I have a career where I wear many hats. Whether I’m in actress, writer, producer or stylist mode, I have to get my brain into the appropriate headspace. Alas, these hats are metaphorical as apposed to actual – my headwear collection would rather more impressive otherwise.
Having been on both sides of the camera I’ve come to understand a great deal about body issues. A few years back I was booked for a TV commercial for a high profile beauty brand. I was dead chuffed to have been chosen from the dozens of hopefuls; I strolled into the fitting session brimming with confidence. After about an hour of with wardrobe, 15 folks from the ad agency and the director ambled in and sat around critiquing my looks as though I wasn’t there. One the adjectives used to describe my appearance was ‘chunky’.
Let me be clear, I’m no waif; I’m five foot nine and have legs that a rugby player would be proud of. She-Hulk quads aside, I usually wear a size 8 and have a 23 inch waist, which by most people’s standards does not qualify for ‘chunky’. My earlier confidence dissolved into a sad puddle of insecurity and self-consciousness. Luckily for me, when it came to the shoot I had a lovely hair and makeup team who were very supportive and gave me the boost I needed. The shoot went well and I left the set a happy bunny. None the less, the experience gave me insight into how it feels to have your body brutally objectified.
With my fashion hat on, I’ve photographed models strutting down the runway that appear on brink of death. This sounds hyperbolic, but rest assured, it isn’t. Jutting collarbones, skeletal legs and protruding ribs don’t scream beauty – they whisper terrible sickness. If stripped of the designer clothes and heavy makeup the true state of their health would be painfully clear. I must say that not all the models I’ve photographed have looked sickly; many are just naturally slender and are perfectly healthy.
The fashion industry has played its part in putting pressure on women to conform to a lean ideal. Designers often make their samples in teeny-tiny sizes that would be appropriate for a seven-year-old child, not a grown woman. Already tiny models find themselves too big for the clothes, forcing editors to book smaller and smaller models. Editor in Chief of British Vogue, Alexandra Shulman, has spoken out about the street urchin proportions of sample sizes and made moves to dispel the beauty myths that magazine shoots promote.
Fashion is culpable to a certain extent, but to place 100% of the blame at the industry’s door is to ignore the bigger picture. The average person in the UK is over weight; hence most of the population are on diets most of the time. The cruel joke is that diets don’t work. If they were effective everyone would go on one, achieve their ideal weight and that would be that. The diet industry is a multi-billion pound business and its ultimate goal is to keep us fat so we continue embarking on futile diets. Yet the food that is readily available is loaded with artificial nastiness that has no business in the human body – our metabolisms don’t know what to do with the nutritionally null calories and it’s stored as fat. Big business colludes to keep us fat, yet yearning to be thin; the system sets us up for failure and results in unhealthy attitudes to food.
To suggest a solution to this negative cycle is like wrestling a soggy mattress up a spiral staircase. However, being a foolhardy optimist I’ll attempt to do so. First off, it’s important to recognise the images in magazines for what they are – fantasy. They’re artistic propositions that don’t reflect reality, to compare oneself to these images is asking for trouble. Models, whether they are healthy or otherwise, have a genetic pre-disposition to be tall and thin. If you happen to have these traits that’s lovely, if you don’t, fret not. Not having the body of a Victoria Secret model doesn’t mean that you can’t look the business.
Secondly, and more importantly, don’t equate self-esteem with low body mass. Off course regular exercise and healthy food is advisable for overall wellbeing, but basing one’s self worth on the numbers on the scales is like betting placing all your eggs in a hole ridden basket. It’s considerably easier said than done, but we need to base confidence on things that are more tangible than weight. Being thin doesn’t make you a success any more than being fat equals failure. Constant comparison to other women is not only unhealthy, but futile; another woman’s attractiveness doesn’t detract from your own – it’s not like there is a finite amount of beauty in the world that once claimed is used up. Value yourself on solid merits, focus on your strong points and aim for good health, both physical and mental. Everything after that is a bonus.