Sunday, 19 May 2013

Body Image - what's mine is not yours (and vice versa)

I think most of us women have battled with body image to some degree.

We are bombarded with pictures of perfection.

Advertisements assume that we all want to lose weight, or have a flat tummy, or have a smaller butt or thighs. Everywhere, a miracle cure for our inadequacy (and an underlying assumption that we are inadequate). It takes a conscious effort not to buy into it.

The fat-shaming is loud and proud and in the guise of care and concern. Take a rich, wealthy, good looking personal trainer, a bunch of obese people, have the former scream abuse at the latter, then have the fat people get thinner and all their problems vanish. Cue halo for the trainers. Another poor fatty saved.

Against that is the scream of "you are perfect as you are", "accept yourself", "you can be healthy at any size", "be proud", "be happy".

It's all a very confusing. Both, at extremes, can be just as dangerous.

It is hard to have a good strong sense of your own worth, to feel attractive, and at the same time, to have a good insight into your own limitations, or where you might actually need to improve. Some might say that these are incompatible.

For example, I have been a few kilos overweight for all of my adult life. My BMI has ranged from between 26-29. It is probably at the higher end of that now.

I have a good insight into what health issues a certain weight may or may not cause me, as I do research into obesity.

I know that older people in the overweight range live longer than those who are underweight or obese,  and don't seem to have as many of the health problems as those at higher weights. This is good news for me.

However, I am painfully aware that I have started to carry a bit of extra weight around my middle. It puts pressure upwards onto my gullet, worsening my reflux. I know a few kilos off can help me. It might help the tightness in my hips and back.

I used to obsess constantly over food, and my weight. I deferred pleasures and promises to myself until I got to a magic weight. I used to think I was unattractive. I had binge-eating disorder (mild, but still there).

Through a couple of bouts of depression, lots of therapy, and a big 180 in my life, I have come to an acceptance of my body. That my bum and thighs might never accommodate those designer jeans (I'm talking about you, Ms Sass and Ms Bide...). That I will never be whip-thin. And I have gotten to a point where, sometimes, if I am feeling particularly confident, I strut about like Miranda Kerr.

I am happiest when I make the best of what I have, rather than wishing for something entirely different.

I am strong and I have run a marathon. My body is functional. It has great potential for experiencing pleasure and giving others pleasure. Hopefully, in the future, it will be able to support a little life within. With all of these wonders, wearing a pair of overpriced jeans seems a bit silly.

Not only do I understand this intellectually, most of the time, I have these beliefs internally.

I try to reconcile this with the need, as I alluded to above, to change a few things. To make myself a bit healthier and less symptomatic.  I can now set about making these changes out of a sense of self-love and care, rather than trying to punish myself.

It's a good place to be. It's been a long time coming.

I met with a junior colleague yesterday (who does not read this blog), as I am helping her with some research. At first I did not notice anything different about her, but then she apologised for some faint bruising about her lips.

She said "I've had a little procedure done". She had had fat from her tummy injected into her face, everting her lips, giving her a trout-pout.

Now, this girl is gorgeous. Like textbook, unambiguously gorgeous - slim, well proportioned figure, neither too tall nor too short, blonde hair, big blue eyes, pillowy lips. Envy from the women, dropped jaws from the men. Even if blonde, blue eyed, slim and evenly featured is not your cuppa tea, most would agree that this lady is a looker.

She went on to explain that she had taken some time off work to get a bit of work done. She has spent all of her hard-earned savings (many thousands of dollars) employing the best cosmetic surgeon in the state to buff her up like a prestige car. She has had work on her face, her nose and her thighs, and probably other places but she wouldn't tell me. Not only has she spent the bucks, but she has had quite significant complications.

I initially said to her "but sweetie, you are gorgeous, you didn't need it", but then I promptly shut my trap - I just didn't know what minefield of issues I might be bombasting my way through with my assumptions. So I just nodded and smiled and looked appropriately sympathetic.

I thought about her quite a bit. Who is anybody to judge her? It's her money, she should be able to do what she wants with it. Et cetera.

I thought about whether I would have plastic surgery. There are a few things I would have done - a bit of lipo, a pin back of the ears (one is a bit more sticky-outy than another), perhaps something on the boobs. The things I have are things that people commonly get work done for. The things that stop me are the cost and the potential for complications.

More than that, though, these things are annoying, but don't take up enough of my thought to go and see a plastic surgeon and pay out all the money and go under the knife. I would rather spend the money on a holiday. Really, I would.

I wonder what would possess such a beautiful, clever woman to make these changes. Can she not see what the world sees? Was she so dissatisfied? Does somebody necessarily need to be that bothered by their looks to get this done?

We all make changes to ourselves - a wax, a haircut, even a diet, and it does not necessarily mean we are insecure. Is her surgery the equivalent to her of my upkeep? Does it necessarily mean she has a significant body image issue? Who am I to say that she cannot improve herself, that she must be happy and satisfied with what she has if she has the means to change it?

If I am to be completely honest, yes, I do think the surgery she had was borne out of insecurity rather than acceptance and love plus an "honest" need for change (whatever an honest need is)... I don't see how she could feel the need otherwise. But yes, I accept that I am not her and I can't say what is right for her.

I just hope that she is happy with the results, and that is the end. I hope she is healthy.

I hope that every person who reads this accepts themselves, and plans changes to themselves out of a sense of love and care.


  1. Hear, hear. Well said, Cilla.


  2. Such a big issue, body image.
    I find it hard to understand why someone would pay money to have unnecessary surgery to their body. I think it's got a lot to do with the 'normalisation' of surgery and cosmetic procedures. It's becoming an acceptable and almost desirable form of upkeep.
    Personally, I put it on a par with foot-binding.

    1. I could sort of see why models/actresses (or aspiring ones) would, as it would improve their bankability. It sets an impossible standard, though, I see that.

      I agree insofar as it should not be the norm - the norm ought to be acceptance of one's own looks, provided they are healthy and functional.

      Interesting to hear the opinions of others - thanks Ruth :D