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Last month Channel 5 broadcasted ‘Me and my eating disorder,’ detailing six individual’s struggle with eating disorders. This article recount’s the experience of Cheryl (28) and Adam (34) who both suffered from binge eating.
“Growing up I’d always been good at athletics; I did the long jump and 4 x 100 relay. I started puberty roughly around the age of eight. By the time I was ten I was fitting into adult clothes and I was wearing a 34 double D bra. I looked like a grown woman with a baby face. I hated my body at that age; I hated it. I would have done almost anything to get the body I had before back. I was full of anxiety, no one had ever taught me how to deal with negative emotions before, if anything that made me feel uneasy happened, I'd eat. For me it [eating] was all that I had, I didn't have anything else. .......
“I was always slightly self-conscious about my body, even when I had no reason to be. I never felt that I looked like everyone else. I would look at someone who is perhaps bigger than me, or the same size as me, but in my head I was a lot fatter than them. I was always bigger than them, I was always more wobbly than them. So I wouldn’t take my blazer off at school, even on the hottest days, because of how I felt I looked… because of one comment….
In the last few days the truth that everyone dies
has been laid bare by two stories illustrating the very different ways that
individuals suffering from terminal cancer approached their own death. Heidi
wants to live for many reasons, the main one being to see her two young sons
grow up. ‘JS’, a 14 year old girl, wanted time in order to experience much more
of what life has to offer.
Heidi Loughlin was diagnosed (while she was pregnant) with a rare form of breast cancer last year. She delayed her treatment to save her baby, but sadly the little girl who was born early at 28 weeks, died a week later. Heidi has been told that she has two-and-a-half years to live. Speaking to the BBC she outlined her thoughts about dying, her children and how she intends to live the remainder of her life:
“It's all about the kids, I'm not scared this is so morbid but I'm not scared to die; I'm not scared of the process. I am massively worried about saying goodbye, maybe they'll think I've abandoned them or something; I'm terrified about that. I just want them to know how much I love them.
“I have horrifying moments where I am wailing and
devastated and then I lay there and think ‘well this is really my life.,… that's
scary. Then I think you need to get a grip of yourself because actually you're
not dead yet are you? You feel fine don't you, therefore crack on”.
Before she died, JS won a court ruling granting her wish for her body to be cryogenically preserved (frozen) so that she can be brought back to life at some point in the future. In a letter to the court she’s stated:
“I have been asked to explain why I want this
unusual thing done. I’m only 14 years old and I don’t want to die, but I know I
am going to. I think being cryo‐preserved gives me a chance to be cured and
woken up, even in hundreds of years’ time.
“I don’t want to be buried underground. I want to live and live longer and I think that in the future they might find a cure for my cancer and wake me up. I want to have this chance. This is my wish.” JS’s body has now been preserved in the US.
Both Heidi’s and JS’s poignant accounts clearly show that health and being healthy should be the number one priority for everyone. Beauty/attractiveness, celebrity and power, which are all highly valued in our society, means very little if a person is suffering from health issues.
If you are a supporter of cosmetic surgery can you still call yourself a feminist? One side of the debate argues that Feminisms is defined as the ‘advocacy of women's rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes’. It is not about what women can, cannot, should or should not do. Therefore, if a woman makes the choice to have cosmetic surgery, it’s her self-determining right to do what she wants with her own body and nothing to do with feminism par se.
Those on the opposite side of the argument dismiss this rationale as watered down feminism. They contend that by improving the way that you look via cosmetic surgery; you are by all intent and circumstances giving in to male dominated pressures to look good.
The vast majority of cosmetic surgery patients are female (over 90%). The main reason cited for having surgery is to look and feel better. In the book The Beauty Myth, author Naomi Wolf states that the beauty industry has its foundations in a belief system that maintains and reinforces male dominance e.g. attractive women earn 12% more than their less attractive coworkers. This fact encourages many females to take steps to enhance their physical appearance. Many feminists therefore feel duty bound to push against male dominance. The makeup free movement in the 70’s, 80’s and more recently the mass posting of makeup free selfies epitomizes this point of view.
Recently (much to her surprise) journalist, author and feminist Angela Neustatter found herself at the centre of heated criticism after revealing that she’d had eye-lift surgery. Discussing the story with Channel 5’s Matthew Wright comedian Arabella Weir, who also had eye surgery, argued that modern feminism should be about women showing understanding and supporting one another in the choices they make. In response Mr Wright disagreed, reasoning that the more women have surgery to improve their appearance or to reduce the evidence of ageing, the more people will believe that they have to look good in order to compete on an equal playing field with female peers in the workforce. Similarly, psychologist Ross Taylor maintains that the normalisation of cosmetic surgery and proliferation of ads plays into body insecurities; leading to more and women deciding to undergo cosmetic surgery.
Explaining why she decided to have eye surgery, Mrs Weir stated that she’d had the procedure because she was on television and “wants to stay on television as long as I can”. She also emphatically denied that she was “letting down the sisterhood” adding that she is “very confident, educated privileged and didn't feel [male related] pressure and had always believed that she had to take control of her own destiny professionally and in every other way. In consequence she concluded that her surgery was therefore not anti-feminist in nature.
“You have to be cruel to be kind”, is a saying that points to an individual doing or saying something that may initially upset someone, because they think it will benefit them in the long term. E.g. telling a child they are not tall enough to be a model and encouraging them to focus on excelling in another career.
A song by Nick Lowe titled ‘cruel to be kind’, also focuses on the positive aspects of this approach. The song’s chorus states:
You've gotta be cruel to be kind, in the right
Cruel to be kind, it's a very good sign
Cruel to be kind, means that I love you, baby
(You've gotta be cruel)
You gotta be cruel to be kind
In the video below we see a mother’s deliberate cruelty towards her overweight daughter; reasoning that she is being cruel to be kind or carrying out ‘tough love.’
The video shows that it is possible to get it (being cruel to be kind) very wrong. In it the mother’s actions, whatever her intension, inflicts emotional pain and embarrassment on her daughter. The mother states she loves her daughter and tells her so, but her daughter is doubtful, as her mother’s actions are cruel and devoid of love.
Alanah thinks she is ugly, which could not be further from the truth. She suffers from Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), a condition that causes people to become obsessed with perceived defects in their appearance. It's thought about one in 50 people suffer from BDD, but many of us - and even some doctors - are unaware of its existence.
"I thought it was cruel for other people to have to see my face, that it really is disgusting," says 20-year-old Alanah.
"I see marks all over my face, which my mum has
told me that she does not see. I see my skin is just bumpy and blemished. I see
my nose is way too big and crooked and sticks out too much. My eyes are too
Alanah is a beautiful young woman, but when she looks in the mirror she does not see what others see.
She suffers from Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD),
and when her condition was at its worst she repeatedly checked her appearance in
the mirror, taking pains to disguise any flaws she thought she saw. Her make-up
routine could take up to four hours, and even after this she often felt too
anxious to leave the house.
"My routine at the time was four or five layers of foundation and concealer. Eye make-up always had to be done as well, very heavy eye make-up, and it would just be constant," says Alanah. "So every little imperfection I'd have to keep touching up and keep going over and doing the same thing again and again."
As a mother of two teenagers, the recent discussion surrounding the airbrushing of official school photos has caught my attention and forced me to ask myself the question: would I allow school photo’s of my children to be airbrushed? In UK schools, photo editing does not fundamentally change the physical appearance of pupils. This is in sharp contrast to America and Australia, where freckles can be removed, the shape of noses changed and makeup added.
When I was at school, the photoshopping of school photos was not an option. We all had to accept our photo whatever we looked like; spots, large teeth, prominent ears, sticking up hair and untidy or stained clothing. If you were lucky the photos you didn’t like were placed in a draw and largely forgotten. If not, you found yourself regularly bumping into the unflattering image hanging on a wall at school or at home. One thing I do remember about my generation of school photos is that most people were dissatisfied with their image, it was essentially a warts and all situation.
Technological innovations have created a very different world. Today it is possible to take countless digital photos of yourself, edit them as desired, add your choice of a multitude of filters and then posting ‘perfect’ ones online for the world to see. It is easy to see how the increasingly normal practice of photo editing has migrated to school photos. Photo editing is not confined to young people. 68% of adults admit to editing their selfies before sharing them (Fstoppers).
Another important aspect of the discussion is to examine who benefits from the airbrushing of school photos? Is it the children or their parents? Modern children, phone in hand, take so many photos of themselves and each other, that it is unlikely that their school photo carries much importance. School photos are therefore much more important to parents, so it begs the question are they trying to get their children to look as good as possible? Are some parents more interested in a perfect school photo than one that is a true and accurate reflection of their child at the moment the picture was taken? Speaking personally, I would rather have an accurate record of what my children actually looked like. This becomes particularly important when comparing images of them that have been taken over time (several years) to see how they have changed.
Photoshopping photos e.g. the removal of a spot to make someone feel better about themselves, while not changing them fundamentally, is on the surface, harmless and perhaps even a positive thing to do. However, the practice does run the unintended risk of leaving some children feeling that their natural self is not good enough, which is clearly negative psychologically speaking. The message that accompanies the decision to edit a school photo is therefore an extremely important one.
Diet Chef’s recent advertisement has been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for being “irresponsible”.
Diet Chef intended the ad, presented in the classic ‘before and after’ genre, to depict ‘Cheryl’s’ (actress) success after making changes that ultimately achieves the results (weight loss) she desired. In the ad, a slimmer looking Cheryl tells her former fuller self: "I know how you feel; you can look that good again, you know," and "I bought a bikini last week, for the first time." In response the earlier Cheryl says: "You look amazing. I never dreamed I could be that slim again."
The ASA received 26 complaints from individuals who objected to the DietChef ad, on the grounds that:
- it exploited female body related insecurities by inferring that being slim bought happiness.
- It suggested that overweight women did not take care of their health or appearance e.g. slim Cheryl was more groomed and better dressed.
Accepting the arguments of the complainants, the ASA banned the ad saying it implied that -
- " weight loss was the only solution to her problems" and
- " those with insecurities about their bodies, and particularly their weight, could only achieve happiness and self-confidence through weight loss”.
The agency therefore “concluded that the ad presented a socially irresponsible approach to body image and breached the code.” It also ruled that the advert must not appear again in its current form; telling Diet Chef that it had: "to ensure that their products were advertised in a socially responsible way".
Below is a thought provoking video about scars from body confidence activist Michelle Elmam.
Transcript:Scars aren't ugly. We all have scars, whether they’re emotional or physical. Some of us just wear the evidence on our skin.
Before the age of 20 I'd had 15 surgeries. I've had a brain tumor, a punctured intestine, an obstructed bowel, a cyst in my brain and a condition called hydrocephalus; and I have the scars to show for it. I spent years struggling to accept these marks. At first I asked why me? Then I learnt to hide them. Now I've used my adversity to inspire others to embrace their bodies.
Over the last two years I've built an online community where not only are your scars welcomed, but the stories behind them as well. It's important to give people a voice and a platform in which those voices are heard. In this community stories like mine are shared and I'll given the visibility they deserve. It's time we broaden the conversation of body positivity. No one should have to feel ashamed of their body. I will scores are part of our story and we should wear them with pride.