Trigger Warning: Eating disorders and body image issues are discussed in this article.
I’m not proud to admit I’ve spent much of my life dissatisfied with my body.
And it seems that most people within our so often mocked first world feel the same. Sadder still, there is no age limit for this dissatisfaction. From an elderly woman complaining about the ‘spare tire’ around her middle to a young man slaving at the gym to bulk up, appearance and weight have become an obsession and an absolute priority in modern life.
This body obsession is lucrative. The flourishing diet industry, gyms popping up on every street corner and the hordes of people signing up for these services are testament to this fact. These businesses sell the message that if you are fit and thin you will find ultimate happiness. And while fitness and diet are incredibly important aspects of living a healthy life, when an underweight model delivers this message of health, the line between healthy and unhealthy is blurred.
As the Victoria’s Secret fashion show filled my Instagram feed just a few months ago, I found myself regretting the burger and chips I’d had for lunch. Gazing at their concave stomachs and knowing that none of them had eaten a meal like mine in a long time. I mentally scheduled a salad for dinner.
We all know that the media fuels the modern obsession with appearance by providing an unrealistic image to aspire to.
However, working at a gym for a short time last year opened my eyes to how a place supposedly campaigning for health could contribute to the problem as much as the media.
(Disclaimer: I understand not all gyms and fitness professionals are like this.)
The fitness professionals I worked with were entirely preoccupied by their appearances and obsessively dieted. Their hatred of carbohydrates was particularly baffling. The manager would often buy lunch from Subway but of course, she cannot eat bread, for it is the mortal enemy of the thigh gap. Instead she would return with a salad and a large coke. That’s right, not even a small one, because nothing washes down a carbohydrate-free meal like bucket of sugar water. Logic.
The only thing the staff discussed at the gym, besides Crossfit (apparently Crossfit is the way, the truth and the life, even if it destroys your joints, form, and ability to have a conversation about anything else) was calories, and the body weight of themselves, the gym clientele, and me.
“If you had no cheat meals, go paleo, eat clean, cut out grains, and do Crossfit, you could lose all that weight,” they would tell me, “you’d look and feel so much better.” At one stage, I was advised a diet of one thousand calories a day. A ludicrous amount considering I am nearly six foot tall and require double that simply to sustain life.
Though I knew their diets would likely leave them with osteoporosis, and I felt physically fine, their words fuelled the message that my body was inadequate and unattractive. Despite standing at 180cm and wearing a size 10, nowhere near needing to lose weight, over time, I sadly began to believe them.
The body shaming didn’t stop with me. What was more shocking was their attitude towards those who trained at the gym. I would listen in bewilderment as my co-workers told me that overweight people are impossible to help because they are lazy, gluttonous, and don’t want to change.
Leaving the gym filled me with such relief, but I’ve since become hyper-aware of how this industry affects every aspect of our culture. During university lectures, girls talk about their 12-week challenges filled with no carbs, no sugar, and lots of exercise. Tea is advertised on social media promising that simply by drinking it, you will achieve toned abdominal muscles. In reality, they are selling laxatives, and robbing your body of electrolytes and hydration, a process anything but healthy.
During time spent in a paediatric ward as a teenager, I met many young women with eating disorders. One ten-year-old girl in particular brought me to tears. I witnessed her painfully thin arms being strapped to a bed while the nurses forced a feeding tube into her nose. Her screams filled the ward for what seemed like an eternity, until she was suddenly quiet. She had been sedated.
School bullies calling her fat had brought on her disorder, mocking her to breaking point. It is simply not good enough that children her age and even younger than her are now preoccupied with their weight and appearance. Body obsessed culture has gone too far.
Despite the fact this culture of body shaming has become so ingrained in daily life, I believe change is possible, as more people are becoming aware of how important it is to change their attitude towards body image.
Hopefully we are not far away from a day where there are no airbrushed photos in the media, and we are no longer encouraged to strive for a ‘perfect body’.
But until then, the more important shift must take place on a ground level, wherein people no longer comment on another individual’s appearance or body in a negative way, and acknowledge that appearance is the least important aspect of a human being.
We must also be aware of how the media is influencing our mindset, and strive to logically process how nonsensical body hatred is. We must stop buying into the lie that we are inadequate.
In the last few months of my life, I have come to terms with the fact that my body dissatisfaction is unwarranted. I am now working each day to embrace my body. This isn’t easy and I still feel inadequate more than I care to admit, but I have resolved to love myself and am slowly learning to appreciate my own, unique beauty.
Our bodies are the most amazing contraptions we will ever come across. They work tirelessly each day to keep us alive, healing us, propelling us forward, and allowing us to do all the wonderful things that make our existence worthwhile. It’s time we stopped hating them simply for the way they look or measure up to the media’s unrealistic standards, or starving and overworking them in an attempt to change. The least we can do is nourish them and take care of them so that they can continue to exist healthily. But we must also learn to love them, no matter what shape they are. They deserve it; you deserve it.
Claire Varley is a journalism student of La Trobe University. Find her on twitter @missclaireh.
If you are struggling with body image issues, an eating disorder or just needing to talk to someone, please reach out to the Butterfly Foundation.
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