What is Body Image? Body Image is how you see yourself either in your mind or when you look in the mirror. It is also how you feel within yourself, “to be comfortable in your own skin" so to say.
Negative body Image All too often, especially in today’s, heavily image based, social media society we can easily get obsessed with body image, making it the be all and end all of our existence! Valuing the worth of one’s self on this image.
The danger and worrying thing of this is not just how much value we see in this image, but also that it often comes alongside a skewed, distorted perception of oneself.
What do I mean by that? I mean a lot of us, at times, struggle with a negative body image, seeing our “defects” amplified more in our vision than what they are in real life. Leading us to feel uncomfortable in our own body, self conscious and even viewing our own body as some kind of personal failure or shame!
Why am I writing this article? I was recently asked, on facebook, to write about body image. It came as a response to another blog I had written. When I told her that I thought this was a good idea, as I myself had struggled a lot with body image, she responded shocked. I am not surprised. I project myself as confident and self-loving especially online…and YES after years (and years) of self-development I am for the most part. I am definitely a far cry away from what I used to be. As a teenager I would often cry myself to sleep depressed with how fat and ugly I was and how I had no friends. I thought the two were associated (hey ugly people don’t deserve friends or happiness) What helped me overcome my negative body image? There is a LOT of advice out there on how to improve your body image, some great and some awful. Suggestions like chanting positive mantras, writing notes to yourself, looking after yourself, looking in the mirror and telling yourself what you like etc….. Now I am sure these are useful but when I asked myself what was it that made me change from that girl who would cry herself to sleep to the woman I am now, who is specifically asked to write about having good body image - none of those were the reason.
For me the BIGGEST help was understanding why the hell this issue of body image exists in the first place! And then as a result realising how ridiculous it is!
Think about it. Why would anybody have body image issues? Why does body image even exist? I know some men have issues too but I am writing this from my perspective. I don’t claim to have done research or be an expert. This is just my opinion and my life experiences which I am sharing. To me, I feel the answer is because: Women have been conditioned from birth to hate themselves. It is a massive feminist issue. Please to those who fear this word don’t stop reading – hear me out.
Unattainable beauty expectations! Women have been raised by society to value a lot of their self-worth on their looks. From the moment, as a little girl, you were told how pretty you were; from when you were told things such as, “Little girls should be seen and not heard” all the way through to being made to think women have a sell by date when they get older, “Oh she's running out of time. I wonder if she will ever get married or have kids.”
At the same time as being told to value your self worth on your looks; you have equally been subjected to unattainable beauty standards defined by society and media; think of the photoshopped images of women which abound.
What do I mean by unattainable beauty standards? The list is basically ENDLESS from how your figure should look to the stupidest details such as how your eyebrow hair should grow. A perfect example is you are, as a woman, expected to have no hair on your body – not even stubble or a sign it could even possibly exist. Just think how crazy that is for a moment…. EVERY woman in the world has body hair yet we are expected to hide it and pretend it doesn't exist and feel conscious of it, if it does grow……
And in reality none of these beauty standards have anything really to do with how attractive you are.
Think back to the 90s when all I heard about were BOOBS, and being slim, fat shaming, and being blonde was big. Women such as Pamela Anderson were considered perfect… And now … it's completely different. Now it is about BIG BUMS and darker hair, more curvy figures….Kim Kardashian is held up as perfect…
However, in those 10-20 years NOTHING has changed. The human race has not evolved. Evolution is a process over 1000s of years. The brains of men and women haven't changed to prefer one colour hair over the other. It is external, media driven elements which manufacture these preferences. It has ABSOLUTELY NO RELATION to what real beauty and attraction is. In reality ALL women are attractive in all their gorgeous different ways. Because your body type doesn't sit in-line with the latest fashion doesn't make it any less or more attractive!
Why have we been conditioned to hate ourselves? One of the life changing most inspirational quotes I have ever read is by Audre Lore, a black female lesbian, a feminist to say the least. She said: “The true focus of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive situations which we seek to escape, but that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us.”
So...Women, by hating themselves and valuing themselves on their distorted body image, is for them to objectify themselves. You make yourself an object, not a human. You are doing all the work of de-valuing yourself, yourself. And hey, there is no need for society to do the work of suppressing you as a woman – you’ve done it!
And this can come out in so many subliminal ways you may not even realise them yourself. An example may be as obvious as to not want to wear a bikini on the beach and enjoy the sun (we all have a right to enjoy the sun) to not applying for that job because you feel you're too ugly, old, fat, whatever…….
And oh the irony, HERE IS THE THING, the secret they don’t tell you!
You can't, as a woman actually win.
All those things you worry about or de-value yourself over…Even if you were to become that perfect looking woman, whatever that may be, people will find fault and ways to bring you down anyway. Your looks have no value.
I have had my own first hand experience of that when told, during my PhD in physics, that I was more likely to get ahead if I dressed less girly.
And another thing, how often do you hear that pretty girls are dumb or bimbos? And don’t you dare try to look too good and wear too much makeup because then people will presume you are a slut or "asking for it" to the point, in our society, where people make statements such as, "Well what was she expecting going out looking like that?” when it comes to rape victims. I mean, how ludicrous is that? That how a woman dresses/ looks somehow precludes her from the right to consent or NOT to sex! How to thrive as a woman in this world! The only way you can thrive/survive in this world, where as a woman you can’t win, is to look into yourself and ask yourself what makes you feel comfortable and happy. Not anyone else. It is impossible to please everyone. The whole system is stacked against you so you can’t! NOBODY HAS THE RIGHT TO MAKE YOU FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE IN YOUR OWN BODY…nobody has that right! You have the right to exist and appreciate your own unique beauty.
I want to highlight a PERFECT example. I remember when I first met Yasmina thinking, "Wow! She’s beautiful!" Regardless of what society deems beautiful, she has an amazing radiance and a beauty from the inside. We met through Imperial College’s Bellydance Society. At the time she was the only female, of African descent, doing a physics undergraduate degree.She is pretty awesome to say the least!
When I asked her to model I was HONOURED that she said yes!! I felt lucky. She informed me that she had taken the decision that shaving is not for her and she warned me that she has hairy armpits. I understand why she warned me and I appreciated it. I told here we will go ahead anyway. Now to a lot of people hairy armpits are EXTREME. Maybe even a political statement but think about it, EVERY WOMAN has hair under her arms. Why do we see this as un-natural or un-hygienic, though completely ok for men?
As I started to take photos of Yasmin, I saw clearer than ever that guess what? Hairy armpits are SERIOUSLY, SERIOUSLY inoffensive and they are in NO WAY AT ALL UGLY. She looked as beautiful as any woman I have ever seen.
What can we take from this? As I mentioned previously you have got to do what is right and feels good to you. Ask yourself, "Am I seeing the world clearly?” Maybe shaving your armpits or legs is for you, maybe not. Maybe plucking your chin and upper lip is for you, maybe not. What is important is how comfortable you feel in your body. The world will adjust. If you try to adjust to the world you will NEVER WIN.
I myself do choose to shave my armpits and I like to wear make-up. I use hair extensions and false eyelashes A LOT but I don’t do this because I want to look good for anybody else. I do it because I LIKE it and also I choose to do what best benefits me – I play the system! I choose to embrace my cellulite and stretch marks on my legs because I am no longer blinded to the fact that they exist on nearly every woman alive, and guess what? Those things aren’t ugly. They are just part of me! Others may choose differently.
I now look at these beauty conditions not as requirements for me to comply to… but more like playing cards for me to pick and choose on what makes me feel good and how I want to project myself to the world.
YOU DO THE SAME! Turn the game around, look at these pressures of media for what they are: crap to control! And go on to pick and choose what you want to do with your body to suit you!
Sisterhood And hey, whilst out there choosing to love yourself and your body, don’t forget a little sisterhood.
Don’t judge women on how they look or choose to project themselves. Don’t slut shame or think you are better than others because you choose to not wear make up, because you dress modestly (whatever that is) and equally don’t judge others if you do like hair extensions or you do go to the gym… To judge women on their looks is just to objectify them and also yourself, as again, you are putting the worth of a woman on her looks.