So, enough talk of Bridget Jones. Negative thinking about our bodies has serious consequences. Thoughts lead to behaviours and, from my own experience and those of others I’ve met, the behaviours we’re talking about here are dieting, bingeing, starving, pinching, poking, purging, over-exercising, pill-taking, cosmetic surgery, stomach surgery and many many more. Is there anyone out there who hasn’t tried at least one of the above? Does that list make you angry? Does it make you sad? Do our beautiful bodies really deserve such abuse? Anger prompted me to start this blog. I went to bed angry on International Women’s Day and woke up angry on the first day of Lent. Angry about the minutes, hours, days and years I’ve wasted thinking the way I looked wasn’t good enough.
TV presenter Penny Smith says in the Mail today she wants Darcy Bussell’s body. She wants a “weeny bottom, skinny arms and long legs”. Yes, I can relate to those thoughts – but are they helpful? I was never meant to look like Darcy Bussell and neither was Penny Smith. While the causes of eating disorders are multiple and varied, I know from my own experience of disordered eating that the constant striving for an unattainable goal, for my idea of ‘perfection’ was a major contributor – especially because once I reached what I’d thought was my goal size, I still wasn’t thin enough.
There are 1.15 million eating disorder sufferers in the UK, 15 percent of them male, according to Beat, the UK Eating Disorders Association. Binge eating disorder and bulimia are more common than the better-known anorexia, although one fifth of anorexia sufferers will die prematurely from health consequences. A recent survey by Girl Guiding UK found that 47 percent of girls thought the pressure to look attractive was the most negative part of being female. It also found that half of young women aged 16-21 would consider cosmetic surgery and over 1 in 10 girls aged 11-16 would consider going under the knife. That doesn’t sound like a nice way to grow up.
Fortunately, there are plenty of people out there who are worried about these statistics and I’ll be featuring many of them here over the next 39 days. In the UK today, the issue of negative body image has entered the mainstream political debate. Lib-Dem MP Jo Swinson and Equality Minister Lynne Featherstone launched the Campaign for Body Confidence last year and it’s gaining traction. Now, as a former political correspondent, I’m supposed to put my cynical hat on when politicians get involved but this blog is about building people up, not about knocking them down. Both MPs spoke passionately last Friday at the Endangered Species Summit in London about the need to challenge negative body thoughts and promote diversity of shape and form in the media and fashion industries and in schools.
So now to an organisation that’s doing an amazing job to challenge negative body image: Body Gossip. Founded by Ruth Rogers, Body Gossip invites the public to write in with stories about their bodies and then a selection of them are performed live on stage or in short films by celebrities. Natalie Cassidy, Anne Diamond and Nikki Grahame are all onboard, amongst other celebs. To get a taste of how powerful this can be, please check out this video: This One is For You.
That video certainly brought a tear to my eye and it might have the same effect on anyone who’s struggled with similar issues. We really weren’t meant to live in such a prison.
So, instead of thinking about what are bodies look like or don’t look like, why not celebrate them for what they can do? More on that later, but in the meantime, here’s three simple tips I’ve come up with over the past 24 hours as I’ve tried to abstain from negative body thoughts:
- If you find yourself frowning at your face in the mirror, SMILE
- When you look in the mirror first thing in the morning, hair disshevelled, face pale, say “You’re beautiful” instead of groaning
- Find a life-affirming book to read or say positive affirmations while sitting on the loo instead of trying to work out if your thighs are thinner or fatter today (too much information?!)