Or maybe the question is, can you think of a time when you didn’t feel uncomfortable with your body? The thing is, most of us are on a negative feedback loop when it comes to our bodies – which generally translates as a feeling not being happy in our own skin. The bigger picture of this is that we spend a lot of our time worrying about what we do/don’t eat, how much we do/don’t exercise. In short, we have our heads full of body neuroses.
I’d already decided to write this piece when I read an article in the Guardian Weekend supplement written by young feminist writer, Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett (co-founder of the website vagendamagazine.com a rant-y, free thinking, sometimes funny backlash against the increasingly purile gossip nature of glossy weeklies). In her Guardian piece, Cosslett writes about battles with her own body, only too aware of the irony: feminist writer with body issues.
She goes on to mention the phenomenon of ‘almost anorexia’ or undiagnosed eating disorders which affect the majority of women in some form of unhealthy body image or anxieties with food. Also, orthorexia nervosa, the so-called obsession with eating healthily, not to mention ‘fitspiration’ the in-your-face social media fuelled craze for achieving the perfect body through exercise. That there’s a generation of women who don’t want to be seen to be dieting as such (in fact, they’re anti-diet) but are using the smokescreen of green smoothie, flaxseed, juice detoxes instead. It all adds up to the same thing. The longing to be thin, have the perfect body ends up making us all too hard on ourselves.
We live in a visual age – we’re surrounded by bikini-Selfies, and cleaner than clean healthistas on Instagram. No wonder we have these body neuroses, particularly younger women who’re growing up with the pressure social media, and other forms of media can bring. Crosslet asks the inspirational writer and psychotherapist, Susie Orbach what we can do about this, and Orbach’s reply is, ‘I guess the question I’d ask is: how long are you going to put up with it?’. Good question.
The answer, on one hand, is incredibly complex. Much of how we feel about ourselves is to do with our own pschological make-up – patterns which set in during childhood, and which can take years to become apparent and deal with. Unravelling our deep psyche is possible with time and the right support, and is crucial particularly in regards to very serious eating disorders.
For the general body anxiety most of us seem to be touched by, things could be a lot simpler perhaps, as Orbach seems to be saying. It’s about changing our thinking, our attitudes, our habits. We live in an age and a country where we are free enough to have choices – to get great jobs, buy our own homes, marry who we choose or not. Surely we can make the decision to follow dubious health ‘gurus’ on Twitter/Instagram. Or not. Facebook and Selfies are not compulsory. Nor is wearing a bikini. So, perhaps it’s time to put things in perspective.
Of course, in trying to find our own body confidence, there will be good and bad days. But it begins with awareness. When we are agonising about the size of our thighs in the mirror or launching ourselves into a yet another post-weekend, Monday morning ‘diet’, let’s just stop, take a breath and ask ourselves why. Who are we doing this for? Can we be kinder to ourselves? If we’ve over-eaten, so be it, and possibly breakfast really isn’t needed this morning, but don’t let that ruin lunch or the day. And ok so, the majority of us don’t have thighs like Giselle’s in the No 5 ad, but then she is an exception. Be mindful in the exercise you take, the food you eat, and how you treat your body and you will be surprised at how much better you will feel about yourself.