We’re faced with images and ideologies twenty-four seven and more often than not they tell us that the only thing that matters is how we look. As an entire gender we spend our lives plucking and preening, pinching and purging. We’re pulled from one side of the spectrum to the other. When we’re slim we’re accused of not being ‘real women’ and when we’re curvy we’re accused of being fat. We aim for a healthy glow and suddenly heroin chic stumbles around the corner, unsteady on its feet but still sharp enough to stab us in the back.
Like a hell of a lot of teenage girls I was facing these images in the pages of Heat and HELLO before I had the strength of character to realise I didn’t have to accept them. As a result I went through my fair share of self-loathing. I perused pro-ana sites and devoted an entire notebook to my desire to be thin. In it I glued cut outs of my size zero idols who all had hip bones sharper than my elbows. I was at the peak of my teens in the late noughties so there were plenty of Nicole Richie and Rachel Zoe pictures for me to get my fifteen year old hands on.
Looking back, it scares me to think that even though I never actually had an eating disorder, I would have sold my soul to have developed one. I felt like if I found some way of measuring up to society’s idea of a perfect woman, my life would have been be so much easier. At such a young age it was startlingly clear to me that for some reason thin people were valued far more than those who were larger.
And then I became an adult, and a feminist and I got my shit together. Really together. Every time someone comments on how smiley or level-headed I am, I’m like –shit, I am! How the hell did that happen? I don’t know at what point something changed. I don’t know how it happened, or how to encourage this change in other people. Maybe it was when I upgraded Grazia to The Guardian, or when I stopped spending five days a week with more than a thousand other messed up teens at secondary school. But whatever, I started being happy about how I look. I’m short and I’ve got way more meat on my bones than fifteen year old me would have wanted but I really don’t care.
These days, when I see pictures of bone thin girls, read articles about young women starving themselves or hear fully-fledged adults calling themselves fat it still bothers me, but it’s not because they make me feel inadequate any more. It’s because I’m so desperately sad that these women can’t see that they’re good enough already.
I’ve seen through the shallowness, the unhealthiness, the unattainableness that the media shoves down our throats. I’ve accepted my body. It might not be perfect. I don’t have washboard abs or perfect pins but those are just buzzwords magazines churn out over and over because they’re too lazy to come up with anything new. It’s these shadows and the little quirks that make my body mine and stop it being a copy and pasted dream-girl body. And usually I feel like a whole woman. The few bits that did get chipped off are pretty much fully healed over.
Who cares if I have scars, my thighs wobble, and my hips aren’t a seamless curve? I don’t look at you and think, well she’s nice enough but she doesn’t have a thigh gap. If your friend tells you he or she feels ugly you don’t pick them to pieces like you would yourself. You find the beauty, the way her eyes light up, or his perfect skin. Their intelligence, kindness and conscientiousness. Their sense of humour.
Unless it’s someone we seriously hate, we always, always find the best in other people. So why do we think we deserve less ourselves?
The simple answer is, we don’t.
Next time you look in a mirror look don’t go ready to tear yourself down. Heat magazine is far too willing to do that for us. Don’t let society continue to shrink us. We don’t have to be small, silent woman (or men) standing in corners and fainting when our corset straits are pulled too tight.
We can stride and shout. Laugh with such abandon it hurts, and cry at the joy of it. We can spread wide. Fuck and flirt and flounce. The world is whatever we want it to be so don’t hold back! Rebel. Go and find the goodness in yourself and get into the habit of doing it. Because we’re all far too fucking fabulous for this shit.
I took this image a few years ago for a 6th Form art project about stereotypes surrounding body image and the way they constrain us. I thought I’d unearth it for this.