“So what do you do, then?”
It should be a simple question to respond to and yet I still haven’t found a brief sentence which encapsulates what it is exactly that I “do”. In this instance, the query has been posed by a middle aged cabby, who is only asking to make polite conversation as he drives me to the train station, which makes it all the more awkward. I mumble something about helping people with eating disorders. He gives a typically simplistic summary of what he understands anorexia to be: “That’s when you think you’re a lot bigger that what you are, so you don’t eat, isn’t it?”. In these situations, I’m always torn between my desire to enlighten and my desire to not hop straight on my oh-so-inevitable soap box and scare this poor, unsuspecting man to death (particularly not while he is driving).
I’ve had this conversation what seems like a thousand times, with a thousand different people, most of whom have been men in the 40s and 50s who believe that eating disorders are the remit of vain and disillusioned teenage girls. It’s hardly their fault that they think this way, the eating disordered mind is an impenetrable maze of illogical nonsense to anyone who hasn’t had first-hand experience of it, or isn’t a mind-expert. The problem is that the same conclusion is always drawn: That women starve themselves under the misguided notion that it’ll make them more attractive to men.
This isn’t just reductive, it’s wrong. Perhaps, up until the age of about, let’s say, 16, when you live your life vicariously through the characters in Hollyoaks and all the boys you know think lolly-pop headed pop-stars are a paradigm of gorgeousness, you might buy into the thin = attractive fantasy. But take the time to ask any bloke you know who isn’t blinded by media stereotypes and adolescent stupidity what he finds sexy and you’ll find his answers rarely have anything to do with size. Nice eyes/smile will invariably top the list, along with the old chestnut – sense of humour (loosely translated as laughing at his jokes). Press them for more specific detail, and you’ll find there are as many variations on what men consider attractive as there are men. Thank goodness, otherwise there would be an awful lot of us out there ready to explode with sexual frustration.
Whilst some men prefer petite and slender and others prefer robust and curvaceous, they all (with the exception of a few nutters who shouldn’t be considered for dating and general merriment anyway) want us to be healthy and happy.
I think most women are aware of this, but it’s an unfortunate fact that most of us simply don’t care. Yes, lads, your opinion isn’t as important to us as you might think - Which is why when you cheerfully tell us that “men like something to grab hold of, anyway”, we don’t immediately skip home and gleefully throw away all our Ryvitas and exercise DVDs. Same goes for boobs jobs and fake tans - Men have made it abundantly clear they aren't fans - And yet this does nothing to diminish their popularity amongst women.
Women want to be thin because of what thinness has come to represent: Wealth, power, popularity, fame – Lifestyle. Extreme skinniness is perceived to be reserved for celebrities, and in a society where 60% of 12 year old girls want to be a celebrity, it naturally follows that they will also want to be thin. This warped logic haunts us all the way into our adulthoods. Think of all the women you know who are putting their life on hold until they reach an elusive “perfect” weight – It’s because they don’t feel they deserve to achieve until they fit an aesthetic which matches the success they crave. And while the celebrity machine is churning out one talentless, emaciated human clothes hanger after another and showcasing the wildly disproportionate amounts of adoration and money which are thrown at them, women everywhere will continue to try and emulate that look.
Ruth Rogers, the brilliant, incredibly talented and thoroughly lovely woman who founded Body Gossip, was once told she’d have to lose weight to make it as an actress. She is, and always has been, a slender and healthy 5 ft 8 and a size 10. Fortunately, she is now starring in the critically acclaimed and hugely successful War Horse in the West End, which is a metaphorical two-fingers to whichever morons tried to make her buy into that belief. One of the aims of Body Gossip is to get real bodies into the public eye – To give real people the voice they deserve and to get real talent recognized. We desperately need to heed this message.
Until we start valuing talent, intelligence and compassion over washboard abs and pneumatic curves, the average girl could have a million men bellowing “you’re gorgeous!!” at her and still feel like an inadequate failure. That’s the reality right now for women in today’s society – but it can change – go to www.bodygossip.org.