Turns out I do. I have spent years becoming enraged about social media’s attempts at moulding women into what is perceived as the perfect woman. How could they put this kind of pressure on young women? I remember spending my summers leafing through Shout, Mizz and Top of the Pops, not reading articles about Kim Kardashian’s arse ‘breaking the internet’. However, when looking back it is quite shocking to realise that I was being spoon fed these images for years. Maybe they weren’t as obvious as they are today, yes Kim, we know the exact dimensions of your booty now that we have been punished with your selfie book, ‘Selfish’. Kim, quick note for you, you are selfish. You are selfish for presenting an image that is not only impossible to achieve, but one that has been altered, filtered and chosen by professionals. We do have to admire that Kim is promoting a healthier image than the 90’s twigs such as Kate Moss. Yet this is an image that is still unattainable, even Kim doesn’t have that figure because it is manufactured by an excellent team of people and computer programs.
While proudly straining my neck on my impossibly high pedestal of self-righteousness I realised that I couldn’t possibly argue that these images were ruining the women of today, and that I was one of the only people who really understood what the media was doing because it had already grasped me by its ugly hands. There I was ready to use my level head to give a voice to the real woman and save the rest of the female civilisation before we all turned into body conscious hermits too afraid to leave the house without being judged by every pair of eyes that passed. Then, while I was sucking in my stomach so hard that I nearly passed out naked in front of my bedroom mirror I realised that I hadn’t escaped the herding of vulnerable women everywhere.
Reading ‘The Women’s Room’ gave me the slap in the face that I needed. As much as Marilyn French could be cut throat in her writing, she did reveal a few things that I hadn’t even imagined could have influenced me. French described the relationship between characters in Disney films, there were two sets of women. One set would be Princesses who would live in mansions, with jewels and beautiful clothes, hair and of course bodies. The other set would consist of ragged clothes, having a demeaning job, warts on their noses and just generally down on their luck. That image alone instantly sets off alarm bells, to be successful (like a Princess) you need to be pretty, well dressed and rich. Otherwise, you will be scrubbing floors with a toothbrush in your dirty clothes and talking to animals. Then there are the bitter characters who belittle the girls who are at their beck and call, Ursula was a larger woman, the mole on the face and her companions feared her presence. How about the witch in Snow White? Greying complexion, as many teeth as a one-year-old and the large, protruding nose with the obligatory wart situated at the end. With only a few images, I was able to realise that I too associated success with beauty, possessions and wealth.
Looking back to when I was sixteen years old, fourteen stone and more afraid of make-up than most young children are of clowns, I remember the feelings of inadequacy. Believing that I was disgusting, unattractive and worthless. Every week consisted of me compiling the latest diet and fitness regimes into my shiny, new book ready for the ‘New Me’. Yet the start day never came, I always believed that I would never be able to achieve these goals therefore ending up in a vicious cycle of self-loathing and binge eating. The only comfort I ever found was in a tub of icing, romantic comedies and a baggy pair of fleeced pyjamas so that I didn’t have to be reminded of my ‘disfigured’ body. I could never see that the films I was watching had more of a detrimental effect on me than the icing I was spooning in by the pound. Even the films that you assume will make you feel better would kick you up the arse. ‘She’s All That’ provided an image I could relate to, an outcast girl who had her own passions, yet yearned for some kind of acceptance. That acceptance occurred with a phenomenal make over that stole her the best looking guy in school. That’s when I began to eat my dreams, I was never going to be the happy ending. I distinctly remember having a slight obsession with ‘Never Been Kissed’ because, well, I had never been kissed. Watching as Drew Barrymore threw herself into a situation that she had dreaded in order to have the high school experience that she had always dreamed of gave me goose bumps. I was Drew Barrymore’s high school character, goofy, unattractive and unpopular. Her character managed to bag the guy, of course, and she got the kiss she had longed for. Yet again though, they were circumstances that would not be possible in the real world. My brother can’t come and rescue me with his popularity, and believe me he was popular at school and it didn’t help me one iota. And don’t even get me started on ‘The Princess Diaries’. No matter how much we believe that we are immune to what is being thrown at us, we aren’t. Don’t get me wrong, I know that there are plenty of women who have always been confident and I can do nothing more than applauded their attitude, they let no one affect their mood and I for one am painfully jealous.
Jealousy, however, is never a good look on anyone, especially a twenty-eight-year-old woman who is apparently nearing the age of complete acceptance. I’ve read many times that by the time you are thirty that you will have figured out your entire life and love yourself completely. Not wishing to be too defeatist, but I can’t see how that is going to happen in the next seventeen months. Not that I am counting.
When I look at my beautiful, successful friends and I have a slight pang of jealousy before an overwhelming feel of how proud I am of all of them. For the most, I’ve known my friends from a very young age. I have known my two best friends from our very first day in education and by education I mean playing in sand boxes and clinking milk bottles at break time. I have watched them grow into great women, one has become a mother to two adorable children and I was lucky enough to become their Godmother. I still wonder why she believed that I would be a good candidate for this role, but I trust her judgement as she has made every single great decision that has put her in her own house with her wonderful family. To me, she is an astonishing, strong woman who will never realise what a fantastic mother she is as she is too busy doing what she was born to do.
My other best friend is the polar opposite, she rarely held down a job as she is carefree and detached from any form of responsibility. This to me immediately forms the famous scene in Psycho, the screaming, oh the screaming. Yet she always had such a laid back attitude about the whole situation and that same attitude gained her attention anywhere she went, she’s the kind of person that you immediately feel like you have known half of your life and I love that about her. She knows how to have a good time and lose her inhibitions, even if she calls this the ‘Alcohol Blues’ the day after. Through her many years of floating around she decided to do a course to become a croupier, I won’t lie to you, I genuinely thought this was a fruitless escapade that was just an act to calm her poor mother down who worried about her future. Yet when her course ended she was offered a job on a cruise ship and she has been on one ever since. I can’t begin to describe how envious I am of her having the guts to just throw her fears out of the window and leave home for eight months at a time. She and I are the biggest homebodies around, we would turn up for sleepovers with a car full of ‘necessities’ such as duvets, computers, personal drinks…this hasn’t changed. I have dreamt of leaving the UK and travelling to New York for six months to write and experience the crazy world of NYC. Yet I have never had the guts to do so, she, on the other hand, took her very first flight alone to Australia, can’t get any scarier than that right? However, it didn’t bother her at all. To me, she is my hero. The girl living the dream and I am beyond proud of how she has managed to change her entire life and that she has still managed to keep her laid back attitude. When people ask when she is going to quit the ships and find a man, she responds by asking why she should. Damn right, let the girl have some fun and see the world who else gets opportunities like that? Hence, my hero.
So why is it that in none of these descriptions of my wonderful best friends have I mentioned how big their bums are in comparison to mine (Friend number two wins that prize and it is magnificent)? Why have I not mentioned what they look like at all? The reason is simple, their looks by no means define who they are. If my friend on the cruise ship was a six foot blonde with DD breasts, would that change the description of her that you have read? Probably, yes. You would have imagined someone entirely different as I am giving you an image rather than allowing you imagining one yourself. The image I have now described is one that we have been programmed to think is the epitome of beauty, but why? Why is it acceptable that we all know that the mention of a leggy, big breasted blonde is the goal to be viewed as stunning?
All questions that many of us ask on a daily basis. I view other people in a very different way to how I view myself. Looking at myself I would have to build you an image of someone with a lack of self-control, hence the bags of empty popcorn surrounding me and my body screaming out for a home-cooked meal. That I am self-conscious and constantly comparing my body with that of other women, mainly airbrushed celebrities even though I know that this is logically impossible. What can I say, I’m a sucker for some good old self-loathing on a sunny Sunday afternoon. I’m so lazy that I sometimes wonder whether it would be a good investment to get a stair lift or go the whole hog and get a fully kitted out pensioners home, I deserve the luxury.
I joke constantly when it comes to self-image, but this is a subject that upsets me especially as I only recently realised that I had been sucked into the unhealthy self-image culture that has taken over my generation. More importantly, I am angry that not only has our generation been hit, but that if we don’t take a stand now and begin to make an impact on these issues that another generation will feel the crippling insecurities that many of us do now.
I’m merely one insecure, confused woman wanting to voice the concerns of young women everywhere. Not everyone will feel the way that I have or do, but I know for certain that some will. Just remember, while you’re holding your magazine up against your reflection in the mirror that this image isn’t what forms your character. Just because someone is slim or has the teeth that you would dream of doesn’t mean that they are kind or generous. The friends that I described to you are beautiful, yet you heard about their characteristics and I can guess that you liked the sound of them because of that and not what their physical appearance was.
Admittedly I worry about how I look, if I will ever get rid of the roll of fat on my stomach or if one morning I will wake up and find that I have ingested miracle growth to become five foot eleven. Yet, the thing I worry about the most is whether I am a good person. Have a made the right decisions to ensure someone I have been in contact with left the conversation happy? Am I approachable? Am I kind? Am I generous? Am I loving? These questions are what gain you friends, partners, jobs, opportunities and self-respect. Never forget that.