In the news: Body image

This is a post that’s been sitting in my Drafts folder for a while [edit – like, months – I just found it whilst changing over from gai.ninja to bar-barella and have decided to publish and back-date it to the time it was written]. That generally happens when I can’t find the right words to say what I mean (i.e. to say it delicately and not come across as either monumentally smug, a complete dick or as the verbal equivalent of a bull in a china shop). Yesterday I came across an amazing blog that really summed up what I’m going to touch on below, although I will put that in a separate post, since I feel it deserves its own space.

This post was prompted by the release of the findings of a study on body image done here in the UK, and the resulting press coverage. The study was run for four months by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image. The results have meant the issue of body image, despite all women and a fair few men already being acutely aware of it, being catapulted onto the pages of newspapers and blogs. There have been a few good articles, including this one in the Guardian, and of course it’s brought up all sort of other issues, such as the question of whether body image lessons should be taught at school.

It’s this last point that has got me thinking, and I feel that (as usual) the media/government/whoever comes up with this nonsense is missing the point. A lot of this talk of body image seems to see it as a very black and white issue – you’re either happy with your body or you aren’t. There isn’t much talk about how to switch from one state to another, or the issues both positive and negative that surround that switch. So rather than teaching “body image” (what would that involve anyhow?!), why look at it as a sliding scale of shades of grey*, and start getting to the root of what can instigate a positive change: empowerment. And show once empowered we can all start to make that change.

The key to empowerment is knowledge. By actually educating people about the choices available to them to lead a healthy lifestyle – like how to eat properly and enjoy exercise – you are building the foundations for a young person to grow up feeling more confident about themselves. For example, instead of blaming the photoshopped images in magazines, why not discuss why the media portrays women (and, to an air-brushed-pecs and socks-in-boxers extent, men too) this way, and look at the issues around that? Why not teach kids not only about food, but also how to cook? And why not make sports fun, instead of ending up with a situation whereby everyone dreads “games” because they involve traipsing around a cold field in tiny little shorts?

Ultimately, on a personal level, I feel that body image is something that needs to be worked on. We have two sides to us – the rational side that knows what’s correct and sensible, and our frequently irrational emotions that come up with all sorts of nonsensical crap that isn’t really true. Being equipped with the knowledge to empower your rational side gives it the strength to tell your irrational side to STFU and get a grip of itself.

The practical steps of starting to empower yourself only one part of quieting that irrational side though, because in order to make a positive difference in society it’s not only all about you (or me) – it’s about having a positive attitude to other people, and helping them along this same path that we are all on, after all  your own irrational (and insecure) mind is the same one that judges other people.

Spend time focusing on the things that make people truly beautiful; qualities like kindness, integrity, humility and humour. Give yourself a break and resolve with friends, families and colleagues to challenge the default setting of self-criticism, and help each other to do so.

This is in the last paragraph of an article by MP Jo Swinson, the lady at the helm of the Campaign for Body Confidence. Ultimately, it’s the level that change will need to start at, so lets start by trying to live more positively, and bring about a change in eachother and start overcoming

* And no, ladies, I’ve not read that fucking book and I don’t intend to. Years of fighting for equality and women’s rights and the fairer sex goes and ruins it by 10 million of them rushing out to buy a book about a woman getting spanked by some rich dude?! Ugh. 

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