Unusually for an unapologetically right-brained person such as myself, recently I’ve been using numbers to fuel my ponderings on body image.
A recently published poll revealed that an overwhelming majority of women would give up a year of their lives in return for the ‘perfect’ body. A slightly pointless hypothetical conundrum, if you want my opinion, since most women must sacrifice at least that taking dangerous risks with diet and exercise, and probably a further decade indulging in generalised body anxiety (an enormous waste of life, even if you are still technically breathing).
The statistic was, no doubt, supposed to shock us but to most modern women it would have come as no surprise at all. It reminded me of my somewhat futile attempt to persuade militantly pro-Barbie TV Presenter Terri Dwyer to think outside the box on a BBC 5 Live Midnight debate. I asked her to provide an argument so compelling as to Barbie’s magnificence, it would cancel out a speculated 1% chance that it might give a child body insecurity. No such argument was forthcoming.
Last night, over drinks with a friend, I turned this into a game. “What would you still do if there was a 1% chance it would kill you?” I asked. “Eat chicken” he replied immediately (and not unreasonably, his love for chicken is almost indecent). “And what about if there was a 10% chance? What then?” I probed. There was a slight hesitation before he confirmed that, yes, he’d still eat chicken. (I suspect if I’d pushed him further I’d have discovered he’d be unable to resist a plate of spicy wings even if there was only a 10% chance he’d live).
My own 10% list reveals a not altogether astonishing set of priorities, with music, sex and cheese ranking highest (although not necessarily in that order. Actually……Yes. In that order). However, maintenance of my physique (which is minimal anyway. See list) didn’t rank at all. I must therefore conclude that I’d rather be ‘ugly’ and alive than beautiful and dead.
For anyone who is familiar with my history, that wasn’t always the case and for many men and women in Britain today, tragically, it continues not to be.
I am sure you can see where I am going with this – Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, with an estimated 60% of sufferers eluding survival. But there are many other things which carry the risk of death – Cosmetic surgery, extreme dieting, bulimia, smoking, sunbeds, I could continue – And yet are deemed to be worth that sacrifice.
I could (and will) argue that, in fact, we flirt with death on a frighteningly regular basis and yet do we ever stop and ask ourselves if the body, the tan, or the lifestyle we crave is worth the risk of not being around to enjoy them?