I’d forgotten how much the media hates me. A woman, with a body.
I happened to read a magazine at my father-in-law’s house the other day. One of those TV insert things that come with a weekend paper. I couldn’t resist the article about holiday wardrobes even though I half knew it would not be good.
The article advised using the body’s similarity to fruit to determine clothing choices and waxed lyrical about how to use those items to solve ‘problem areas’. How to hide your arms, conceal your legs, smooth out your belly. All by the strategic wearing of a bolero, a tummy-control swimsuit, leggings. And there it was. The body as a problem.
I hadn’t realised how far I had distanced myself from this view of female bodies until I read that magazine. Yeah, I have problems finding clothes to fit my body and used to believe that was my fault, that I needed to fix it and if I didn’t, I was failing. Now I see it differently.
I had no problem with the items themselves and I might even pack something similar for my own adventures. I don’t even mind that there were options for more modest summer dressing – I am a new fan of leggings and prefer baggy to skin-tight. No, what I found offensive was the tone of the article. The whole thing was about making sure that a woman’s imperfect body did not offend. Offend who? Me? Another woman? Anyone, everyone? Men? Are we worried about scaring the horses?
And then today during my restorative yoga class our attention was drawn to parts of our body. We were asked to think about what they each do for us. All the miles our feet walk, over hard, soft, rough smooth ground. Our hands and arms. How we use them to hug those we love. This was a timely counterpoint to the negativity I read in the fashion article. Rather than berating my body I was being encouraged to celebrate and cherish its capabilities, its endurance. Whatever sort of body I have, you have, anyone has – it might be ugly, crooked, beautiful, scarred – it is worthy of admiration for what it can do.
That fashion article was not about clothing as decoration, it was about clothing as a solution. And an uncomfortable one at that. That article sucked all the joy and fun out of clothes, refused to accept that wearing something cool when it is hot is an option open to all, that being comfortable at the beach is not just the preserve of the acceptably thin. So what if the tops of my arms swing in the breeze or my legs are a bit blotchy or my belly protrudes? In fact all three probably happen at some stage. The world hasn’t ended.
Over the last year or two I have managed to weed out unpleasant messages from my news feed about dieting , losing weight and ‘being healthy’ (aka ‘thin’). I confess I live in a social media bubble of body positive and fat acceptance, choosing carefully what blogs and podcasts to follow.
However I also exist in the real world and know that women are pilloried and scorned for not attaining perfection. I’ve read my fair share of glossy magazines and bought into the notion that somehow it was my role to solve the problem of my body. I was taught well. No wonder then that it has taken me until now to challenge the learnt behaviour of hating myself – and especially my body. Brought up on such a diet of disgust it is a wonder I ever left the house!
Over the last few years I have cast off the limitation of sleeves in summer (and yet I still hear my father’s voice saying something negative about older women and sleeveless dresses – shame on you Dad!). The work of unlearning continues as I cling onto some aspects of hiding my body. I tell myself it is not about offending anyone it is because I prefer it that way. Who knows? I doubt I am being entirely truthful with myself but after so long I think I’m allowed to be pleased with the progress I’ve made – however limited. So sleeveless dresses, t-shirts, blouses are now my friends. And if someone is offended by my fat and flabby arms – tough. Perhaps we can hug it out.