I recently saw a fabulous documentary called Embrace. It was by an incredible lady named Taryn Brumfitt who (long story short) went from hating her body to embracing it the way it is, and has started a movement to encourage people worldwide to do the same. Not only that but she is tackling the fashion industry head on, and asking them to be accountable for the images they portray to young girls as not only normal, but healthy.
While the documentary didn’t bring up anything I hadn’t already mused on previously, it really bought home just what a massive issue body image is to millions of people. It spans countries, race, religion and even sex, and piles the whole of humanity into the ‘not enough’ box.
Not slim enough. Not pretty enough. Not enough boobs. Not enough of a thigh gap. Just not enough.
And based on what? Who decides what is and is not enough?
If you look back in history and around the globe, peoples’ perspectives of what is beautiful change with time and geography. Now beauty is based on how tiny you are, and how much sunlight you can see between your thighs. 100 years ago when it was cool to be curvy, you would have been considered incredibly poor and an unfit mate.
A tan is now considered a sign of good health and yet in Elizabethan times only the peasants were tanned. It was a sign of being wealthy if you had preserved your porcelain white skin, as it showed you didn’t have to work. Breast enlargement is popular the world over but in the 1920’s it was fashionable to be flat chested. See where I’m going with this?
In Africa, men like big butts and something that was said 10 years ago by a lovely Jamaican friend of ours has always stuck with me. He was out clubbing with us one night (back in the day) and we got chatting about his fiancé. We had never met, and he pulled out a picture of her. She was beautiful but it was the comment he made that still makes me chuckle to this day. “Doesn’t she have a lovely arse? It’s big and beautiful.”
Obviously the notion that your bottom has to be small had not made it to Jamaica. And why should it? It was lovely. She had killer curves and her butt suited her. And he had no expectation that she should be anything other than what she was.
Ask 100 different men their ideas on beauty and you will get 100 different answers. Some like big boobs, some small. Some like bigger women, some smaller. Some blonde hair, some red. There is no fixed beauty ideal.
So why is it that as women we see one ‘look’ as being the only one. Clearly not many people actually think this way. And yet there is so much pressure to conform to that ideal.
One of the truly shocking things that the Embrace documentary bought up was that 50% of 5-12-year old’s think they are fat. 50%! As the mother of a 6-year-old girl I find that truly disturbing. Not only that they think they are fat, but that they are even worried about things like that.
I was still climbing trees and running wild when I was that age, and these are still the things I encourage in my daughter. We try to talk more about being fit and healthy, than being fat in our house. Don’t get me wrong, we talk about how sitting for too long, smoking, or eating fast food can make you sick or fat too, but the emphasis when doing sports and outdoor activities is on how much fun they are, not on getting slimmer.
Sometimes the hardest thing about altering your speech patterns is not how you talk with your children, but how you talk about yourself. We women have had so many years of trying to squeeze ourselves into the ‘not enough’ box, that it is hard to claw our way out. I catch myself saying little things like- “I’ve put on weight and those jeans don’t fit me now,” or “I shouldn’t have cake today.”
Eat the cake! And then go for a walk.
Why? Because kids pick up on everything! And your perception of your body is going to mould how they see themselves now and into the future. And not only girls are impacted by this either. How are young boys going to learn to love and respect a women for who she is, and what she looks like, if women aren’t even doing it themselves! They see us striving for perfection and come to expect that perfection in their partners when they’re older, perpetuating the cycle!
A couple of years ago I made a conscious decision to always go swimming no matter how unlovely I felt that day. We live in Australia, and my husband surfs, my daughter does nippers (surf life-saving) and we all enjoy the beach.
And yet one summer I barely went in the water because I was so ashamed of my body. And you know what? It didn’t make me feel better sitting clothed on the beach. It made me feel miserable.
I may feel a bit self-conscious of my body now, but I don’t let it stop me. I have a great time with my daughter in the waves, I’m learning to surf and no-one gives two hoots what I look like doing it. And if they do- too bad!
Why should we let some random people who we have never met dictate our lives and our level of happiness? Why should we live a life less extraordinary because our bodies aren’t the same as those photo-shopped into perfection by the fashion industry? Does having a curvy body, petite height and ‘athletic calf muscles’ make me any less of a person?
Only if I let it.
And that my friends is what it comes down to. The fashion industry, media, and the bigots who spout the nonsense about the perfect body only have power over us because we give it to them. And we give it to them wrapped prettily in our own shame and unworthiness.
Just stop. Stop giving them control over your life. Stop believing that you are less than the amazing person you are. Stop allowing your kids to see anything other than the vibrant, wonderful person you want to be. Just stop.
And instead start. Start believing in yourself. Start spending time and energy on being fit and healthy, instead of slim and starving. Start living your life without fear of judgement, without worrying what others may think, and without living in the shadows. Because no-one else should dictate how your body should look other than you- the one living in it.
And if they try? Flick them the bird and carry on being awesome!
For more information on Taryn, the embrace documentary, and her body image movement head to her website or join the conversation on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using the hashtags #embrace, #bodyimagemovement and #ihaveembraced.
Interested in how womens bodies and beauty was perceived in times gone by? Check out these great articles.
100 Years of women’s body image
How beauty standards have changed