Wednesday, 28 December 2011
Earlier this week my mum got the January copy of a major German women's magazine in the post and most of the front page was covered with stuff about the new version of the diet they have been pushing on people for as long as I can remember. It doesn't matter which magazine I was holding in my hands because if you go to a news stand at this time of the year you could pick up pretty much any magazine aimed at a female market and there would be yet another new year's diet somewhere in there.
When I see those magazines I can't help but be angry. Not just annoyed, but angry. Angry because everybody keeps blaming fashion magazines and advertising for young women having low self-esteem and body-image issues yet nobody seems to care about the effect these magazines that are marketed as being for 'real women' and we, ourselves, have on each other.
Think about the last time you felt truly fat and ugly. If you have never felt ugly in your life, then I'm incredibly jealous, but for everyone else - I don't know about you, but I don't feel fat or ugly when I look at a fashion magazine in which a 15 year old super-skinni girl is wearing some fabulous dress. I know that a) I'm old and b) even if I stop eating for a year and exercise like crazy I'll never look like that.
And that's ok because a) for me fashion is art, and if the dress looks good on a super-skinny girl, then that's what it should be photographed on, and b) some things look good on some people, some on others. I know that I'll never be able to pull off the whole heroin-chic thing unless I start taking illegal substances, but I also know that I probably look better in a fitted 1950s dress than someone who's a size 0 (or at least that's what I keep telling myself). So while I obviously don't know what looking at a fashion magazine makes you feel like, I don't feel it affects my self esteem.
What does affect how I see myself though are the people around me and the magazines I started off talking about. When I think about the times I have felt miserable in my skin (and yes, just like you, I don't like to really think about those times either) over the last 5 years, I definitely don't think about looking at models.
What I think about are past-boyfriends telling me that I had put on weight (after complaining that the dinner I had just cooked for them didn't have cream or meat in it).
I think about family friends telling me that it's amazing that I had lost so much weight (when all I could think about was that earlier that morning I noticed that I could see my ribs sticking out in a bad way).
I remember so-called friends telling me that I should wear make-up more often because 'it makes [me] look less tired and so much more attractive' (after I had just pulled a 100hr week to finish collecting data for a conference deadline and had spent the whole day trying to not cry because I was so exhausted).
I think of a family member telling me that I looked fat (and yes, that's pretty much a direct quote) in the new cardigan I had just spend a week knitting. - I haven't worn that cardigan since.
But I also remember reading the January issue of said magazine for the last 10 years or so and even though I never left the healthy BMI range, even when I was heavier - until a couple of years ago I would look at the success stories in there and think to myself - they were about my size and lost 15 kilos. Does that mean I have to loose that much weight as well? And does it make me a lazy person if I don't want to loose 15 kilos but just 5? And if they had to loose 15 kilos, does that mean I'm actually fatter than I think I am?
I don't mean to say that dieting is a bad thing per-se, and if you are trying to loose weight then eating less calories than what your body burns is always going to be the only natural way to do that. And I most definitely think that a healthy diet is really important. But what I'm worried about is that every January women go on a diet for the wrong reasons. I hope that I have never been the reason for one of you feeling unhappy in your body and if you have just been reading a womens' magazine, there are things so much more important than how much you weight and how much make-up you are wearing.
If you make one New-Year's resolution this time around, don't make it the usual 'I will go on a diet', decide to be good to yourself by eating healthy and by exercising a bit and to be good to the people around you by telling them how beautiful they are, not because they have lost weight but because of who they are.
Note: Thank you, Anna Blanch for comments on the draft version of this post.