JB and I recently bought these hi-tech weighing scales, which not only tell us how many kilos we are carrying but additionally measure our BMI, heart rate and fat percentage. Modern technology, I salute you. We’ve both decided we’d like to drop 5 kilos each, and have given ourselves until the beginning of October to achieve this. My reaction however when JB first mentioned weighing scales was mostly fear and panic. Has anybody else ever had that? It got me thinking about some of the struggles I’ve had whilst trying to accept my appearance and weight.
My self-esteem issues started as a young girl and have followed me through adolescence into adulthood:
- I was 11 years old and stood outside the English classroom with my classmates. The conversation got round to celebrity lookalikes: my best friend at the time was compared to Ulrika Jonsson, the perky Swedish television presenter with blonde hair and a lovely tan, whereas I was told that my lookalike was Maureen from driving school. I was distraught and had to fight back the tears. On top of the humiliation of the physical comparison, Maureen failed her driving test about twenty times so my future didn't look very bright if I was to take 11-year-old Richard Elsworth seriously.
- When I hit middle school, I noticed how slim the majority of my peers were at the Saturday music school I went to in London. My flabby thighs, my pale skin and the fact that I could definitely “pinch more than an inch” made me feel unattractive, so I decided to do something about it. For about 18 months, I drastically reduced meal portions and yes I did drop some weight, but not as much as I’d hoped for: I certainly didn’t become skinny, or happier and I believe that on a psychological level an unhealthy cycle was set in motion. This discontent with my weight continued throughout 6th form, and I don’t think I am the only one with this type of experience of growing up. Music school was so small that we were practically living in a fish-bowl, therefore everything was magnified, including the fact that the opposite sex was clearly not attracted to me. This fact was rammed home by a (female) classmate who once said to me “You’ll never be the type of girl who attracts a guy with your looks.” Maybe she didn’t mean it in a negative way but I interpreted it as “You’re not pretty”. Gulp.
- At university, I actually did the opposite of most students – I lost weight and stayed active. I went to the gym 5-6 times a week. I ate 3 square meals a day and I felt great without obsessing about calories in versus calories out. When I moved to France, I was somewhere between a healthy 55 and 57 kilograms. I was therefore pretty happy with my body and my looks. But as soon as I became unhappy with no job and no friends, I began comfort eating and gained rather a lot of weight.
So, where does this pressure come from? Do these thoughts make me a shallow individual? Am I the only one to feel this way (this article strongly suggests I’m not alone)?? Well, quite simply, the pressure to look good and be the perfect weight is coming at us from every angle: in women’s’ magazines, on Instagram, in film and television, beauty advertisements, blogs, and so on. Both men and women are constantly presented with images which have been enhanced and thus our idea of what is healthy seems to have become rather warped.
Do you know Vagenda Magazine? I recently read this article called "On Bikini Body Bullshit" and I was nodding my head in agreement from start to finish. There are so many female magazines out there, the majority of which go to great lengths to inform you how you can get your body bikini ready for the beach, or the summer scent you must buy: it has become so deeply engrained in our conscience to fix our "imperfections" instead of accepting them as who we are and embracing diversity. If you happen to have small breasts, don't worry, there's Wonderbra (or surgery) to give the ladies a boost. If you don't tan naturally, fear not because there are a mind-boggling amount of fake tans out there to use. Thanks, because it is always good to have options, but I'd really like to spend a bit more time being me, with my pale pins and average-sized boobs (and spare tyre).
Similarly, I feel like the blogging bubble has only contributed to the pressure on teenagers and young women to attain a certain lifestyle and look a certain way. There are a lot of amazing bloggers out there, who make their money through hard work and talent, so I do not want to discredit them. However, some bloggers just aren’t honest with their readers. Most people work hard and save up for a holiday, a deposit for a flat or that designer bag. And back here in the real world, no-one can get away with eating burgers and drinking cocktails most days of the week yet somehow stay oh-so-slim with glossy hair and a glowing complexion. You may be able to Photoshop photos of yourself on your blog, but at some point when one of your readers sees the real (lovely) you on the street, the game is up. I understand where the pressure comes from, but to go to such lengths to portray oneself as ZOMG so flawless keeps perpetuating the myth that we must be perfect at all times. On the other end of the spectrum, please don’t start a healthy eating and fitness blog when in reality you’re battling with an eating disorder. Step away from the internet and get the help and love that you need. I’m a 28 year old woman and can be tricked momentarily into believing this stuff is real and feeling temporarily bad about myself. So I can’t imagine the damage these false messages do to young, impressionable girls, who haven’t yet understood that what you see isn’t necessarily what you get.
As this guest blogger featured on Caitlin Moran’s website says: EAT THE CAKE. This is the sound advice I am going to be following in order to drop the weight whilst frequently telling myself I'm fabulous just the way I am. Why don't you join me? Because whether you're slim or curvy, tan or pale, big boobs or small boobs, life is too short to be hung up on what you don't have. Celebrate all that you do have!