It’s an ordinary day. Once again, we find ourselves sardined on the underground on our way to work. With our nose firmly wedged into the armpit of a complete stranger and clinging to anything we can get our hands on, the next stop can’t come soon enough. Finally, the doors open and the ‘sardine can’ begins to empty. We watch ordinary people of all shapes, sizes and ethnicity, scramble through open doors. As the rat race of people scurry off to their destinations….
There it is.
ARE YOU BEACH BODY READY?
Well, we thought we were until we saw the tiny waist, super-toned poster girl posturing her ‘beach-perfect’ body on the canary yellow, 45 sheet cross-track billboard poster. Confidently she stands: arms back, chest out, she’s ready to battle! You can almost hear her thinking, “I am a warrior and I will slay you with my beauty!”
As the hustle and bustle of London’s tube life surround us, nudging and scraping past us in a whirlwind of I-have-somewhere-important-to-be, we stand in our own little world, frozen, and wrapped in our thoughts.
It’s hard not to avert our gaze, as the beautiful bikini model stares down on us with eyes narrowed, scrutinising the body that stands before her: our body. Burning holes into our self-worth until it’s nothing but ash upon the ground.
For those of you who keep up with the news, you’ll most likely be aware of the controversy following Protein World’s ‘beach body ready’ campaign. The now infamous ad, starring Australian model Renee Sommerfield, asked commuters whether they were “beach body ready’, insinuating that one must be thin before walking the beach in a bikini. The promotional weight loss advertisement caused outrage among thousands and was considered a shocking example of the cruel and damaging way that society judges women’s bodies. After three weeks of angering feminists and body image campaigners, the billboard poster was removed.
But this isn’t the first time we’ve been in these shoes, cinders around our feet, feeling like our bodies are not good enough. This isn’t the first time we’ve been body shamed into feeling like we should look a certain way. No. advertisements, like Protein World – which first appeared in tube stations in early April – have been shattering our confidence and molding our perceptions of beauty ideals, for years.
From early adolescents, we begin to form an idea of how our bodies should be, well, according to societal standards that is. We are constantly exposed to this dark world of body shaming through, often roofless, magazines that not only shove beauty ideals down our throats with every page turn, but also drag ‘usually’ flawless celebrities down into the gutter by drawing red circles of shame around their ‘flabby bits’. Naturally, we see these unflattering images and feel gratification, a squeal of wicked glee that they, too, are human beings with imperfections! But why must one pull others down to feel good about themselves? Why do sitcoms so frequently use overweight characters’ bodies as the source of many of the show’s jokes? Why are we constantly bombarded with tips about how to lose weight, appear slimmer and hide our “imperfections”?
Aren’t our bodies good enough?
Years of seeing circles of shame in magazines, being suckered into a sea of celebrity ‘imperfections’ and subconsciously processing an endless stream of airbrushed models, has left us believing that true beauty equates to endless perfection. A perfection that doesn’t involve flaws such as cellulite, wrinkles, tummies that stick out or even body hair, for that matter.
If the definition of beauty gets any thinner, soon, no one will fit into it. You only need to scroll through Instagram’s most popular to see the growing obsession with overly exaggerated curves (which of course, some women do naturally possess) However, only a small fraction of women fall into these ideals, and, consequently, feel disheartened when they realise their body goals are essentially unattainable.
All is well and good to appreciate curves. In fact, it makes a welcome change to seeing nothing but size 0 women adorning the pages of our magazines, but it’s also important to keep an open mind. Beauty shouldn’t be constrained to the latest trend or celebrity of the moment, beauty should be appreciated in all shapes and forms. But, of course, this will never be. Not when the media tells us that no matter what we have, it just isn’t good enough.
One minute we’re told that our bum is too big and the next we need to blow it completely out of proportion to the rest of our body. Oh, but it doesn’t stop there because we also need big fake-looking breasts and waists so small we begin to resemble that of Jessica Rabbit. Not forgetting the famous thigh gap, flawless skin and white tooth smile to complete. How can we possibly keep up? Is there any wonder why so many of us have developed unhealthy eating habits in an attempt to attain the unattainable? Because, let’s face it, if we don’t fall into these ideals, we are slammed, shamed or shunned. What is more painful: the feeling of rejection for not looking a certain way or the failure to achieve these beauty ideals?
We simply cannot win!
And now that exaggerated curves are the flavour of the month, anything that doesn’t fit in with this very limited ideal is regarded as unattractive or simply not good enough. Consequently, pictures of perfectly healthy, but seemingly slight celebrities are now being ridiculed for being too thin. The assumption is made that naturally thin women MUST have eating disorders. Headlines such as “TOO SKINNY?” and “Has so and so gone too far?” make the slight framed young women reading them, think that they need curves to be accepted in society. On the contrary, women who teeter on the higher end of the voluptuous scale are body shamed into thinking they are unhealthy, or worse still, undesirable. Magazines and online gossip columns are constantly criticizing any celebrity who dares to put on an inch of weight, callously throwing around terms like “Piling on the pounds”, “Overweight” or just plain “Fat”.
Advertising, magazines and the media have a lot to answer for; with their all-too-common marketing tactics, initially, making their customers feel insecure and inadequate and then promising their products are the cure that will make them feel better about themselves. Clever, eh? I mean, If they didn’t give us something to feel insecure about, they wouldn’t have any way of making money now, would they? However, we can’t pin the blame solely on the media. After all, we do have our own minds and we know only too well how these images have been digitally manipulated within an inch of their lives.
The younger generation, however, are more vulnerable to these marketing ploys, and furthermore, are more likely to experience additional peer pressure to conform to these often unrealistic ideals.
The body shaming we see in the media mirrors the behaviours often seen in high school. The pushing each other into the ground, so we can stand up taller. The putting each other down, to build ourselves up. But why is it that when we are upset, annoyed, or intimidated by someone, we default to criticizing their appearance? Is it a self-defense mechanism? Does it make us feel better about ourselves? Perhaps it’s easier to hide behind body shaming comments rather than confront our true emotions? If we learned to love ourselves, perhaps we wouldn’t feel the need to tear down others? But how can young people learn to love themselves, in a world that constantly tells them not to? In a world that continuously wraps beauty ideals over their eyes, blinding them from seeing the true meaning of beauty. In a world that tells them it’s okay to poke fun at other people’s flaws and insecurities.
Girls don’t wake up and decide to hate their bodies, we teach them to. We teach them in the way we put people into labelled boxes. We teach them in the way we dictate who should wear what clothes. We teach them in the way we tell the voluptuous figured lady she is ‘brave’ for wearing a bathing suit. We teach them in the way we tell the naturally skinny-figured woman she needs more meat on her bones. We teach them in the way we are so quick to judge on first appearances without knowing anything about the people under their skin.
If we all took the time we spend making each other feel bad about ourselves and used it to make each other feel good, the world would be a much better place. Moreover, if we taught girls to focus on attributes other than just their looks, we’d most probably have a lot more happy girls.
How many more times will we stand still in our tracks, gazing at what our culture deems attractive, with a feeling of disappointment in our hearts?
How many more times will we look at our reflection with a feeling of deep self-loathing?
How many more times will we result to the most desperate of measures to chase societies dream?
How many more times will we…
Start a new fad diet?
Work out until our bodies give out?
…And wish that we were anybody but ourselves?
Perhaps the revelation of Protein World’s billboard posters being ripped from the walls might actually be a movement towards the right direction? A “fuck you” to the world, “I’m going to wear my bikini if it offends you or not!” If only we could rip away every beauty ideal stuck stubbornly to the walls of our society. If only we could walk off the tube and embrace the faces of humanity in their many different shapes and forms. Fancy that! A world in which we can celebrate the beautifully rich, amazing diversity of women’s bodies, instead of thinking that only one body type is worthy and desirable.
The size of our waists does not define us, so why do we allow it?
After all those years of hearing ‘not thin enough, not pretty enough, not smart enough, not this enough, not that enough’ we need to realise that it’s not us that needs altering, it’s our culture!
We ARE NOT meat on bones. We ARE NOT numbers on a scale. We are individuals with the right to love our bodies just the way they are, whether we are underweight, overweight or anything in-between.
It’s time to paper over the beauty ideals of our society and paint our own definition of beauty.
EVERYBODY is beach body ready, because…