It’s now new year, but just how happy it’ll be for people with body image issues is in doubt. The national body confidence campaigning group Be Real recently carried out a media audit, revealing the increase in diet messaging that every January brings with it.
It warned against the “damaging impact of quick-fix fad diets on body image”, underlining the fact that people felt “an unbearable pressure to conform to an idealistic body shape at all stages of their lives”. Also included in the statement was a standout statistic claiming a fifth of Britons would be willing to sacrifice one of their fingers to have the perfect body.
I’m betting that this would not have come as a surprise to the millions of us who, along with our friends and family, have battled the demons that come with having a body that can feel out of control.
We would all like a quick fix, right? A little button to press that makes our boobs face the same direction, a lever that instantly makes our legs look like hot dogs rather than tree trunks. And who can blame us? I’ve lost five stone (32kg) so many times I get weirded out at night wondering where all those stones went, until I remember I’ve just gone and put them back on again. The shame and exhaustion involved in yo-yo dieting, the humiliation of not being able to find exercise clothes that fit you and then feeling that everyone is judging you at the gym – it’s enough to make the most hardened dieters give up, stay home and hide in the margins of life. But that would be a huge waste of potential.
A few months ago I wrote about bigger women doing yoga and the response was overwhelming. I received so many messages from women who had felt too scared to even ask about classes at yoga schools for fear of not fitting in – literally. Strangers tweeted me, friends’ mums got in touch on Facebook. One of the schools I mentioned in my piece had to field hundreds of inquiries about places the day it was published.
That’s one article, and it was about yoga, which isn’t everyone’s bag, so my guess is there are loads of bigger people out there who are secretly desperate to try windsurfing, ice-skating, zip-wiring, trampolining, scuba diving, velodrome cycling, glow-in-the-dark spin or street dancing – but who don’t because of their size, who are understandably fearful of trying these things.
But the fact is we mustn’t be. Not because we have an obligation to be thin, to be attractive in a certain way, or because a former Apprentice candidate says we should, but because we all have a duty to enjoy our life and to really live it. We shouldn’t put off doing the things we want to do until we are thin. We shouldn’t wait, we should do them now.
Health At Every Size (HAES) is a hashtag, a community and an organisation but it’s more than that: it is a movement. People no longer believe that the war on obesity works, but rather that it is a painful war on the obese.
Rather than being bullied into doing things you don’t enjoy because it worked for someone else, you could adopt the HAES ethos, which is that we should all feel the confidence to be ourselves, as we are now, doing the things that make life exciting. The irony is we will all be fitter and healthier if we do, no matter what our size.
It’s all very well my saying this when it can be hard to find a scuba suit in a size 22. Plus, what’s the point in you being all crazily positive, enthusiastically bounding into a contemporary dance class, if the teacher is an ignorant, unhelpful body fascist?
The fact is that unless bigger people start inhabiting these places, nothing will change. The only answer is to be prepared for that possibility (it’s definitely not inevitable, as I found with yoga) and be unrepentant – challenge them to work with you.
As for clothes, use all TEN of your fingers, if you’re lucky enough to have them, to write and schedule an onslaught of emails to sportswear manufacturers, asking for a range of beautiful gear in bigger sizes, now. After all, we’re the ones meant to be getting fitter.