You may or may not have noticed quite a few mentions of the term 'body image' creeping into this blog lately. I've even started to describe myself as a 'body positive' blogger in my social media bios.
It's all getting a bit serious. But why?
Well, I always told you I was a feminist, but one area which my (very strong) feminist beliefs always seemed to conveniently gloss over was body image. Since my teen years I've been semi-ferociously espousing the idea that women's rights are human rights to just about anyone I could corner for long enough at a house party, but I've also always tacitly believed that I should probably be a bit thinner. Not skinny. Just always a bit smaller than I actually was. For the sake of my health. Because it would boost my confidence. Not bad skinny, just fit and toned. Because sitting back and just remaining a bit squishy in the middle is just not done by anyone. It's not a gender thing.
(newsflash: it absolutely 100% is a gender thing).
For all my values, I was unable to discern the very gendered and very damaging messages about food, bodies and female value which I had absorbed from almost every piece of popular culture I'd ever come into contact with. From which I can only conclude that this is some seriously insidious sh*t. If it didn't offer so much as a blip even on my highly sensitive feminist radar, it must be pretty well hidden. Normalised to the point of total invisibility.
So that's why I'm talking about body image now. I feel like it's a bit of a calling (so grandiose I considered deleting this sentence but I'm keeping it in there). I can't not address this stuff. It's messing with women's lives. Until I took conscious steps to free myself from it (a process that is still ongoing) it was messing with mine too. And I hope that some of you reading my posts on the topic might have your own epiphany moment like I have and feel as empowered and free as I have since then.
Some other reasons I want to address body image are. . .
because We all know we should have good body image. . . or do we?
Even the phrase 'body image' is a bit. . . basic by this point, right? A million and one posts have been written on why it's important to 'love yourself' and 'be kind to your body'. Hundreds of thousands of magazines have been sold on the premise of being 'the body positive issue' (featuring only skinny white models, the same old ads, and one token size 12 girl accompanied by 800 words about how she's confident with her curves but still goes to the gym so don't worry).
We all pay lip service to it, but what does it really mean to have a positive body image? How do we get there? How can we reject the messages that stop us enjoying and accepting our bodies without the 'but I still workout and eat my veggies' caveats? How challenging is it to truly accept your body as it is right now, unconditionally? (Answer: extremely bloody challenging). I want to explore all that.
because It doesn't have to be really bad to be important
There's definitely an idea in the ether that mild body dysmorphia, background level body hatred and near constant semi-dieting is a normal and harmless part of being female. I want to challenge that by talking about the effects this stuff has on average, not clinically ill, quote unquote 'normal' women.
'All women hate their bodies though right?' is not an ok thing. I am not ok with this.
Because bad body image takes away our power
Not just because we feel a bit rubbish. It takes away our power politically. It channels our dissatisfactions with life, the way we are treated by the media and wider society into the totally self-defeating pursuit of smaller waists and ever cleaner quinoa salads. And symmetrical smoothie bowls. (Oh how I despise smoothie bowls. Not really relevant but I do). It takes up masses of headspace and tonnes of energy to worry, plan and feel guilty about food (and make insta-worthy smoothie bowls) - energy which we could be putting into fulfilling, creative, fun, life stuff. We're so distracted by the effort of shrinking ourselves we don't have any time left to get angry about it.
Because the waters are getting muddier and muddier
Diet culture is everywhere, which makes it hard to spot. It's like asking someone to 'point out the nitrogen in this room'. They can't see it but it's f*cking everywhere. It's 78% of all of the air. Terrible analogy. But my point is that our popular culture is absolutely saturated with the idea that women should always be trying to 'improve' their bodies, even if only at a very low back-of-the-mind level. So it's always been hard to spot. Like any cultural bias it doesn't announce itself, it just is there in the uniformly slim bodies which grace red carpets and magazine covers the world over, in the caveats added to casual conversation to let everyone know you're with the program, you're trying, you're not just doing nothing - 'She's curvy but toned', 'I don't eat carbs in the evening'.
But now, with the rise of 'clean eating', smug 'strong not skinny' instagram feeds and a growing reverence for random 'miracle foods' like chia seeds and kale (and other pseudo-scientific abominations which cause me genuine dismay), it's harder than ever to spot a crazy diet when you come across one. Where we used to be able to point and laugh at the 'cabbage soup diet', or 'the baby food diet' - even if the Daily Mail did claim it was Jennifer Aniston's 'secret fat fighting weapon' - 'diet' is now a dirty word. Instead we have 'lifestyle change', 'plant based' and 'clean eating' to contend with. And they're all fronted by beautiful women gleefully chatting about 'abundance' (of the foods we say you can eat) and 'variety' (of the foods we say you can eat) - 'it's not about restriction' (apart from the bit where you cut out sugar, wheat and dairy). They're all smiles. The word 'diet' is nowhere to be seen.
So the diets won't admit they're diets anymore. Which makes things tougher for everyone. And I want to be one of the voices challenging the restrictive, body hating rhetoric that's sneaking in the back door when no one's looking.
So that's why. Now let's do this.