More than a third of all women ‘experienced stress over their body image to the extent of being overwhelmed and unable to cope in the last year’. Those are my italics. The figures come from the Mental Health Foundation.
We’re not talking about vaguely wishing you could shift a couple of pounds, we’re talking actual mental illness.
More than a third. Of all women. 36 per cent to be precise.
Why is that? Why are so many women so stressed over their body image that they are overwhelmed and unable to cope. Let’s assume that people aren’t actually getting uglier, shall we? So why are we becoming less happy with how we look? And not just ‘less happy’ – actual mental illness. Mental illness, ffs.
And let’s make it clear that this isn’t about whether we are indeed pretty, or handsome, or skinny, or not-so-skinny, or sexy or ‘well-preserved’. It’s about the image, the idea, we have of our own body, our perception of it.
It’s not even about comparing ourselves to other people – it’s about how we think other people compare us to other other people.
‘Does my bum look big in this?’ doesn’t really mean ‘Is my bum big in this?’ – it means ‘Will other people think that my bum is bigger than they think it ought to be, in this?’ We are judging ourselves against how we think other people are judging us. How fucked up is that.
We compare ourselves with people who, we’re told, look good – or rather, we imagine we are being compared with people who, we’re told, look good. And there is no shortage of opinion out there on who looks good and who doesn’t. Who’s lost weight, who’s gained weight, who’s still got a baby bump… Look at any magazine stand in any supermarket on any day of the week.
A while ago I watched a programme about Victoria Beckham – she was shooting an advert and she looked fabulous. And she fixed her gaze directly at the camera – directly at the camera – and she said, ‘It’s taken a team of people 4 hours to get me looking like this’.
She knew – she knew that looking the way she looked was actually impossible, even for her.
And if we try to look that good, or even start to think we ought to look that good, we’ll fail – and that way madness lies, quite literally. People are becoming mentally ill trying to attain something that even the people who look as though they’ve attained it can’t actually attain.
So let’s get one thing straight – we are never going to look that good. Even the people who look that good don’t look that good.
And let’s get another thing straight – that’s OK.
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