On body image…

I went to a children’s party a few weeks ago and a mother constantly prodded at her daughter’s stomach anytime she reached for anything sugary. She then turned to me in front of her and whispered loudly

“I wish my daughter was slim like all of these other girls. Seriously, I keep on asking her if she watches films. Does she see anyone her age looking like her? I mean think about it; you are like 3x times her age and she is about 4x your size”.

I shuddered. I couldn’t believe that this lady was speaking like this.

Although, I honestly feel that she meant well and was genuinely concerned about her daughter’s health and poor diet, I did not think this was an appropriate way to address the issue. It was embarrassing, extremely awkward and I hate to think about the effects that such comments had on the young girl’s self-esteem.

Throwback to my own childhood and I remember when my friends, as if they were body valuation experts, pointed out that my hips were ‘too narrow’ and that guys wouldn’t like me if I were ‘too small’. Prior to this, I had never really noticed my body. I was about 13 years old. As far as I was concerned, my hips were fine and my body was just my body. I hadn’t yet got to the point where I ‘understood’ that apart from fulfilling the functional roles of daily living; my body was also ‘supposed’ to be a sexual object that I should be concerned didn’t meet boys’ desires. Initially, I would eat loads and wear extra shorts under my jeans to try and look bigger. But afterwards, I decided that this was actually a ratchet look, and ain’t nobody got time for that.

But, what if I really took the views of my friend’s seriously? Last year, I came across the deeply disturbing news report of Joy Williams, a 23 year-old, from Thamesmead, South-London, who died after travelling to Thailand to have a £2,000 buttock augmentation surgery. It is believed that she was bullied and long struggled with issues of self-esteem.

So much is affected by how we feel about ourselves. It impacts the way we work, set and pursue goals, and the relationships we allow ourselves to be in. It is especially important to watch the way we speak to young people as they are still developing their self-identity. Moreover, I believe that personal incidents can be so much more pertinent in shaping our views about ourselves than social media. My conversation with my friends, for example, could have left me with the impression that my body is designed for men and that I should always dress or act to please them. The girl at the party could grow up believing that she just wasn’t good enough or lead her to become over-obsessed about food.

We have to learn to love ourselves and remind each other that we are all beautiful. Many people criticise the media for only presenting ludicrously high standards (and also one sided views) of beauty, yet we don’t check the way we speak to each other or the mind-sets that we have subscribed to. Now, I’m not saying that we should lie to people who are not taking appropriate care of themselves that they are doing well or excuse ourselves when we let ourselves go – but we should think about the impact of our words. We should also have informative discussions with each other about how we feel and ways that we can work together to all be better.