The latest contradictory message from the government came with new proposals to reduce obesity. This was hot on the heels of the ‘Eat Out to Help Out‘ plan, encouraging us to go to restaurants in August with a 50% discount incentive. Lose weight, but also eat steak and chips. Stay alert!
It’s confusing stuff, considering most of us have experienced hardship this year ranging from the extremes of death and illness, to cancelled holidays and job losses. I can’t be the only one who has found solace in ordering treats online (the cake from Betty’s was a highlight), savouring those little pleasures to get me through another day of lockdown. Now the government are suggesting we dust the scales off and measure the impact, which no-one especially feels like.
The need to be thinner is a topic that comes up often amongst my mostly female friends. It comes up too often. We still live in a patriarchal world where thin female bodies are held up as the image of beauty, the default model for clothes and a symbol of health and success. That view is so pervasive that we have to work hard to deconstruct and resist it.
Taking up more space
I was thin as a child and was sometimes underweight. There was no particular reason and I always ate well, but metabolism or genes or whatever meant that’s just how it was. As a teenager I felt awkward and scrawny, rather than womanly. But I noticed if people were being kind about my appearance they would praise me for looking ‘lovely and slim’. These ideas were put into my head, rooted in approval even though I hadn’t done anything to deserve it except be in the world as a young thin person.
Fast forward to university and years of office jobs, where I naturally gained weight. I didn’t mind even though I knew I was supposed to be upset by increased dress sizes. I’m tall with wide hips and my body seemed to be becoming what it should be, moving from child to adult. Sure, I have bad angles and imperfections, but it’s really not that bad to take up more space. Now I am similar to the average UK woman, except I’m 5ft 10.
A work in progress mindset
Some days I look in the mirror and feel happy, but other days I see something bad. Am I worse than before? Less lovely? Do I have less value? But when my mind is clearer I see this is total rubbish, directly attributable to those early ideas. I love cooking and trying different food, going to a fancy restaurant when it’s an option. I enjoy sharing a good bottle of wine and snacks. Giving these things up is giving up part of me that I like.
The obvious answer is to do more exercise, which I periodically attempt. Yet it always comes back to mental wellbeing and if I’m in the right place to add more activity. I finally got into going to the gym towards the end of last year by shifting my mindset. I had to not see it as a punishment or a quick fix, but a way of investing in my body to make it stronger. Then the virus closed gyms and well, I may go back eventually. But I’m not beating myself up in the meantime.
Changing the inputs
If you are struggling with body image at all, I recommend adjusting the images you look at. On Instagram you can find a lot of accounts talking about body positivity. It is a movement based on the acceptance of different body types. I especially like to see photos of women with different body types who accept themselves (e.g. the Undergarmet, an inclusive lingerie brand). If you still believe that thin is the image of beauty, it will seem odd and you may not believe their stories at first. But keep looking and one day it will become apparent that beauty was always a much more interesting concept than thinness. Start to look at yourself with the same lens. It works! 99% of the time…
Men struggle with body image pressure too, perhaps more so than ever. A recent article talked about eating disorders amongst men being on the rise. The pressure to a have gym-toned 6 pack, to be lean yet muscular is evident. I hope men are also able to embrace body positivity, seeing a wider range of options available to them.
We’ve all got enough to deal with right now. And if the Government do want to help, can they please direct more resources towards mental health support and helping people out of poverty?