’s a lack of education as to healthy, natural, and god damn tasty ways to eat. And because we’re eating the wrong things, and thus craving the wrong things, we’re miserable, and because we’re miserable, we hate ourselves, and so we eat seventeen slices of pizza, and then we look in the mirror and we think we look fat, and g0 on a diet, and… Yeah. You got it.

The whole body image issue really does need addressing on a societal scale – and lessons in school, I think, are one step that really ought to be taken. I know for a fact I’d have done a heck of a lot less emotional eating during school if I’d realised how unrealistic my ideas were of what I was supposed to look like – Britney Spears, namely, although dear old Britters has well and truly redeemed herself by releasing these unaltered images of herself recently:

Yes - she still looks amazing.

We also need to stop being so hard on ourselves. We need to stop trying to be media-perfect, because once you’re happy with yourself – regardless of weight, size, hair colour, whatever – you’re probably not far off perfect anyway. You’ll have the confidence and glow of someone that’s happy in their own skin – because a positive body image shows in your movements, your expressions, your whole self.

I’d also say there’s a lot to be said for being a bit nicer to each other. Look at the people you know. I might be just incredibly lucky, but I’d say everyone I know has something about them that’s bloody gorgeous – and that they don’t take enough credit for. Give someone a (meaningful) compliment today, and you’ll have taken one small step towards improving the whole body image issue. If everyone did that – well, we’d be away.

So I’d say to everyone who’s read this blog because it’s a weight-loss blog, or a fitness blog, or a gluten-free blog – take a moment now to think about what you love about yourself. Just one thing. Because this is a happiness blog, dammit – so show your body some love!

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