Tonight I’ve been watching I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here with my Mum. Don’t judge me; she controls the remote and it’s not something you want to argue with her about. Anyway, tonight, Lucy Pargeter from Emmerdale and Olympic swimmer Rebecca Adlington were having a conversation with Amy Willerton (Miss Universe Great Britain 2013) about beauty pageants and how young girls are being taught that they need to be beautiful, nothing less. The conversation ended with Adlington bursting into tears as she thought about some terrible comments she’d gotten about her looks on Twitter, and Willerton coming across a little vain, even though she hadn’t acted that way in the slightest. It was interesting, if a little unsettling.
Then I checked my Facebook feed, and the first thing that appeared was the Lad Bible’s Cleavage Thursday winner. For those not in the know, every Thursday, attractive women with good cleavages submit racy photographs of themselves showing off said cleavage in the hope of winning this prestigious contest. Before anyone cries ‘Why the hell are you supporting this, by liking their page?!’, I must add that they also post funny photos and whatnot that don’t make any mention of boobs. A poor excuse but I’m a sucker for comedy.
In a nutshell, it seems like the media just can’t stop talking about beautiful women, or how to be a beautiful woman, or why beautiful women are making the rest of us feel bad. It’s everywhere. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, newspapers, magazines, blogs. Why the fixation on a girl’s weight, or the size of a girl’s boobs, or whether she’s got a thigh gap or not? Why do we care? And why is it so hard not to care?
I genuinely am stumped. Those questions weren’t rhetorical; apologies to anyone who thought I might actually be able to answer them. Like any other young woman, I too get completely sucked into this vortex of diets and ombre hair and fake tan. The amount of time I spend getting ready in the morning is completely disproportionate to the transformation that actually takes place. Yeah I look a bit less tired and you can’t see my spots, but I can’t turn myself into Rosie Huntington-Whitley either. But that’s not good enough, so I keep trying every wonder product out there in the hope that it’ll change my bone structure, alter my colouring and stretch me a foot taller, bankrupting myself in the process.
This obsession with our looks and bodies can have devastating consequences for some women. Of course, an eating disorder is a psychological condition. But for a young girl being bombarded with images of the ideal girl, the sexiest girl, the most desirable girl, this is what can tip her over the edge. It’s an incredibly dark, lonely place to be. You scream at yourself that you’re disgusting, you’re enormous, you’re never going anywhere in life, you’re a horrific person because you ate that piece of chocolate. You develop a will of steel; abstaining from food, mentally patting yourself on the back for choosing an apple over lunch. People are telling you how fantastic you look after losing a few pounds, but when they start to tell you not to go any further, you just reassure yourself that you’re going in the right direction. Rather than showing off your new svelte figure, you’re swaddling yourself in layers so people can’t see how hideous you look, according to your assaulted brain. You scratch at your stomach with your nails, wishing you could tear off the fat completely. You disgust yourself.
And when you do cave in to food, due to hunger, dizziness or just sheer temptation, the guilt consumes you like you shoved that bread roll into your mouth. It’s horrendous. It was after I had a complete binge at work one Saturday and I found myself trying to make myself sick as soon as I got home, that I realised something had to give. Yeah, I wanted to be skinny, but was this how I wanted to live my life? I was exhausted, always cold, my skin was riddled with spots, my bones were sticking out in places they never had before, my concentration levels had plunged, I avoided social situations involving food. My digestive system was wrecked from laxatives; it’s taken nearly a year for it to get back to normal. My hair was falling out in clumps. You might not believe it, but this was after a mere four months of ‘dieting’. Four months.
I don’t know what clicked in my head that day, to make me realise I needed to stop. I had an inkling that the contraceptive pill was using had been making me feel a little down, so I stopped taking it instantly. The improvement in my mood was incredible and instantaneous. It was coming up to Christmas and I knew I wouldn’t be able to avoid food at home without rousing any more suspicion that hadn’t been growing already. And I didn’t want to do this anymore. I was utterly miserable. So I stopped.
And everyday, I think how lucky I was that I could stop. That I didn’t take myself any further down that road, beyond a point of no return. Most people still don’t know about it or at least the extent of it, including my parents. My boyfriend only realised what I’d been doing to myself a few months later, when I told him everything. He didn’t really understand how serious it was until I told him about the laxative bit. Then he was stunned. With the help of a little bit of counselling I was able to return to normal eating habits; my concentration returned, my hair stopped falling out, I was less tired. And most importantly, I became happy again.
This change didn’t happen overnight. My metabolism has really suffered; these days if I try to lose a couple of pounds it takes weeks. My self-esteem has taken a long time to recover, and it’s still not fully there. It’s affected my relationship in the past. Sometimes, those thoughts pass through my mind still; that I could starve myself again if I wanted to, that I’d look great if I skipped lunch everyday. Thankfully, I don’t listen to those voices anymore. I’ve realised that being thin is not always the same as being healthy. I never want to put myself through that again.
I don’t think that what happened to me is at all unusual. And it’s certainly not an example of the extreme. But some people do take things further. I don’t blame the media for causing eating disorders, but I do blame them for feeding on insecurity, purely for the sake of selling issues, increasing hits or selling products. I want to work in the fashion world, preferably in the media side of things. Some might call me crazy, but maybe I think I can make a difference, however small. Fashion is by no means the problem here, it’s the espousal of the idea that one cannot enjoy fashion if one is not of supermodel proportions. It’s just wrong.
I don’t hate thin people. Sometimes I get a bit envious of a slim figure, but that’s all. I’m not thin, although I’m not large either. Something which also bothers me is the ‘real woman debate’ – why should a naturally slim women feel like she’s not a real woman because she doesn’t have Kelly Brooks’ hips? This can be just as damaging as vilifying women who are not slim. We should all be trying to be healthy; not skinny or curvy or anything else. I struggle with the health thing at times; mostly because I tend to choose going to dinner over going to the gym. But hey, nobody’s perfect right?