I was bullied a lot growing up and it was usually by other girls, and it was usually related to looks. One experience that’s stayed with me was when I was about 13 years old and I started to sprout some breasts. I probably did go from a relatively flat chest to an attractive B-cup at quite a fast rate. Some of my peers took exception to this.
A group of 3 girls started teasing me, saying I was stuffing my bra and that what was in there couldn’t possibly be for real. They forced me to go to the toilets and take off my bra to prove I hadn’t stuffed it. Then they threw toilet roll on the floor themselves and pretended that they found it in my bra, so I couldn’t win, despite my innocence.
When I reflect on that hurtful day now, I realise how ridiculous it was that such young girls were obsessed about the size of each others’ breasts. This sort of awareness could only have been propagated by the media to which we’d been exposed. We were girls about to be women, and we worried about living up to certain standards of supposed femininity from a very early age.
Looking back on pictures of my young self now, I think about how I wasted so much of that time worrying about how I looked. I sometimes come across old pictures of myself and think that I looked pretty good, but I didn’t realise it at the time. I loved teen magazines, and they – along with my peers who’d also been looking at those magazines and comparing themselves and others to the hotties on music video television – led me to believe the following about myself:
- I had too much hair. I was obsessed with perfect depilation, particularly on my legs, and worried endlessly about the shape of my eyebrows.
- My hair never fell perfectly across my shoulders like the cartoon princess hair I craved.
- My skin was not smooth and flawless enough. Why didn’t it look silky like the skin of the girl on the cover of the magazine?
- My skin was too pale. Cue endless tanning and no doubt sun damage today as a result.
- My lips were too fat. My friends thought their lips were too thin. Who cares about lip shape really?
- My stomach was not flat enough. I was perfectly thin when I was young but I didn’t think my skin should fold at all when I sat down.
I realise now that my worry was created by the false expectations about beauty that surrounded me. That is why I’m writing this post in support of the Be Real Body Image Pledge. It’s a national movement, supported by Dove UK, which is campaigning for the advertising, fashion, music and media industries to show more reality and diversity.
Current technology and the propagation of sharing selfies on social media is putting more pressure than ever on people to look a certain way. A recent study commissioned by Dove showed that when this leads to low body-esteem, it can also lead to opting out of important life activities such as seeing family or leaving the house. The study also showed that 80% of UK females wish the media did a better job of realistically portraying women in all their authentic beauty and diversity.
The pledge asks organisations that sign up to attempt to reflect diversity and reality in their advertising, and focus on promoting health and well-being.
Making a difference as a body confident parent
Being a mum of two boys who is (ahem) approaching middle age, remaining body confident is still a challenge at times. Having children changes your body forever, and I am still learning to accept aspects of it that are new to me. I still have to ignore messages in the media telling me that I need to be a certain shape which may not be a realistic goal for me. As I age, I’m also trying to ignore messages telling me I should worry about gray hairs and fine lines. Someday the wrinkles will be everywhere and I’ll wish I’d appreciated my only fine-lined face while I still had it.
And I know my sons will be getting messages too about how both women and men should look. It is my job to try and show them how to interpret these. So here is what I think I can do as a parent to support the Be Real Body Image Pledge:
- I will let my sons see me feeling happy and confident in my own skin. I will not point out my physical flaws (as I perceive them) aloud.
- I will not comment negatively on the way other people look. If you don’t have anything nice to say…
- I will support brands and media outlets that portray realistic body images.
- When they are old enough to understand, I will talk with them about how what they see in the media is not always a full portrayal of reality.
- I will teach them to respect their own bodies and the bodies of others.
I’m not saying it’s easy or straightforward, but as with many things, awareness of what needs to change is the first step towards changing things.
Standards of beauty have changed throughout history, and we can choose to see the beauty in the everyday, rather than getting increasingly obsessed with fantastic, technology-enhanced images. We can learn to focus on health, activity, kindness and community, rather than a pleasing angle that would be more attractive in a piece of architecture than on a human being. If our children are presented with true beauty to which they can realistically aspire, we can have greater hopes for them to have a healthier future.
I created this post as a competition entry in support of Dove and the Be Real Body Image Pledge. You can show support for this campaign by using the hashtag #PledgeToBeReal on social media.