Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Body image(s)

Working lots of overtime recently so haven’t been able to blog much (excuses excuses). However I was interested to read the article discussing thinness in the Observer Women magazine last weekend. Siberian Fall posted about this article at Mind the Gap and asks has feminism failed to make an impact on eating disorders and obsessional thinness?

Identifying as a feminist has had a hugely liberating impact on many areas of my life, but has made little or no difference to my issues with my body. I do not have an eating disorder, but I do go through periods of experiencing a huge amount of loathing for my body. I am 5’4” tall, size 10, bra size 32 CC. Objectively I think I look pretty good. But living in this body in this society can be a whole different matter.

We are bombarded with images of female bodies all day every day. These are invariably used as a marketing tool, either selling the body, or selling a product. Where the body is the product the image is usually directed at men. The women in question have enormous breasts, tiny waists and very round but slim figures. The breasts are often fake, bodies unnaturally hairless, the images air brushed. Fashion photography is usually aimed at women to sell clothes, and clothes look best on tall, skinny figures. These images are different to those aimed at men because the women are very straight and bony. They have small breasts, no hips or bottom. The clothes glide over their bodies.

Neither of these bear any relation to what my body looks like. I am small and round, not skinny, and my breasts don’t look like those we see so often on telly and in the red tops. They aren’t like a big circle of perfect roundness, they hang down, and if you look side on the silhouette is lower case j or l shape. My body is in proportion, but I don’t feel like it is because the bodies that I see every day aren’t in proportion. If someone is terribly skinny, for example Nikki on Big Brother, their breasts usually get much smaller. Nikki had breast implants for this very reason, and now has enormous boobs and a tiny body. This makes me feel like my body shape is unnatural when in fact it is the other way round.

I don’t feel that there is an alternative to these images where I can feel comfortable in my own skin. Even though objectively I know that the average dress size in the UK is a 16 and I am therefore in very good shape, subjectively I compare myself to these images of women without a pot belly, with no fat on their arms and legs, and I feel large. There are some parts of my life where I know that patriarchal bullshit is so ingrained in the way that I think that it is unlikely I will ever change my mindset. Body image is one of these areas. Why do I compare my body to other women? And would it be any better to compare myself to society’s image of the perfect body if it was more akin to my own?


At 8:15 pm, Blogger Michelle said...

Why do I compare my body to other women?

Because we are bombarded with images of so-called female perfection/imperfection every day and socialised into believing our self-worth comes from the standard of our physical appearance.

Which is why, as you said, discovering feminism can go a huge way into shrugging some of this bullshit off. You just have to keep telling yourself that you can be happy in your normal, natural female flesh and that those images we see every day are unnatural, false and nothing really worth aspiring too.

At 10:06 pm, Blogger Pippa said...

I'm not sure how tags work here so I'lljust give you a link you can copy and paste into your browser..


this is a website full of pics of normal boobs!! Amazing! I got there from BitchPhD's link to this one:


both sites are fantastic. I have found my body at both!

Apart from that, I think we compare our bodies because its what we are taught to do from childhood. We are taught to compete and to conform. It is a tragedy of life. I urge rebellion!! Cheers, Pippa x

At 1:27 pm, Anonymous therealUK said...

This is an interesting topic, the psychology of how people adjust their expectations when surrounded by the unreal and unnattainable.

It leads, amongst other things, to a dreadfully distorted image of ourselves/other women's bodies, and I think most people don't even realise how prevalent and insidious this is.

Have you seen "How to Look Good Naked" on C4 ? It's an annoying programme in some ways, but what is interesting is how it highlights the body dysmorphia that is becoming increasingly more obvious in our culture. Totally physically normal and nice-looking women go on this show and say how "disgusting" they are and how they can't bear to look at themselves. One thing the presenter does is use a body scanner to generate a 3D image, which the woman then will adjust to her perception of her own size - usually overestimating by 40-50%.

Unfortunately, given the nature of the programme the solution to this is presented as a full fashion makeover, rather than a course of psychological deprogramming from the cult of "perfect beauty".

Deprogramming is what we need, because for both men and women, living under the delusions we do about what is a natural and acceptable range of human forms,is very damaging.

At 9:02 am, Blogger Sarah Louise Parry said...

I really enjoyed reading your piece, not that the choice of topic is enjoyable as it is of serious importance, but you summed up how millions of women globally feel every bloody day. Hit the nail on the patriarchal manipulative pig head.

Advertising is one of the most powerful media sectors and although people will brush media theories aside does brainwash and manipulate people's mindsets.

At the end of the day, if we all tried to replicate the likes of Nikki's 'Barbie Doll' idealism then the majority of us would end up shelling out cash on: lipo, tummy tucks, boob jobs, cosmetics, peroxide and designer clothes.

Advertising is not a window into reality, but a hyperreality created by marketers of what they wish to mould us into because these icons which are being poised on a pedestal make the most money for them, as most of the public are so far away from this image that they'd have to spend SHIT LOADS trying to match it. So they win.

At 8:53 pm, Blogger Nina said...

And while size 10 is a perfectly fine as is any other healthy size, I in my size 6 skin feel enormous whenever I hit the streets. But for me, the perfection doesn't only come in the form of air brushed unreal pictures, I've learned not to pay too much mind to them, having studied media for four years, but in the form of other girls. Younger, older, what do I care, all I see are impeccable makeup, flawless hairdo, high fashion outfit that doesn't look forced and worse of all: a body much nicer than my own. Smaller, slimmer, taller, bigger all in the right places.

Today I hit the post-Christmas sales and went home with nothing as being bombarded by perfection made me lose my cool when trying on dresses and I wound up feeling awful about my wide manshoulders and short stubby legs and giant elephant knees.

I don't think I'd like to completely shrug off appearances.
I'd just like to come to terms with what I have and feeling alright with it.
and a dress that fit would be nice.


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