A wakeup call. Officially defined as “something that makes a person realise they need to take action to change a situation that they are in”. What sort of situation I hear you ask? The situation of self-loathing and insecurity that so many women find themselves trapped in.
Did you know that women experience an average of 13 negative thoughts about their body each day, while 97% of women admit to having at least one “I hate my body” moment every single day? This disturbing statistic was definitely a light-bulb moment for me, but actually my real wakeup call came two months ago in the changing room of one of my favourite clothing stores.
Desperately trying to squeeze myself into a size 12 dress that not only made my bum look like a new planet, but was also so tight on my chest I actually couldn’t breathe. I looked in the mirror and I could feel the disappointment and self-criticism sweep over me. This however was not a new experience for me. Having been on and off ridiculous diets since my teen years I was equally used to the feeling of victory when a size 10 zipped up as I was to not fitting into my “normal” size 12 clothes and facing the dreaded prospect of actually having to buy a bigger size. Looking at my reflection I took a deep breath, trying to prepare myself for the vicious tirade that I was about to give myself.
However, something completely different happened. Right there in that moment I realised that I had a choice. I had the choice to take action to change my situation and I chose to finally accept my body as it is. I stopped my inner mean girl in her tracks and asked her where had all this self-loathing had come from? Where in my life had my brain decided the ridiculous notion that a size 12 was good and a size 14 was somehow bad?
This naturally leads to the big question; why? Why do women berate and criticise both themselves and other women so harshly? The answer to that question is endless, but I believe unrealistic role models in the media, today’s celebrity culture and society’s pressure on women to forever strive for perfection all have a huge part to play in it. Inextricably linked with this pressure to look a certain way is of course the D-word; diets. Chances are that as a woman, you’ve probably been on at least one diet in your lifetime or will certainly know someone who has been on a diet, as recent research has shown that the average British woman spends 31 years of her life on a diet. There is now overwhelming evidence that diets do not work for 99% of people. In fact, the only results people seem to get from dieting are a feeling of failure, poor body image and disordered eating.
Personally, my poor body image was never serious enough to develop into an eating disorder but was certainly serious enough to risk both my health and happiness doing these ridiculous diets and punishing myself when I “fell off the wagon”. For many women the combination of fad diets and consequent harsh, judgmental view of themselves can and does lead to eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating. More and more young girls and women are developing serious mental and physical health problems because of society’s demands of perfection.
Continually striving for perfection comes at a cost however and my own personal realisation that at the ripe old age of 21 I had actually spent most of my life disliking my body had a profound effect on me. Once the initial feelings of sadness and regret had subsided I could finally see my body for what it truly is. The body is an incredible machine; fine-tuned over millions of years of Evolution, the body has some incredible abilities. It functions all on its own, it heals itself, it has the potential to carry another life inside it and it allows you to do everything you need to do in your daily life, whether that’s feed your child or kiss someone you love. It may not be what society would call “perfect” but your body is yours and it is amazing. As women, we pinch and prod our bodies, trying desperately to mould them to the shape we believe they should be, often ignoring the fact that so many of us are blessed with a beautiful healthy body that doesn’t need to be changed.
So when will you stop overlooking what you have as opposed to what you do not have, accept yourself and believe that you are loved for you; for being a mother, a sister, a daughter, a great friend? When will you choose to receive your wakeup call and start living the life you want to live?
I say now, so wake up and smell the coffee ladies.