This week marks the annual Mental Health Awareness Week, and this years theme is a topic which effects most of us, across all ages and gender- Body Image. Body image is the way we think and feel about our bodies.
Recent statistics show that 1 in 5 adults have felt shame over their bodies in the last year (MHF, 2019) and over a third have felt anxious or depressed because of concern over their body image (MHF, 2019)
Last week gifted us the hotly anticipated MET Gala, and after a Twitter Moments feature showed up on my feed of model and activist Emily Ratajowski’s appearance at the event, it also blesssed me with a Twitter exchange which got a few of us hot under the collar, for all the wrong reasons. Ending in damaging hashtags such as #aimfortheconcave in reference to Emily’s stomach being thrown around as a ‘joke’ and accusations that I was tweet shaming (is that a thing now? I’ll take it) it was clear to all that this women’s body got us all fired up. But I’m not here to psycho-analyse and breakdown each tweet- Lord knows I’m not perfect when it comes to my views and we’re all welcome to our own opinions and being able to share them online, I mean that’s the beauty of Social media, right? – but instead of hide this exchange under a bed of RuPaul’s Drag Race retweets, I wanted to sit in all it’s uncomfortableness and explore and explain why these words offended me, and Why, when it comes to validating- or criticising- women’s bodies, we shouldn’t all have to ‘ Calm down, sweetie‘.
The initial tweet was one of thousands, and I mean thousands, referencing Em Rata’s body at the Gala. Sure, she was wearing a stomach showing dress so I’m sure she was well aware of the attention it was going to garner. Tweet after tweet queried how hungry she must be, how she’s probably never ate, how is she human, how do her organs fit in her body. All remarks that aren’t that offensive, right? I mean, people are saying how skinny she looks! They want to know her secret! Who would get offended by that!? But slim-shaming, or perhaps even more damaging, slim-praising, is just as unhealthy to our society and to young, impressionable individuals as it’s treacherous cousins, fat-shaming and obesity worshipping. We wouldn’t dream of publicly tweeting about how someone’s organs must be bursting at the seams because of their large size- it certainly goes both ways. I understand the many of these tweets were meant with no malice and as throw-away comments, not to be broken down on little old me’s blog pages, but it’s not individual comments I want to concentrate on. With hundreds of women taking to social media to praise and fawn and critique and judge the body of a woman who spends a good proportion of her time championing the fact she is more than her body and image- I’m curious, What is it about the female body which leaves us obsessing over each other’s biological being?
There were men at that Gala. Many men. I did not see one tweet commenting on their bodies. I mean jeez, these guys turn up to the hottest fashion event of the year with the theme being none other than ‘CAMP’ in a black suit, and have fan girls Worldwide drooling over them. These women turn up in a gown they’ve spent months designing, going to fittings, HOURS in hair and make-up, and their bodies are immediately scrutinised under a microscope, from the way they’ve parted their hair to the colour of their toenails. It is rare that these men are subject to the vast amount of scrutiny, or validation, over their bodies as their female counterparts. The female anatomy has, for many years, been a pawn for society. Used as a weapon in this game that we call life to belittle, or give currency in the form of validation, to women who fell under it’s spell.
From a young age, I have been fully aware of the body I am in; How it looks, it’s flaws, it’s, it’s highs, it’s lows. I remember shaving my legs at around the age of ten and taking a chunk out of my ankle (who knew you’re not supposed to shave your ankles?). I remember lying to my teacher that I had my period so I wouldn’t have to take part in swimming lessons and have the boys in my class make comments about my growing breasts, at the age of eleven. I remember hating my chunky thighs and how they looked in my football shorts, at the age of twelve. I remember shaving half my eyebrows off too look like tadpoles at the age of thirteen, because I thought the ‘bushy’ bit was too bushy. My teenage years were tinged with a dark cloud that loomed over it, in a constant state of worry from my feet, to my earlobes, of the way my body looked. But perhaps most telling of my shift towards full awareness of my body and it’s acceptance within society- and why terms that are applauded on pro-anorexic sites like #concave trigger me- is that by age 17, I frequented these sites too.
What ironically started off as a sixth form project where I had to investigate a topic and write a diary following my journey and my findings (honestly, I’m dumb-founded how this was ever signed off by my teachers) turned into a regular habit of me browsing pro-ana sites and eventually engaging in content. Starting my interest in body image and Feminism young, I chose to explore the pressures on young women and whilst searching for individuals I could interview, I came across a forum which included teenage girls praising each other for not eating that day; posting pictures of them looking extremely skinny and other girls commenting underneath how jealous they were of their bones sticking out. Aha! I had my subjects. I browsed these forums regularly, chatted with girls on there, lifted exchanges and comments and embossed them into what was probably the hardest-hitting Welsh Baccalaureate essay the school has ever seen (probably?). But as I studied the behaviour on these sites I soon realised after a few months of anonymously engaging, I kind of…. wanted in? I posted a couple of pictures my friends had taken of me celebrating the end of my exams at the beach where my ribs sort of poked out, and waited for the replies. And they flowed in thick and fast. Girls fawned over my boney physique, sharing their jealousy and how they wish they looked like me. It was bizarre, and strange and a time in my life where I was very, very, unsure of who I was and what I was doing. I kind of tried not to eat much, but I wasn’t very good at it. Luckily, I was not a victim of an illness but just an impressionable teenage girl and once I had finished school for the Summer I was lucky enough to have my attention directed away from these sites and towards a boyfriend and my friends. And I’ve never visited them since.
I’m absolutely not taking anything away from those who suffer from the debilitating and evil illnesses such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or any other eating disorders, and I am no way in a position to begin to share what it must feel like to suffer from those diseases. But what I can and hope to do is highlight how impressionable we are from a young age, and throughout our life, and how the habits and opinions of others when it comes to body image and the way we look can invigorate, embody and overtake us for all the wrong reasons. How do we possibly begin to combat this epidemic of obsession over the way we look, that has been drilled into us by society from a young age? I don’t have the answer for that. But a good place to start would be to eliminate the currency in relation to our body image, the idea that the way our flesh and bones are formed make us any better or worse of a human. Any more or less worthy of love and respect. The admiration of others, the judgement of others. The shaming. The praising. The fact that a women’s stomach is Worldwide news.
Roughly ten years on and I still have a very up and down relationship with my body. I’ve worked in an industry which profits solely off of my body. I’ve profited off my body. This means I’ve had to pay very close attention to it’s weird and wonderful shapes, it’s reoccurring dimples and stretch marks. I’ve put on weight. I’ve lost it. I’ve had people comment I look too slim. I’ve had people comment I look too chubby. I’ve filled bits out (literally), and I’ve wanted to take parts away (also literally). Do I still look at my body in it’s undressed state every morning in the mirror and subconsciously evaluate it? Yes. Do I allow myself to be validated by my body anymore? I’m working on it.
For more information and statistics about mental health awareness week and this years theme click here .
If you, or anyone you know, have been affected by any of the issues discussed in this blog , you can contact BEAT, Beating eating disorders, for help and support here .
For mental health support and advice, contact MIND, at https://www.mind.org.uk 7