There are plenty of reasons to ignore fashion and beauty advice. Here’s another one. My experience shows that even if women are the “freakish ideal” size, they won’t be satisfied with how they look. It’s human nature.
It’s a response to the various blogs and articles I’ve read this month on the subject of body image.
Many of these articles, and I’m particularly thinking of Mary Anne Sieghart’s January 9 story, What women see in the mirror is self-loathing, are in response to the ridiculous pressure put on women to lose weight in January after the excesses of the Christmas period.
Ms Sieghart has hit the nail on the head with a lot of her points, but I think she has missed a crucial one.
In one passage, she describes someone who is tall and thin as “freakish”.
“This freakish ideal is everywhere we look. I took my 11-year-old niece to Topshop last week and, just as I was expounding to her the merits of curves, we caught sight of a mannequin with hideously skinny and impossibly long legs. Fashion mannequins are now six inches taller than the average British woman – in heels, they measure over six feet. Yet they are usually only a size 8 to 10. In other words, the models that gaze out of every shop window are unrealistically tall and thin. No wonder they make girls and women feel short and fat.”
Now I know that mannequins are not designed to reflect the average woman’s body. I’m perfectly happy to accept that they are too thin and too busty to be of any use for modelling clothes that real women wear. This is made perfectly apparent by the fact that quite often retailers will pin the waist of a dress at the back of a mannequin to make the size 10 dress actually fit properly.
However, to describe a creature who is over 6ft and a size 8 or 10 as “freakish” and “hideous” is a bit over the top. I know I am not the only person on this planet who falls into that category because I’ve been to the Netherlands. Tall, thin girls are in abundance there.
The point that Ms Sieghart was making, was that this body type is unachievable for 99% of the population, and I have to agree. No matter how many diets you go on, you can’t transform a busty, curvy body into a waif-thin body. It’s also clearly not possible for someone who is 5ft to become 5ft 10ins through hard work.
But the point that Ms Sieghart fails to make, is that even if people could transform their bodies into this “ideal”, they still wouldn’t be satisfied. Even if they could become these “hideous” creatures, it wouldn’t make them happy. This is just human nature.
I’ve never felt that having the body that I have has made my life better. I’ll admit it, I do feel “freakish” and “hideous” sometimes.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful that I don’t worry too much about how many calories I eat, and I’m glad I can go to the gym without feeling overly self-conscious.
But I can still remember being teased about my weight and height in middle and high school. I was “skinny” not “thin” and one kid used to taunt me with a little ditty that used the words “anorexic” over and over again, even though I wasn’t anything of the sort. Back then, I would have much rather just had a “normal” body, not a “freakish” one.
My size didn’t mark me out as the “class beauty”. I can still recall the stinging remark from one of my classmates: “You could be a model, you know. You don’t even have to be pretty to be a model anymore.”
I didn’t ever want to be a model – I was, and still am, conscious of my big ears, my big nose and my freckly, pale skin.
I’m more comfortable in my skin now – and have put on a tiny bit more weight – so it’s not something that particularly haunts me.
Still, there are recent occasions when my size has made me a target.
In December, I went to a pub dressed in tight jeans and a knitted top. Before too long, a woman who I had never seen before came up to me and called me a “skinny bitch”. There was real venom in her voice.
This incident spoiled my mood, but I couldn’t be angry with the woman. I think in a weird way, she might have thought it was a compliment. She has somehow been convinced that skinny is better than the alternative.
What I have learned to do, and what I think every woman should do, is to ignore dieting, fashion, retailers’ and even friends’ advice or comments if they make you feel bad about how you look.
The other day, I started reading “health” questions in a magazine that had been left in the staff room at work. A woman had written in asking for tips on how to get rid of “unsightly” veins in her legs. It had barely entered my head that I should worry about the veins in my legs up until that point.
It was a bit of a revelation for me. I just put the magazine down and walked away. I decided I wasn’t going to read it.
Women – and I dare say quite a few men as well – will never be satisfied with how they look. It is an endless, pointless battle to try to reach our idea of perfection and one which will only get more difficult with age.
Of course our health is important, so we should all eat a healthy diet and take regular exercise, but it should never be about trying to transform our bodies into something they aren’t.