Archives for posts with tag: body image

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Didn’t get to university? Failure!

Single didn’t make it to number 1? LO-SER!

Not thin? Well you must be fat, then!

Not made a million by your 30s? Deadbeat!

Since when did the stakes get so high?

I’m pretty sure I recall a time when artists would give interviews about how amazing it was to have a single in the Top 40. Now they are seen as old news or non-starters if their single doesn’t come straight in at number 1, and are frequently dropped by labels who expect nothing less than the top spot. I went on holiday last summer and Lady Gaga was a massive star, I got back and she was a played out Madonna copyist hasbeen because her comeback single happened not to sell 97 million copies. OK, admittedly no one sells singles anymore and a stoat that looks good in denim shorts and has a dubstep influenced dancefloor banger can make it to number one, but even so…

Life is getting more all-or-nothing all the time. Even Masterchef is at it with its military-crisis cooking music and weepy tragedy playouts for those who don’t make it through. Calm down, dear, it’s only a crème brule with cinder toffee shavings.

It’s the telly equivalent of wildly overdramatic, self pitying posts on social media (‘No guacamole left at Sainsburys *weeps*’). A medium which, we are frequently told, is making us all compare ourselves to one another, become wildly solipsistic and sob into our lattes that our lives are so much less cool and exciting than everyone else’s. Personally I’m delighted to vicariously live a life of partying and festival attendance of my online contacts who are still doing so. They do the hard work so I don’t have to.

For kids growing up with online oversharing as the norm, it may be a different matter though. I don’t feel I have anything to prove online, but when I think about how much I would have wanted to when I was 14, well… major teen trauma, you can just imagine it. JUST LOOK AT ALL THE THINGS I AM PROVING ABOUT ME!

University is another absolutist one. Governments have queued up to tell kids that it’s university or nuthin’ if you want to make something of your life. Doubtless this was intended as a rallying cry to go forth to the towers of academia and start getting those respectable middle class jobs. But I suspect too often it is read by young people as the wagging finger of failure, and a further reason to write themselves off if they don’t get that uni place. Hence people, usually the least advantaged students, ending up at barrel scraping universities with nothing but a massive debt and then a job they could have done after leaving school. Their middle class peers, of course, often face massive debt and several years of unpaid work (possibly after a post graduate qualification). The stakes are high, got to take what you can get, and competition for those internships is hot. Sure, they’re supposed to pay interns now, but you can be sure plenty of employers are managing to ignore this and continue to lock out those kids who can’t afford to work for nothing in a field they might actually like.

Then there’s body image. Putting on any weight at all is pretty universally described or implied to be ‘getting fat’. There’s no inbetween from the unfathomably desirable ‘skinny’ and the dreaded ‘fat’. Girls who would never dream of pointing at women the same size as themselves and yelling ‘Lardarse!’ will nonetheless apply it to their own bodies because they don’t match vital stats with Cara Delvinge and don’t have the surely‐actually‐physically‐impossible ‘thigh gap’. And as I have mentioned before, there’s now a race to the bottom with ever smaller clothes sizes that no one even stocked 10 years ago that are now becoming the size you ‘should’ be. Yes… if you are 9 years old.

Ages are arbitrarily thrown at us by which time we should have done this, that or the other, especially when it comes to childbirth (women) and job title (men). And we are told to LOOK at this fucking hipster who has made his first million by the age of 17 by doing something spectacularly product‐free and meta which is by some bizarre means bringing in money.

I think most of us can put this crap in proportion. We can say ‘Well that’s nice dear, but at the end of the day I like cake, not being responsible for making anyone redundant, and not entering Masterchef’; but you have to wonder to what pitch of hysteria those unfortunate enough to grow up in the shouty maelstrom of social media are going to be wound? Hopefully someone will teach them to chill out and laugh at amusing pictures of cats like every other happily deadbeat loser.

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Victorian doctors just loved hysteria, basically the idea that we women can’t help our giddy little heads from getting all muddled by those pressures with which gentlemen are better equipped to cope. Medical authorities no longer accept this diagnosis, you’ll be pleased to hear – at least they don’t around my way. It was a nice little money-spinner in the days when doctors charged; your patient wouldn’t die of it, but treatment could still continue for pretty much as long as the doctor said it needed to.

People still seem to be making money out of this idea of women living on the edge, though, paranoid and overwhelmed over the troubles of everyday life. Take your average questionnaire in a women’s magazine, for example:

‘You weigh yourself and find you have put of 3lbs since last weeks, do you:

a)      Scream and throw your scales out of the window
b)      Eat nothing for three days
c)       Stay at home and not go out for the next 3 months
d)      Kill your boyfriend

‘You find a message on your boyfriend’s phone from a woman who you’ve never heard of, do you:

a)      Dump your boyfriend
b)      Kill your boyfriend
c)       Track the woman down, kill her, then kill your boyfriend
d)      Nuke everything from orbit’

I guess that giving options such as ‘Shrug your shoulders’ or ‘I’d expect there’s some totally normal reason for this so I’d not be in the least worried’ wouldn’t make for compelling journalism.

When you look at media aimed at men and women, one massive difference is that blokes are supposed to laugh everything off – hey, you gotta laugh. But women are expected to take everything deadly seriously and as having life-changing import – hey, you can’t let anyone make a fool out of you, sister. Your man is always on the lookout for a better offer, your bodyweight is always a few pounds away from FAT, that bitch at the next desk is after your boss’s job. It’s a mean world out there, girls.

And we can’t even relax on holiday or enjoy the run up to it, as apparently we should be going on a crash diet and strenuous exercise programme to look good in our bikinis, getting everything waxed and plucked, having salon appointments to prep our skin and have fake tan applied and then buying our perfect wardrobe to impress around the pool. I never realised holidays were such hard work.

We have the rest of the year to be convinced that we look like crap as well.  ‘We’ve all had “fat” days!’ magazines chirp chummily, ‘We’ve all had times when we’ve pulled out of a night out because we think we look awful’ they say, in sisterly communion.

That this seems to be thought of as normal, and not signs of seriously unhealthy thinking, perturbs me to say the least. It tells women not to worry that they hate the way they look, or that they think they’re fat because they put on 2lb last week, as everyone does it, so it’s fine. Have you noticed that women often talk about ‘getting fat’ when they talk about putting any weight on at all, even if they look exactly the same and are still the same clothes size? Even though everyone’s weight fluctuates a bit really and it’s perfectly natural. The press doesn’t quite use this language, but it’s there by implication – especially when magazines confidently crow on cover straplines about the precise amounts of weight that high profile women have lost or gained. And this is obviously all totally accurate information, of course.

We’re supposed to feel reassured that Cheryl hates her thighs, or that Blake Lively, or one of those other glossy American girls with interchangeable surnames and first names  has fat days, whereas all that says to me is that even with all their resources and training and diet of the week, these women still don’t even like their bodies. So what hope is there for a vulnerable 14-year-old girl whose classmate has just called her fat, even though she practically vanishes sideways on, when she reads this sort of thing on a regular basis?

Speaking of vanishing sideways on, I remember, about  10 years ago, Geri Halliwell ‘flaunting her toned yoga body’, as the press would have it. Looking as though she were incapable of actually breathing in, every picture of Halliwell seemed to radiate this rictus grin of ‘Look at me! Look at how well I have done in eliminating all fat from my body! I’m happy, I really am, lalalalala!’ It was all strikingly uncomfortable viewing. Halliwell has since gone on to claim that actually, she was not all that happy at the time.

Let’s face it, we are lucky not to live in a time and place where our every womanly malady is put down to overloading our little lady brains with stuff like reading or over-enthusiastic croquet. But the media does pretty well out of selling us back the modern version – that womanhood is defined by our inability to cope sanely with our bodies, our relationships and our lives in general. Hysterical. But not very funny.