The Body Shaming Issue
I don’t usually do “serious on Facebook. My philosophy is generally one of
Some of you who have befriended me on that platform will know that. In fact, I rather pride myself on my ironic and acerbically witty tones But something a friend posted the other day really got me going and I ended up in a spirited discussion about it.
The image in question was the one above.
For most of us, this will have elicited a wry smile and we would have moved on. One of my colleagues later posted it with the comment that of course, we as image consultants can help people do exactly that – to make wise choices so that they dress well in a way that flatters their body shape. And quite right too.
But it stung me on the raw.
You will know, because I have written about this before, that I am and have been struggling with nearly fifty pounds of excess weight, most of which I gained following the death of my dear uncle two years ago. Oh, I’ve always been a bit overweight, but only by about fifteen pounds or so. I’ve never felt that it affected my clothing choices, or my attractiveness; I’ve never been hugely bothered by it, in spite of regular sessions with Weight-Watchers or Slimming World, where I would reduce my size and weight to acceptable levels and then, thankfully, give up and move on to more interesting pastimes.
This larger weight gain has been different. It has affected my confidence. It has affected my health, it has impacted the activities I have felt able to do.
And it has also made me more sensitive to society’s messages regarding body shape and size. In part this is because, with my writing hat on, I joined a Facebook group intriguingly named Alpha Heroes for Curvy Girls. This is a forum where writers of what’s called BBW romance (that’s Big Beautiful Women, by the way – and no – I didn’t know that either before I joined the group) can meet the readers of such romances (who are usually curvy girls themselves) to yes, promote their books but also to exchange views and opinions and for mutual support. Oh yes, and we do tend to post images of those “alpha” heroes without many clothes on… I’ve even got to know some of these models a little and very sweet and lovely guys they are too. Yes – really. You don’t believe me? Well then…
Here’s Kenolivier Gisbert, not only ripped, but intelligent, educated, hardworking and humble. And French. Oh, he’s single and straight too, in case you’re wondering. And based in the UK. Did I mention French? That accent… (sigh)
And – girls – while he’s not quite young enough to be my son – he’s quite young enough for me not to have inappropriate thoughts about – OK? He’s promised me a photo with his clothes on but his shades off – but that one, apparently, will have to be be for my personal files only! For rarity value if nothing else!
Any of you have full permission to have inappropriate thoughts about him of course, because you don’t know him. Well – I assume you don’t, anyway.
But (ahem) moving on….
My point is that, while the average dress size in the UK is a size 14, we know that the majority of models used in nearly every form of advertising are a size 8 and lower. While that has always been the case I have noticed more than an element of “you should be ashamed” creeping in to our overall culture. Already we can hardly switch on the news without hearing about weight related diabetes or how predictions show that by 2020 two thirds of the population will be obese with the overwhelming health consequences of heart disease and strokes this will cause.
The cynical part of me can’t help wondering if the pension fund managers are cheering all this on and investing in United Biscuits and Cadburys. It is after all in their interests for people to die sooner rather than later.
So we being encouraged to exercise, to eat our five a day. Low fat foods and “lite” products abound. Slimming Clubs represent big business. We the overweight are made to feel ashamed. I think I begin to understand how smokers must have felt for the past thirty years.
We are being made to feel that our bodies are unattractive, that we should cover them up and hide them away. Only the beautiful people are allowed to bare flesh. Because the rest of us are deemed to be unattractive we should keep ourselves decently covered. Burkas anyone?
I for one want to rebel against this. First I want to proclaim loudly and clearly that our human bodies come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and that we are all beautiful. Have a look at these two images.
|Plus size super model Tess Holliday – size 22|
|Sergeant Bryan Anderson US Veteran|
Tess Holliday is beautiful at a size 22. Sergeant Bryan Anderson is beautiful with only one limb remaining after an Afghan bomb took the other three.
I have been working as an image consultant for 14 years. I have seen many female bodies stripped down to undies (sadly not as many males!). I have not seen an ugly body yet.
Second, we all have different ideas of what is attractive. My friend Willsin; artist, musician, writer (husband and family man) is an unashamed aficionado of what he calls the “fuller female figure.” He’s a man who loves those curves, and indeed writes about them. I would highly recommend his short story This I can Do about a woman rediscovering her body after the changes made to it by pregnancy and childbirth. Yes, this really was written by a man!
Third, I want to cry loudly from the roof-tops of our need for self-expression. We should be able to wear what we damn well want to wear (so long as it obeys the laws of public decency). Yes, I personally find facial tattoos and guage piercings toe-curlingly unattractive, but that’s my issue.
As an image consultant it is my job to educate, to enable my clients to express themselves appropriately and with confidence in every situation, whether that is at a Buckingham Palace Garden Party or at the beach (hint – the dress code for each is rather different). So part of my job is to let my clients know that, should they choose to wear visible tattoos, extreme piercings and alternative hairstyles, then they need to be aware of the messages they send out to a large part of society with those choices. I also support such people in their desire to change the way society sees those and other means of self-expression. At the same time I probably won’t be encouraging any of my clients to adopt this particular look.
Going back to the original image that so sparked my ire. Yes, I want more body acceptance and at the same time I work with people to accept and love the bodies they have and to dress them so they look wonderful, whatever their shape and size. Often, it’s just a case of paying attention. Look at these three images. Three curvy girls all looking great with very three different ways of dressing. (With thanks to Willsin for these)
And – to revisit the issue of smoking. It wasn’t smoking itself that the government wished to stop; it was the diseases and premature deaths resulting from smoking. It is not obesity the government objects to, but the illnesses attached to it. They got serious about smoking and stopped all tobacco advertising, they passed laws to keep all work-places smoke free. If they got as serious about obesity they would do the same for sugar. Bring it on! I won’t be objecting.
So finally, an image that another writing friend of mine posted. I love the sentiment, even if the language is a little strong.
I think the important words there are “Dress to make yourself feel good.” Actually, we need to feel good about ourselves first, and then we can dress the way we want.
Because time and time again I hear in my studio “Thank you. You have given me permission to dress the way I always wanted to but never thought I could.”
Go for it girls, this summer and always. Love your bodies whatever shape and size they are and be proud of them. For truly we are fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139 v14)