I wrote this at the beginning of the year but seeing as it’s nearing summer season in the Northern Hemisphere I thought I would give it another whirl. Let’s be honest, none of us have “cured” our body issues since then…
Keep on keeping on!
It’s been a long time coming but I’m finally doing it, I’m about to write a post about female body issues.
I honestly have been avoiding this for too long and I guess the reason why is because it’s a little too close to home.
I’ve always been slim and have never had any eating issues or weight issues (except for when I was in primary school and I was too skinny and I couldn’t find any pants that fit me properly).
But I know that most girls and women suffer from a range of body issues, mostly because they feel fat and full-bodied compared to the models and actresses we see on TV and in magazines.
Well, I had a good decade of care-free eating and bikini-clad beach moments but in the last couple of years this has all changed as I watched my firm buttocks turn to mush along with my tummy, my arms, and my feminist attitude.
It’s so funny when I think about it. I believe in equality of the sexes and I wish to combat sexism, misogyny and gender bias but I also just really want a firm butt!
I am turning 30 this year, an age that causes even the most rational woman to quiver in anticipation. Thoughts of ovaries drying up, being “on the shelf” – single and childless – and other such pleasant concepts have definitely crossed my mind. But far worse than these so-called life stage achievements, it’s my poor buttocks I worry about the most. I struggle to accept the textured, dimpled creature I see in mirrors these days and long for the freedom that being body confident used to bring.
But I am a very lucky person because I have an amazing set of extremely strong, brave and caring girl friends in my life. And we have been in earnest discussions about these matters. Because you see, these feelings I have are not mine alone. I share my body image angst with nearly every girl I know.
Just because us girls share these and other difficulties, doesn’t necessarily mean we are supportive to one another, however. I remember when I was a teenager, girls would compare what they ate at lunch and compete to see who ate the least or who was more powerful at resisting chocolate. This kind of girl talk makes you feel less comfortable with yourself and your body. And your body issues.
Nowadays (I like to think that this has something to do with age, with wisdom and with the feminist agenda highlighted in popular media) the conversations we are having are about our body issues being the issue not our bodies.
So what if you’re “overweight” according to the ridiculous standards set up by fashion magazines that prey on young girls who are not even fully formed yet? So what if you’ve got love handles or a wobbly arse? So what if your boobs sag a little, so what if they’re small or if they’re too big?
We all have body issues. They are the final and lasting gift of patriarchy and the sexist media industries.
But that’s okay. Because things are changing. And just like before when women took off their bras in protest, so will the women of today start to join together in unity against this oppression.
Gala Darling recently posted this video which highlights how being and most importantly feeling sexy has got nothing to do with being wobble-free and every woman no matter her size should feel empowered to feel good in their own skins.
I also love following one of my role models, Elizabeth Gilbert, on Facebook. She often posts amazing photos and inspirational quotes about women’s body issues and encourages women to comfort and support each other rather than belittle or chastise each other’s body choices.
So here’s to women, of all shapes and sizes! We all have our body issues but we can change our perceptions. We can change our negative self-attitudes. We can believe in our sexiness. We can believe in our beauty.
If you need a little kick in the arse, then here are some simple steps that my girlfriends and I try to practice:
- Catch yourself being ugly
By “being ugly” I mean being rude, hurtful, and mean to yourself. Try and identify those moments when you start to cringe at your reflection in the mirror, or when you pass a beautiful girl on the street and you say things like “I wish I looked like that” to yourself. Stop yourself immediately and try to think of something constructive and compassionate to say to yourself instead.
- Stop the comparisons!
I know it’s hard because it’s human nature. But looking at other girls and checking our their rolls, their cellulite and their boob size and doing a mental comparison with yourself to check who comes out on top is a symptom of patriarchy through and through. It is a symptom of the discourse that says women are in competition to strive for the attention of men. Fuck this! This is degrading and it undermines the strength that can be created when women form alliances rather than oppositions.
- Don’t judge her choices
If we come to accept that all women have body issues and therefore insecurities, then we also need to have compassion for what other females do in response to these insecurities and anxieties. Whether it is excessive exercise, botox, plastic surgery, over-eating, under-eating, tattoos, piercings, fake tanning, or whatever – the point is to remember to look at other women with understanding rather than judgement, with compassion rather than contempt.
- Do exercise because it feels good
Exercise should be fun and should make you feel good because it has health benefits. Starting out an exercise regime “because you want to be thin” or “so guys will find you attractive” is not going to be a healthy motivator. You need to change your attitudes about your body first and then start exercising because of the love for your body and your self, not out of hatred for your shape, or desire to change into someone else’s shape.
- Sexiness is a state of mind
I have seen the prettiest girls lose their sex appeal by trying to hide their thighs after swimming at the beach. Hell, I’ve been one of those girls! These body issues undermine our sense of ourselves and therefore our sense of sexiness. Sure, there are always going to be asshole guys who have bought into the idea that an ideal woman should look like a 12 year old boy but who needs em! The sexiest thing for me, and for a lot of people I think, is someone who is comfortable and confident. It doesn’t matter what shape or size you are, if you feel good in your skin then you are a goddess!
- Choose those who encourage positive body image
The above steps are not THAT easy to accomplish. Believe me, I’m trying, and it’s an uphill battle. But the job will be made easier if you surround yourself with people who encourage and support this pursuit. Find lovers who want you and make you feel sexy. Find friends who compliment you and say healthy things about themselves around you. You should feel easy and comfortable in their presence. You shouldn’t be worrying about what you’re wearing or whether your cellulite is showing. If you find yourself forgetting about your body complex in their presence, then you know you’re with the right people!
- Stop reading magazines
I can’t say that I’ve stopped reading mags entirely. I still love fashion and enjoy the big campaigns and the occasional celeb gossip. But I know that every time I pick up a magazine or look at a fashion website, I am choosing to consume material that will invariably alter my body image and make me feel less rather than more comfortable/confident/sexy/acceptable. If you are going to read magazines then you need to remind yourself of the starvation and the air brushing that would be required to meet society’s beauty standards.
- Choose health
When you feel the pressure, which you will undoubtedly feel, remember to always choose your own health and well being above all else. If you’re wondering about trying a new diet, starting a new exercise regime, skipping a meal, avoiding certain foods, etc. then ask yourself: is this choice going to make me a healthier, happier and more balanced version of myself? If the answer is yes then do it. But if the answer is “yes, but…” then don’t. Health is not about self-punishment. Being body confident is not about denying yourself. Choose health and choose healthy attitudes.
- Find a health role model
I am lucky in that I have amazing friends. But I still have to make conscious choices to surround myself with people who inspire the right kinds of voices in my head. As mentioned previously, I love Gala Darling’s and Elizabeth Gilbert’s messages about female issues and body complexes. But closer to home, I love South African actress Zakeeya Patel’s twitter and instagram feeds just as much because they are filled with powerful messages and positive affirmations. Jewellery designer Kat Pichulik is also inspirational in her intention to uplift women through her designs and remind us that we are all goddesses and female warriors and feminine delights. Here is Zakeeya and Kat talking about such issues on Between 10 and 5.
- Find the root
If all this fluffy “10 steps to a better body image” stuff is ineffective and useless to you, and you find you’re still saying mean things about yourself in your head and hating on your poor innocent body then I encourage you to seek professional help. We all have deep-seated reasons for our shame and self-loathing, that goes beyond society and the mass media. Finding the source of your body image issues or the root of your self-loathing may free you from these destructive forces. It might take years of work but if you’re willing and if you really want to heal then all negative self talk can be eradicated or at least diluted with the right guidance in therapy. Be brave, be yourself.