How to love your body in a world that has everything against it


Don’t watch this video

First of all, before you watch this video, I want to apologise to all of my Facebook friends who work for women’s magazines (most of you). It is funny and sort of true though. Well, it is actually 100 per cent true but I’m trying not to be offensive for once. Must be in a good mood.


Let’s not burn our bras this time girls

Feminist picture

The New Feminist's strength is in her typing arm

There’s some kind of revolution going on and it’s caused by you and me and the wonderful world of the World Wide Web.

Curvy is in. And I mean IN. Vogue Italia, the coolio of cool in the fashion world has released a new website with a section called Vogue Curvy, a showcase for larger models and validation to readers who don’t conform to the skinny ideal. It isn’t perfect, in that most of the plus sized models featured are not plus sized in the real world (but that shows you how unreal the media world is!), but they do have flesh on their bodies, which is a step forward.

It’s not the first time this has happened. I remember over a decade ago (1997) when I wrote a feature for the Telegraph about how glad I was that Vogue had started using bigger models.

Here it is, with a picture of Sophie Dahl before she skinnied up:

body image feature in telegraph

Pictures of a then size 14 Sophie were all over the UK media. But it wasn’t just about her – magazines such as Elle, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and even men’s mags GQ and Esquire were using big girls as models. Normal women started to feel hope that the ‘lose weight’ hypnosis might come to an end and there was an excitement in the idea that women might be able to stop feeling like we were somehow wrong.

But the big girl trend didn’t last more than half a year. It turned out to be flash in the pan. All the women over a size 8 who had started to feel a glimmer of hope retreated back into hiding (and the biscuit tin). But the hunger for validation was still there. And it’s only now, with the Internet, that ordinary people can become very shouty and insistent about what they want. It’s only now that the mainstream media has to follow behind rather than lead the way.

These days thousands upon thousands of websites and blogs are dedicated to healthy body image. Normal sized women all over the UK and the US are fighting back and defying the media ideal. In what has become a wave of a kind of ‘new feminism’, we are demanding to be accepted as beautiful and normal – something that has been denied to larger women and girls for four decades.

The numbers of these healthy body image websites are growing so fast that the mainstream media has go no choice but to follow. The glossy fashion mags and the newspapers and TV will follow suit but they will pretend to be the leaders of the new way, of course, with this ‘curvy is in’ trend. Even though we will all snigger behind their backs knowing that we led the way. But this mass media turnaround will make a big difference because it’s a feedback loop and it will influence the thoughts and opinions of the people who don’t use the internet and people who aren’t aware of this backlash.

The Vogue Italia Curvy site is great. But if you get tempted to feel any humble gratitude to Vogue remember that the real heroines are the army of Internet blogging queens who are using technology to bring the women’s movement alive again in a brand spanking new and updated form. It’s admirable, even if I say so myself!

Also remember that the media is run by big business advertisers whose existence depends on you feeling dissatisfied, so there’s going to be a war.

PS: Click  here to find a fascinating video of Sophie Dahl ‘The Early Days’ from the 1990s. Interestingly, she was much more famous when she was bigger.

Fat and lonely? Dieting will get you friends

Fags make you sexy

Smoke these and you can get a shag and lead a country

Advertisers always try to appeal to our basic human needs. That shiny new car is really all about your status or if it’s a jeep travelling through the desert, it’s about your need for freedom. Cigarette adverts used to promise you glamour, power and sex (until they banned them because they figured out that cancer isn’t glam or sexy).

I was just reading about all this in a blog about minimalist living on the subject of desires and how we consume products and drugs and fashion and gadgets to fulfil fundamental needs, such as security, status and survival. Incidentally this is exactly why the latest advert for  Special K ‘Love your jeans again’ shows a woman who has lost weight walking down a staircase into the arms of her approving and admiring women friends.

Fat = lonely

Thin = fitting in and being loved

The said blog, by Leo Babuta, says:

“Desires are manufactured in us, by advertising and marketing. They play on our natural instincts: for hoarding (security), for the pleasures of food and drugs and sex (desire for joy), for fitting in with clothes and bikes and gadgets (desire for friends), and so on.

“Desires like these lead to all kinds of problems — in fact, all the problems of modern society. They are rooted in the immense power of corporations in our society, and their drive for massive profits. Problems result that include obesity and related diseases, massive consumer debt, shallow consumerism, overwork (to make money for all these things), lack of true human connection, and more.”

And he’s absolutely right about that. But one thing that isn’t mentioned, and I’m not going to jump to conclusions about Leo Babuta – well, that’s not really true because I am. I presume that the lovely Leo has the mainstream view about what he calls ‘obesity and related diseases.’ I might be wrong because I like some of his philosophies a great deal, but I think that, like most people, he would be under the impression that people who get fat overeat out of a kind of greed – an inability to control themselves in the face of an abundance of highly palatable food that’s pressed on us by food manufacturers. He is forgiven for this, if he does think this way because there isn’t much information out there that shows any other viewpoint.

In fact, in the mainstream it looks like there is no other viewpoint possible!

But this is a huge myth. An assumption that is widely accepted as fact. There is another truer viewpoint than this.

So what is the other viewpoint?

People eat too much, that’s true and they eat too much to satisfy a basic human need. But that need is not to experience the joy of eating more than they should. Overeating is a normal and natural response to the threat of starvation – and that’s exactly how the human brain perceives a diet. That’s how your brain sees even the thought of a diet! After years of dieting, as soon as the idea of cutting down or eating less enters your head, you’ll be off to the local McDonalds for a supersize burger and fries. And your brain will convince you it’s the right move.

And overweight people think about dieting more than anyone else.

The human need that is being fulfilled by an obese person is to stay alive!

The instinctive drive to survive is the strongest motivator in any human being. So when you think about dieting remember that you’ve got no chance.

Unless you’re one of those people who has a pathological attachment to your image and whose self worth is based entirely on approval and who thinks status is more important than anything else – then your brain sees status as the best route to survival so it will oblige and let you diet as much as you want. You can even starve yourself to death if you like.

The product is you!

Carrot and stick

Is this what they mean by 'stick to your diet'?

I spend my days helping people to overcome disordered eating  caused by psychological disturbance about body image.

The hardest part of my job is getting people to see what the problem is and to help them to stop buying into the thin ideal. This is so brainwashed into us from such an early age that, even after I’ve shown them the absolutely sound and solid scientific and medical evidence that buying into the thin ideal is what makes it impossible to actually achieve it, people will still not allow themselves to be released from the struggle. They believe that the thin ideal will bring them all the confidence and happiness that they are convinced that they lack right now. Well, it doesn’t. If you’re a self conscious, anxious and unhappy fat person you’ll be a self conscious, anxious and unhappy thin person.

The problem is not your body, it’s your brain!

Here is an absolutely true and proved statement so read it again and again:

  • In MOST people (98 per cent) The desire for the thin ‘ideal’ creates neurobiological reactions that make it impossible to get the thin ‘ideal’.

The truth is that the persuasion to achieve the thin ideal isn’t ever going to stop while big industries are making money from it. We’ll always be told: ‘Don’t look like that, look like this!’ And we’ll fall into the trap of feeling dissatisfied and we’ll try to make changes – an effort that will lead us to further dissatisfaction. So we’ll pay and pay and pay to try to get back to where we were in the first place!

“There’s never been a better time to buy… You’re living in the
factory, the product being manufactured is you.”

If you do buy into this, you are the product, and you’re turning yourself into faulty goods. You start off as happy and then you want something that’s designed to be impossible to get, so you continue wanting and the wanting takes over your life. You spend the rest of your life like a donkey running after a carrot on a stick. And the running is hard and exhausting and stressful. It makes you sick.

So stop chasing it. Make yourself well. Make yourself happy.

There’s nothing missing. It’s an illusion.

If you find yourself judging people, comparing your body, feeling either inferior or superior depending on how well the other person fits into the ideal – stop and think! Someone’s doing it to you too! Everyone’s doing it to each other. We’re just passively letting ourselves be manipulated into creating wealth for big business at our own expense.

Stop the madness. Fight back. Use your energy for something more worthwile.