FIGURING IT OUT
PODCAST, BODY CONS, IS ABOUT ALL THINGS BODY IMAGE. HERE, ITS CO- FOUNDER, LOTTIE STOREY, REFLECTS ON THE IMPORTANCE OF FEELING POSITIVE ABOUT OUR BODIES
For most of us, looking back on old pictures can be a bittersweet trip down Memory Lane. We were so young, we were so beautiful… yet somehow we didn’t even realise it. If only our younger selves had embraced our looks and celebrated our bodies at the time – seen the beauty hidden in plain sight.
But whilst hindsight might give us enough space to see ourselves more objectively and more compassionately, is it possible to change how we feel about our bodies in the present?
Research around body image – put simply, the way we think and feel about our bodies – suggests it’s an area with room for improvement. British women have some of the lowest body image scores in the world. Research by the Mental Health Foundation reveals that nearly half of British adults feel that “how you look affects what you can achieve in life” and nearly one third feel that “your value as a person depends on how you look”. Only 19% of women felt satisfied with their body image in the past year, whereas 34% of women felt down or low. And the effects of this dissatisfaction go well beyond influencing what we wear – having an impact on happiness and confidence, at one end of the spectrum; at their most
extreme, manifesting as eating disorders and body dysmorphia.
So why is dissatisfaction with our bodies so prevalent? Experts agree that portrayals of women in the media do nothing to help. Certain ‘idealised bodies’ are disproportionately represented on TV, in films, magazines and on social media: images of women who are young, white, slim, able-bodied, beautiful and clearskinned are widespread, yet represent only around 2% of the population. Little wonder, then, that so many of us feel marginalised by these persistent ‘ideals’. A growing body positivity movement says that this cannot go on.
High profile campaigners such as Jessamyn Stanley (@mynameisjessamyn), Natalie Lee (@stylemesunday) and Megan Jayne Crabbe (@bodyposipanda) offer an alternative. Megan shares positive messages, inclusive images and lots of joyful dancing with over a million followers on Instagram who are inspired by how she embraces her body as well as her knowledge – the basis of her bestselling book,
Body Positive Power (Vermilion). Countering the barrage of unrealistic images with more representative bodies and positive messages genuinely does help, both online and off.
Sometimes, however, it’s real life that’s
answerable for lower body confidence. Low self-esteem around looks is something most of us associate with teenage years, as our bodies are transformed. Yet change doesn’t end with puberty; motherhood, menopause, and ageing in general all prompt the need to recalibrate your relationship with your body.
Suzi Grant is the author of a blog and book, both called Alternative Ageing, inspiring readers to look good and feel great regardless of age. “I hate the term anti-ageing because we are anti-war, anti-poverty, anti-cruelty…”, she says. “Why on earth would we be ‘anti’ something that we can’t avoid? I have lost so many relatives and friends younger than me, sometimes much younger, that I am grateful for every action-packed day.”
As Suzi says, health scares or loss often trigger a different approach. Midlife and beyond can be a time when our focus shifts away from appearance and towards functionality. There’s nothing like the spectre of serious illness to really make you grateful for a body that works. But other changes can have an impact, too.
Perhaps the most significant change of all arrives with the menopause, which, among a long list of symptoms, can also affect body image. GP Dr Louise Newson, founder of
“Instead of fighting against our changing bodies as we age, we should focus on what we can do”
Newson Health Menopause & Wellbeing Centre, explains: “Many women experience menopausal symptoms several years before periods stop – things like fatigue, memory problems, low mood and concentration.” Adjusting oestrogen levels can in some cases counter these symptoms: “When our hormones are balanced, it becomes easier to exercise and eat better, so our weight stabilises,” says Dr Newson. “Anxiety often reduces, too, and women generally feel better about themselves and their bodies.”
Instead of fighting against our changing bodies as we age, we should focus our energies on what we can do and the things we have to be grateful for, right now. As the late Doris Day so wisely said, “The really frightening thing about middle age is the knowledge that you’ll grow out of it.” Think ahead a decade or so. Will today’s swimsuit shot really look so bad in ten years? It’s time to start loving our bodies as they are now.