“Body image” is not the be-all and end-all, is it?

I see beautiful women everywhere.

On the streets in the daytime or out in the city at nighttime, their not-messy hair, smooth complexions and perfumed auras make my heart all aflutter. Sometimes they even want to be my friend! When I start watching movies or TV dramas, I am treated to glimpses of creatures who are barely human – beings of pure feminine energy who could make you melt into a puddle with one wink. It’s the same with magazines. The same with television, fashion photography and art.

But then I switch off or go home to bed, and everything’s ok. I wake up in the same imperfect body and mind, and life goes on. I think to myself when I see a billboard or TV commercial, “Wow, doesn’t Charlize Theron (or whatever angel they choose) look gorgeous in that dress? I don’t look like her, but it’s cool because there are plenty of other things that are good about me.”

Am I going to agonise over the fact that society loves attractive people? No, because it was always thus for the last gazillion years. And what about the fact that it just so happens that these last few decades it’s been considered more attractive to be more skinny than my actual self? Am I going to demand that all the fashion houses start employing models who look like me, because I’m a “real woman”? Is that going to solve every problem I have ever had in life?

NO I DON’T THINK SO.

I recently learnt, from watching a certain tedious Dove commercial (hey everyone, Dove is a company that sells beauty products), that not every woman considers herself beautiful, although she totally is because strangers think so. Do I need to list all the actual problems facing women today? The advertisement made me feel uncomfortable the way all the incessant internet talk about “body image” does. The truth is that anybody who derives the majority of their self-worth from their appearance is destined to ultimate unhappiness.

Today, for instance, I read about a new “body image initiative” whereby people can dump their fashion magazines into a box that says “Shed your weight problem here”. The group responsible for the installation say this:

Your ads and fashion spreads are an inspiration to many girls and women. We look at your ultra thin models and think – if I’m skinny, I’ll be perfect just like her… All we ask is that you think before you cast and that you consider inspiring us with a look that’s both beautiful and attainable.

Their hearts are obviously in the right place. The thing about beauty and fashion and art, though, is that by being “attainable”, it might lose some of its reason for existing in the first place. Modern-day gals might see Botticelli’s Venus as having a “healthier” body shape than 21st-century supermodels – more “womanly”, as it were – but I’m guessing that Botticelli wasn’t aiming for realism. He, too, was painting a beautiful fantasy goddess, and a work of art that takes us all away from the real world, if only for a few seconds.

Young girls are vulnerable and need to be taught something important – it’s not all about the way you look. It sounds obvious, but something isn’t working if all we are doing is blaming the media for “pressuring” them into disordered eating. Men and women need to be able to appreciate beauty without then hating some part of themselves. As a teenager, I thought I was pretty ugly too. Then I left high school and discovered that actually, people of all shapes and sizes and features are attractive to others. Welcome to the real world, not the world that only exists on pages and big screens. Even those of us who are stunning now might not be forever, and there’s no shame in that. Let’s all move on from “body image” and start really living.

 

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