For too many years now the media, advertising agencies and fashion designers have thoughtlessly helped to breed insecurity and self-abuse by propagating the idea that only the wasted look is desirable. In fact, the most wonderful aspect of the human race is that we come in all shapes, sizes and colours and we should all be able to celebrate our individuality with pride, recognising that we should not have to fit a particular mold in order to be a valued.
The media and other prosaic sources, including the weight loss industry, have a responsibility to re-define the parameters of external beauty and to gallantly represent every body type. Promoting healthy eating and self-acceptance is a much more positive and constructive message to be conveying to the world, along with the fact that external attractiveness really is skin deep and that we should all look within our souls to discover true beauty.
Before my own 15 year old daughter’s eating disorder gave me viewing access to a disturbing world of self-mutilation, deprivation and obsessive rituals, I was fully aware of the negative impact that the media could have on impressionable and emotionally vulnerable teenagers, by glamorising thinness and promoting the waif look.
Understandably, when stick-like celebrities are allegedly top of the popularity stakes, it is little wonder that a young girl who has a self-worth problem should equate these stars’ popularity with their skeletal physiques and wish to emulate them. As my daughter once said, “If I looked like that, then I would be loved and adored (by my peer group)”. Although I have told my daughter that she is beautiful and should be proud of her own unique style, she is guided more by her gullible social group, who unfortunately are all too easily and destructively influenced by media images representing one body shape. Emaciated. It would be interesting, therefore, to see whether youngsters would suddenly embark on weight-gain regimes if every model represented in the media were a size 16 or over.
There is a contradiction in terms, however, when we consider how many women opt for breast implants. Large breasts do not naturally go with a thin body and yet if a large bust is considered attractive, shouldn’t it follow that larger proportions overall are appealing? There is nothing that looks stranger than a twig-like woman, such as Pamela Anderson, with what look like two, immobile footballs stuck onto the front of their body.
Many men find large breasts attractive, but the reality is that men actually prefer larger, shapely figures in general sported by women who actually look like women, rather than pre-pubescent boys. My daughter’s (boy)friends have told her that men find women with a bit of meat on them sexy and attractive, even if they don’t admit this to their male counterparts. The reason why some women believe that men prefer skinny women is because these men have been brainwashed by the media into thinking that that is the shape they’re supposed to find appealing, and so play along with it. It’s a status issue. Some men superficially believe that if they are seen with someone who represents the current images spread across the glossies, this automatically elevates them to superstud ranking. Nevertheless, deep down most of them would prefer to snuggle up to a curvy woman.
The only time that the media portrays superstars looking normal, is not when they’ve just spent hours in the makeup department, with any imperfections being dexterously airbrushed out before publication, but when they are unsuspectingly photographed by a gutter press journalist in an unflattering guise, with the results being printed alongside some bitchy editorial. Unfortunately, far from making us feel better about our own imperfections, it reinforces the idea that afflictions like cellulite, sags, bags and wrinkles are somehow unacceptable.
When you consider that these fine-tuned media images are far from normal, it makes you realise how futile and potentially dangerous it is to even consider attempting to imitate them. The media has set this benchmark and it is up to the media to change it by refusing to be prejudiced against size, age, colour, creed or appearance.
The British Medical Association’s annual conference in Cardiff, Wales voted overwhelmingly for a motion condemning the media obsession with using ultra thin girls as role models. Dr Muriel Broome, a former director of public health, said ‘the constant image of very thin models’ encouraged girls to develop eating disorders. The BMA planned to explore the use of different body types in the media and to talk to television companies about adopting a more responsible attitude.
Dr Dee Dawson of Rhodes Farm Clinic in the UK, which treats victims of eating disorders says, “I campaign endlessly for larger models and an end to constant talk of low fat foods. Fortunately, it seems that the (Internet) servers are now going to remove the pro-anorexia web sites.”
Unfortunately, when we see someone for the first time, we have only their outward appearance on which to make a judgement. However, since society has a tendency to guide that judgement by telling us what is and what isn’t acceptable, isn’t it time that the sources with the most influence should not preclude anyone, irrespective of their appearance?
My daughter is slowly working towards self-acceptance and I have taught her to respond to anyone who criticises the way she looks with, “And what qualifies you to make that judgement?” or to simply accept the criticism as a compliment by saying, “Why, thank you.”