The Body Image Problem

A few days ago I completed a 104km cycle ride from Windsor into Central London and back out again, setting off at 10:30pm and returning early in the morning after multiple stops for doughnuts, water and traffic lights. The whole experience was inspiring – thousands of women taking on the dark summer roads to raise money for three fantastic female cancer charities. As someone who has been closely affected by such illnesses, it was an incredibly moving and emotional event. I felt that it really encouraged inclusivity. I believed that it was an event directed at empowering women to be strong and confident at the same time as doing something for a good cause. That was until I rooted through the goody bag given to us as soon as we completed the ride.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I was so grateful to all the companies who sponsored the event and contributed to the goody bags, because without them the whole event would likely not have happened. But to see a copy of Slimming World in the bag took me a little by surprise.

Let me digress: it is well known among successful people and psychologists to never use the word ‘try’ because it implies a sense of inevitable failure, and in that way we can see that the most innocent of words can actually be loaded with negative connotations. I understand that Slimming World does not intend to impact negatively on anybody’s life, but I do feel that it’s title can have a similar effect to that of using the word ‘try’ whilst implying that women should live a certain, a perhaps unhealthy, way. In this way, selective language use is really important.

Ultimately, after pushing my body out of my comfort zone I was really proud of myself. But to then be reminded that society wants me to be slim and to not necessarily have my strong thigh muscles came as bit of a blow – all of a sudden I perceived them to be fat and felt that my body wasn’t good enough. I understand that for one word to have this effect on me may be perceived as ‘overdramatic’, but many said that they had thought the same to me, without even me having to prompt them on the matter.

Magazines and the media are imperative in shaping our attitudes and their power has increased in the last decade, so if they are indeed promoting such a lifestyle of being ‘slim’ it’s no surprise to discover on the Anorexia and Bulimia Care website that ‘the number of people diagnosed with eating disorders has increased by 15 per cent since 2000’.

Was Slimming World’s message really diminishing what I had just done because I wasn’t their idealised slim body?

At this point I was honestly confused as to what to think since I also received several staple-unhealthy chocolate bars and crisps. But like I said, speaking to other women – young and old – who had also completed the ride, I discovered that they felt the same. Perhaps we were reading into it a little too much, but the number of people (strangers alike) who commented made me feel as though there is a bigger issue at heart here.

Slimming World is not only to blame – in fact our whole culture is. Shopping in London a few weeks ago with a friend, we entered Brandy Melville, a shop I have never visited before. The clothes from there which I had previously seen on other friends were always lovely and soft, so I was excited to treat myself to something. However once I was rifling through the racks of clothes I kept finding tags with the words ‘ONE SIZE’.

One thought sprang to my mind:

What would happen if I was a twelve year old girl, out shopping with friends, only to find that I was the only one who couldn’t fit into that cute crop top? How would this affect me long term?

Surely, I thought, this is encouraging women to conform to one single ideal that will never be right or healthy for everyone.

Later on I remembered when a few years ago Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister CEO Mike Jeffries said:
In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.’

Abercrombie & Fitch* were selling a very limited range of sizes and
at the time this was an absolute scandal, but surely Brandy Melville* are taking it one step further by selling one size, and one size only? Is this classed as discrimination?

All I hope is that companies in the future really think about the message they are thinking, as well as wanting them to understand that even the shortest word can emanate negative matters or manners of thought. We desperately need to cease this outdated and discriminatory way of thinking because it is deeply affecting the health of our nation when it comes to body image.

*[One interesting matter is that both Brandy Melville and A&F are American Brands. Perhaps this is just a coincidence, but we seem to hardly every hear of another country expressing such attitudes.]

On a more positive note…

Good people to look at in terms of balanced views on health include bloggers and authors such as Zanna van Dijk, The Food Medic and Tally Rye, all of whom are spreading the message of respecting your body.

The governments of other European countries are also tagging along, albeit perhaps a little slowly. Nevertheless, 7 years ago the Spanish Government imposed a ban on the advertisement of products ‘based on ideas of social rejection as a result of one’s physical image or that success is dependent on factors such as weight or looks’ at night time.

More recently, in 2015 the French introduced the “Skinny Model Law” which aims to curb the number of dangerously thin women on the catwalks by enforcing them to produce a medical certificate declaring “the state of health of the model, assessed with regard to her body mass index (BMI), is compatible with the exercise of her profession”. The law also means that magazines have to declare if images have been photoshopped or re-touched.

All photos taken from unsplash.com, unless otherwise stated.

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