Does my body image look big in this?

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.

You can read the full report here. And if you might be in the 36%, please, please read this part of the report right now.

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8 Comments Add yours

  1. oldhowie says:

    Body image mmmm maybe Love Island has something to do with that

    Like

  2. oldhowie says:

    Ps not that I watch it !

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Claudette says:

    Imagine spending 4 hours getting ready with a team of people pawing at you incessantly just so you can look a certain way that seems to meet some implied expectation by others, who may or may not exist, in order to attend an event that might well be less than 4 hours long.

    Madness.

    But self-image issues are very real. I myself have gone through them too.

    Thank you for sharing. ❤

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    1. I know – and she most definitely knew how ridiculous it was. Imagine what life must be like for someone in the public eye like that, knowing that you’re being held to such unrealistically high standards, and your name will be all over the magazines if you go out with a hair out of place. It is madness.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. anglosvizzera says:

    I haven’t read the survey in detail, but it seems that in actuality the survey was done over a relatively small number of people – male and female (4,505 adults over 18 and 1,118 teenagers between 13 and 19) and then, presumably, extrapolated to assume that the same applies to the whole of the UK population. I don’t know what it is about these people’s body image that they aren’t happy with, but my guess is that being overweight is one of the main reasons.

    According to the NHS data for 2017, 64% of adults were considered to be “overweight or obese” with more women falling into the “obese” category than men (31% of women being overweight and a further 30% being obese/morbidly obese compared with 40% of men being overweight and 27% being obese/morbidly obese):

    https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/statistics-on-obesity-physical-activity-and-diet/statistics-on-obesity-physical-activity-and-diet-england-2019/part-3-adult-obesity

    The Mental Health Foundation survey included ‘teenagers between 13 and 19, so some overlap with the 18+ adults) but I haven’t been able to find data for this age group, as for ‘children’ the statistics seem to be lumped together to include all those aged 2-15 where, in 2016, 28% of children were “overweight” or “obese” (12% overweight and 16% obese).

    https://files.digital.nhs.uk/pdf/s/q/hse2016-summary.pdf#page=8

    Given the media images of what we are all supposed to look like, is it any wonder that such a large percentage of people are not satisfied with their body image?

    Regarding overweight/obesity, we usually see images of clothing on models who are of average weight, and even those companies that are attempting to use ‘larger’ models choose ones who are in proportion, don’t have loads of loose flab or “cellulite” and so on, like real people often do.

    Then we fool ourselves into thinking that wearing those clothes will make us look as attractive or “acceptable” as those ‘large’ women in the ads do. The styles of clothing are mostly designed for women of an average size and are scaled up into larger and larger sizes, even if that particular style is not in any way flattering for the larger lady which may precipitate unkind comments from some people on social media. Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to that, as from what I hear from my children, eating disorders are often triggered by even just one comment on social media that is an attack on their appearance.

    I’m actually surprised that the numbers of women being self-diagnosed as “overwhelmed and unable to cope” aren’t even higher than 30%!

    Then, as they mention, having a baby can often make irreversible changes to one’s body, not just shape and size, but also in the more intimate areas – something people don’t readily talk about, but that can affect a woman’s perception of their attractiveness which may be exacerbated by an unfeeling partner.

    Personally, I found it more and more difficult to lose weight after having a baby, although I did manage to get back to a similar pre-baby weight after number 3. Sometimes the partner may also not understand this, and may suggest that the woman is somehow being ‘careless’ or ‘letting herself go’, when in reality she’s trying desperately to reach the standard of ‘attractiveness’ that the man expects.

    Then we have the ageing issue. It does seem that everyone is expected to try and look as young as possible for as long as possible, but we all age, of course. For example, my mother, at age nearly 90, was wearing a long-sleeved cardigan on a very hot day. I had never considered her to have a ‘body image’ problem at any point in the time I’d known her. I asked why she was wearing a cardigan and she said it was to hide her arms that, in her opinion, were too flabby and full of wrinkles. I was quite shocked by that, as that’s what someone of that age would be expected to look like. She was also careful to wear clothes that covered her knees as she said they were “too big”. I know, from photographs of when she was younger, that her knees looked fine. But now that I’m 61, I know what she meant as my knees, which looked perfectly lovely in mini-skirts in the 70s (looking back at photos), have grown somewhat into, what I assume, are my late mother’s knees! So now I won’t wear any dresses that expose my knees, or shorts, come to that (except in the privacy of my own garden as my husband has no qualms about my appearance, thankfully!) I know it’s self-inflicted, of course, and that I’m sure nobody who sees my knees would even comment about them to my face (other than my children, possibly) or even notice that they were so big!

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    1. Indeed – there’s ‘attractive’, and then there’s holding yourself to a standard that it’s impossible to live up to. I guess the secret is knowing where to draw the line.

      Liked by 1 person

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