IN THIS ISSUE
Esther Rantzen’s joyous love letter to nudity on page 32 got me thinking about my own relationship with my body and self-image. As a size 8 teenager I had the kind of figure that a lot of people would say they want. Yet my confidence was in the gutter. I was reminded all the time by my peers that I was ‘too skinny’. Add to that I was milk-bottle pale and growing up in Sydney, Australia, at a time when the cultural ideal was our bronzed, athletic newly anointed goddess, supermodel Elle Macpherson. I was so self-conscious about my many ‘flaws’ that I wasted years of glorious summers hiding (and sweating) in long sleeves and jeans! Such is the crazy self-imposed prison of low self-esteem.
It took becoming a mother, at 35, to really have a word with myself. I needed to set a confident example for my daughter. If she clocked my embarrassment about my paleness, bony knees or – these days – wobbly bits, then she might take in the message that these are legitimate things to be ashamed of.
She was about three when she remarked that I was always telling everyone how terrible I look, which was a startling insight into the messages we convey without even realising. I have friends who remember as children being told to suck in their stomachs, were put on diets or heard their mothers obsessing about what was ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ with their own bodies.
Watching your own kids develop early signs of self-consciousness is a little heartbreaking. (Psychotherapist Louis Weinstock has some excellent insights into that on page 28.) Especially when you know that when you were that age, no one could convince you that you looked perfectly fine, either. Body image feels like a battle we all wage to some degree in our lives. But there’s cause for optimism when there are movements such as my friend Jameela Jamil’s Instagram account @i_weigh, which is an aggressive challenge to the subliminal body judgments women encounter every day.
Esther says her liberated attitude to her body and nudity is a generational thing. I wonder if, like me, she’s simply reached an age where you’re liberated from caring about what other people think. If only we could bottle that and gift it to our children.
I WASTED SUMMERS HIDING IN LONG SLEEVES AND JEANS”