Anxiety and depression might be the biggest sources of mental dis-ease in the UK, but this statistic obscures the fact that body image issues now seem to be a part of what most clients bring, regardless of their presenting issue. Hand on heart, how many women1 do you know who eat what they want, exercise moderately and are happy with how they look? And I don’t mean this in a Gwen Stefani kind of way – the US singer recently told Marie Claire that she wasn’t really working out much at the moment, whilst showing off the kind of flat and toned stomach you only get from a large number of daily stomach crunches. That’s not body acceptance, that’s fibbing.
The perfect body now is sold to us as something we should all aspire to, and increasingly the means to get it are within our grasp. It starts innocuously enough with hair extensions, perhaps takes in a bit of Botox and the latest diet; before you know it you’re onto major food restriction and extreme exercise, from which it’s a downward slope to cosmetic surgery and eating disorders. Not surprising then that hospital admissions for eating disorders have risen by 50% in the last decade, and that cosmetic surgery has risen at an annual rate of 5 – 6% since 2009.
Thankfully, there is I think, a growing resistance, with campaigns such as anybody which challenges the way women are expected to look, and Big Beautiful Wellness, a movement which celebrates women in their entirety and preaches good health rather than one size. I really welcome initiatives like these because it gives a voice and support to any girl or woman who doesn’t look like, feel like or want to be the accepted norm of femininity.
But, my question is, does it have to be so partisan? It seems to me that there are increasingly two kinds of women; the accepted norm, which is thin, young and feminine, and the disregarded – fatter, older and somehow perceived as less womanly. Personally, I’m done with diets, obsessional exercising and shoes I can’t walk in, but I don’t want to make a political statement about it, I just want to be me. Is there space for women to just be who they are in this new body conscious and body political society? And can we guide our daughters into adolescence and beyond without making them choose sides?
1 I know that it’s not just women and that charities such as Men Get Eating Disorders Too exist for a reason, but women have been dealing with this for longer and thus pushing into onto our daughters as well.