Body image, Life

‘Body Neutrality’ And Escaping The Hate Surrounding Your Body

It’s no secret that experiences in your childhood shape the way you grow up into an adult. There’s one experience I had that’s seared into my brain. It happened when I was 11 years old, at secondary school, where everything was new and frightening. At that time the uniform hadn’t been updated to let girls wear trousers, something that put me on the back foot as a then tomboyish kid. As we were lined up on the stairs one say, waiting to get into our form room, a kid turned around to me and commented ‘You’ve got legs like tree trunks.’

That’s the first time that someone ever openly commented on my body, but it wasn’t the last. My family despaired of me as I hit puberty and was no longer a stick thin kid (thanks to growing nearly a whole head taller than my classmates in a short space of time), and put on weight. I started getting the arseholes who felt the need to beep their horns and wolf whistle at me as I walked home from school, in my school uniform. Suddenly, my body was everyone else’s property, and it wasn’t good enough.

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It’s no wonder then, that I spent my 20’s feeling that my body was too fat and just not good enough. I was never going to look as good as my friends, because I couldn’t lose the weight. I went on holiday and felt self conscious in every picture that was taken of me, because I felt I didn’t look good enough. I was hyper critical of my teeth, my arms, my hair. Nothing looked the way I thought it should.

You know what the stupid thing was? There was nothing wrong with the way I looked at all. When I was moving house I found some old photos from when I used to go clubbing, around the age of 18/19. Looking at those pictures, I was perfectly normal looking. I wasn’t a whale, or disturbingly ugly, as I had been lead to believe. I looked fine.

I did start to realise this around the time I turned 30, and at this time I was watching the body positivity movement blow up. Everywhere, women are being told that they’re beautiful, that they should love themselves. On the surface, that’s a great thing. It’s time for women to start ignoring what the media has been telling them, and embrace the way they look, ‘flaws’ and all.

body image
Image from https://www.sayfc.org/body-image

No matter how hard I tried though, I couldn’t actually ‘love’ my body. Being a UK size 16 and having a couple of ongoing health issues, I couldn’t get onboard with ‘loving’ my body. At best, I’m pretty much irritated by it. There are parts that don’t work properly and I can’t make it fit into a lot of high street clothes, no matter what size I buy. Am I failing at feminism because I can’t love my body the way it is?

That’s why it’s a huge relief to see people like Sofie Hagen calling out this movement as bullshit recently. She’s written a book, Happy Fat, about why it’s ok to be fat, and why the narrative around women’s bodies is all geared towards making money out of you. It makes sense. If you’re made to feel bad about your body, then you’re going to spend money on fixing it. You’ll buy diet foods, gym memberships, ‘slimming’ items that are never going to work. It’s a fact that diets are almost totally ineffective, but we keep buying into it anyway.

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The same goes for the body positive movement. When you’re looking to ‘love’ your body, you’re going to spend. That could be on new clothes, trying to find a style that lets you love the way you look, or on any other items that are being sold to you through the movement.

Sofie Hagen has been doing interviews, pointing out that ‘fat’ is a neutral term, a descriptor rather than a good or bad thing. It isn’t anything, it just is. What she’s aiming for is ‘body neutrality’, or just being ok with your body. It’s just your body, after all, just the thing that you’re piloting around during your very short time on this earth.

I like this. It’s not asking for me to starve myself to make myself more palatable in skimpy clothing, or to declare love for my own body if I’m not even sure I like it yet. I’m actually going to see Sofie Hagen at the end of the month, doing her Bubble Wrap/Happy Fat tour, where she’ll be reading from her book. I’m very excited to see what she has to say.

Beauty and wellbeing, New Year's Resolutions

Ignore The New Year’s Weight Loss Adverts

It’s the first week of January, so of course the adverts on TV have given way from Christmas adverts to adverts encouraging everyone to lose weight. It’s a culture shock every year. Christmas is a time for eating what you like, indulging in chocolates at 10am, eating cheese for every meal, and boozing it up every night. It’s a slap in the face to go from adverts featuring delicious puddings to shots of thin, smiling women, advertising Weight Watchers and weight loss medication.

This happens every year, and it must work. It’s timed so well. By new year’s eve, you’re so full of sweets that you feel like you might need to be rolled out of your house. You’re so happy munching away on the goodies you were given for Christmas, that you don’t even think about the calorie content of what you’re eating. Your guard is down, and then… BAM! You’re shown gym adverts when you’re at your most vulnerable.

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There’s nothing wrong with wanting to lose some weight, for whatever reason. If you want to start eating more healthily and getting more exercise, then you should 100% get that gym membership and start eating salads. The 1st January is just a date on a calendar, but it’s just as good a date as any other to make a change. If that’s what works for you, then that’s great.

However, the problem is that the adverts aren’t based around you getting healthier in the new year. They say they are, but it’s not the message that’s coming across at all. What you’re actually hearing is that you’ve spent all Christmas eating, and now you’re not desirable as a person anymore. You’ve become fat and unfanciable, so now you need to starve and work yourself into submission, so you’re sexy again.

That sounds like hyperbole, but watch these adverts and tell me I’m wrong. There’s no mention of health, in any real sense. It’s all about ‘getting your body back’, whatever that means. What’s wrong with the body you have now? It’s even worse when you see adverts for weight loss medications, which are snake oil at best and downright dangerous at worst. Is it so important that I become thin that I should poison myself?

I’ve bought into the diet culture before, and it’s horrible. I’ve watched what I’ve eaten, joined joyless gyms, and used apps to track the calorie content of everything that goes in my mouth. At some point, it becomes a second job rather than a way of taking care of yourself. You’re obsessing over everything you eat, and for what? Just to look a bit thinner in a swimsuit?

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Over the last year, I’ve been working on accepting my body as it is. I’m about the average size for a woman at a UK size 16, and I’m by no means abnormal. However, it’s hard to remember that when the media keeps feeding you a narrow idea of what ‘beauty’ looks like. Thanks to the messages I’ve been seeing my whole life, I feel huge next to my friends, even though I look totally fine. I need to learn that my body is fine the way it is. Unless a doctor tells me to, I don’t need to lose weight.

It’s so hard to avoid these messages at this time of year. Everything is telling you you look disgusting, that you need to make changes so you’ll be pretty and attractive and worth caring about. The irony is, you don’t need to do a thing. If you feel pretty in a bin bag, then wear a bin bag. The media is full of it.