Weight has been a recurring theme this past month. First there was ‘that’ Samantha Brick column in the Daily Mail, where she made some controversial comments promoting a skinny body. A few days later, I thumbed through a gossip magazine for the first time in months at work and all I could see were pictures of celebrities and row upon row of print about why they had the wrong bodies. Then I met up with an uncle who probably without realising it, had largely influenced with his throwaway comments, how I saw myself in my teens through to my early twenties. And finally, I read some of the many counter blogs to Brick’s article which inadvertently made their own statements about how women should look.
The above blog has been particularly vocal on this subject, though it has implemented some changes after reading this blog post. It makes for interesting reading. They claimed that her views were dangerous to women with weight issues and promoted the wrong body type. Some blamed her husband, while others laughed off her rants by saying it was just the DM being ridiculous and she’d probably been put up to it. I agreed with that last comment. Brick appeared on Celebrity Big Brother a while back and she seemed switched on and quite unlike the person she puts out there in her column. I doubt she believes half the things she says but it is a clever way of attracting traffic to the DM website and it works every time.
The Daily Mail isn’t aimed at young girls in their teens and early twenties. I wouldn’t have thought they formed a large percentage of their readership. What did bother me however, were the scores of counter blogs which as with gossip magazines, were far more likely to attract younger readers. These are written by the kinds of people we all know on Twitter, Facebook and in real life. They aren’t cartoonish characters in a ridiculous paper that few people take seriously nowadays. In fact, the writer of the blog I’ve linked to above is a friend. Yet they appeared to be doing exactly what Brick herself was being criticised for. Promoting a certain body type.
If you’ve read my previous blogs, you’ll be aware of what I think about a certain Indian actress promoting size 0 as something to aspire to. What you may not know, is that I feel the same way about anyone promoting a ‘curvy’ figure if it isn’t something you were naturally born with. Yes we’ve all seen the red circle of shame in the magazines highlighting any cellulite or a spare ounce of fat. But we’ve also seen the circle of shame highlight a protruding rib or collar bone. It works both ways. The only difference is, most of us will complain about the former being too harsh but there will be throwaway comments about the thin celeb needing a few pies. Apparently only certain types of bullying are acceptable.
The fact of the matter is this. ‘Real Women’ come in all shapes and sizes. It astounds me that we can’t accept that women can be naturally thin as well as curvy. I’ve always had a boyish figure and I’ve never been on a diet in my life. My diet is probably far more unhealthy than most curvy women’s because I don’t have the motivation to lose weight and eat better. This no doubt has dangerous implication for my health but this doesn’t matter because I should be seen to be eating calorie laden food at all times to prove I’m not anorexic. This is less of a problem since I hit my 30s than it used to be, but it’s hard to break the habit of a lifetime.
I was teased, mostly good naturedly, throughout middle school for being skinny and lanky. It wasn’t helped by the fact that I shot up in height before everyone else in my class. I was gawky and awkward and very aware that I towered over everyone in my class. I was also very thin. It wasn’t until high school that the real bullying began. I was called names and constantly told to eat something and stop starving myself. Even the school nurses kept asking questions and pulling me out of class to be weighed. My close friends and family weren’t concerned in the least, they knew I loved my food and was strong enough not to succumb to any pressure to lose weight. I still have the photographs from a school trip to Butlins in my teens. It was the height of Summer and I was the only one covered up from head to toe in full sleeves and jeans while everyone else was in shorts and T-shirts. Thankfully, the bullying died down because it’s no fun if someone doesn’t react and though I’m quite sensitive on the inside, I rarely give people the satisfaction of knowing they’ve hurt me. To this day, I’d rather calmly tell someone if there is a problem and break all ties with them, than let them see how upset I am.
Most people were bullied in high school to varying degrees, I got over it. What was harder to cope with were the relatives who would constantly poke fun at the way I looked. Asians are obsessed with fair skin and curvy bodies. It didn’t help that my older sister was beautiful with blue eyes, fair skin and a curvy figure. I was dark, skinny and awkward. Hardly a week went by where someone wouldn’t tell me to eat more or jokingly ask my parents why they weren’t feeding me. I was desperate to gain weight and started eating like a horse. I’d gorge on chocolate bars, crisps, chips, cakes, anything I could lay my hands on. I didn’t gain any weight. It took years for me to accept that this was always going to be the way I looked. At a similar age, both my parents had been skinny too. It was in my genes. Thankfully these were the days before Heat magazine and the circle of shame and there wasn’t anywhere near the pressure there is today to look a certain way. I stopped caring what people who weren’t close to me thought and told myself that those who knew me were the only ones who mattered. As I got older and my confidence grew, I became more adept at shooting down the ruder comments and people started to back off.
It wasn’t until I started dating that I realised how conditioned women are to be self conscious about their bodies. I had a boyfriend who gained weight during the course of our relationship. Not once was he hesitant to take his clothes off. I didn’t even notice the change until he pointed it out to me. It didn’t matter to me. Yet I would still try to hide behind baggy clothes. None of the men I’ve been in a relationship with have ever been self conscious about their bodies. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that men are rarely subjected to that level of scrutiny about the way they look in the media, though I’ve noticed this has started to change in the last few years, unfortunately. Most of my female friends have had similar experiences where they’ve been more inhibited or conscious of their looks than their partners.
Most people dread their 30th Birthday, but I loved it. Something shifted inside me and I grew comfortable in my own skin. Funnily enough, the minute I stopped caring about it, I naturally gained a bit of weight and though I still have thin arms and legs, I’m more slim than skinny now. I even have to watch what I eat when I start to gain weight around my middle. Unfortunately, the weight doesn’t go anywhere else, but that’s fine. Now. I still get angry when I read those comments about ‘real women.’ To promote any one body shape as more appealing than another is incredibly dangerous. I know how much it bothered me in my younger days and I’ve never been a people pleaser or easily influenced by others. In a society which constantly judges women on their looks, these comments only serve to reinforce the stereotype that women should be judged on their appearance and nothing else.
A couple of days ago, I ran into the uncle who had gleefully made the most damning comments about my weight. He is a grandfather now and both his daughter in law and his grandaughter have weight issues, which he puts down to just how society is today. I think back to all the years I spent taking everyone’s words to heart, I see most of them desperately dieting now and depriving themselves in a bid to look thin and I wonder why I ever cared what those people thought of me.
It should have been amusing that the bloggers who were so incensed by Brick’s comments that they wrote their own blogs, failed to see the irony in what they were doing. Slamming her views that only thin is beautiful, they retaliated by saying that men find curvy women more attractive. Some of these blogs were written by men. I wanted to put to them the idea that perhaps beauty should be more than the size of a woman’s waist. That maybe they were every bit as shallow and dangerous as Brick herself.
We express our concerns about anorexia and bulimia, yet ridicule the thousands of women each year who are having breast enlargements or buttock augmentation in an effort to be more curvy. These are dangerous procedures that carry health risks. The double standards are frightening. These are often the same people who will say women look prettier without makeup, but are the most judgemental of women who don’t fit their idea of beauty. I had a long and heated debate with someone about how instead of judging women who undergo these procedures, we should perhaps to try to change how society treats women. It escalated into an argument about equality, which they didn’t think was an issue. What can you say to that?
The first public figure I heard say anything about this issue was Sali Hughes, the Guardian beauty journalist. A couple of years ago, she tweeted that all women are real, irrespective of their shape or size (or something to that effect) and it was the very first time I’d heard anyone say this. It took 34 years. I’d hate for a teenager who is hiding behind baggy clothes right now, to have to wait another 34 years to hear this.
Read the follow up blog here ‘You’re Beautiful’