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15th Aug 2021

One size fits all: Is history to blame for our body issues?

Women were squeezing themselves into painful and health-impairing corsets to accentuate the hips, breasts and bum.

Did history do us any favours?

It’s body month here on Her, and as much as we want this to be a positive platform where we lift each other up, the fact is – it’s not all rosy out there when it comes to body issues. When we say body issues, we’re talking about everything from the way we feel about our own, to the impact social media and celebrity culture has on representation.

We understand that this is an emotive and layered topic. There are people who are struggling with genuine mental health issues such as eating disorders and body dysmorphic issues who cannot be ignored. We’ve left information at the bottom of this piece for anyone who is struggling and who needs to reach out and talk.

To be quite honest, as someone who works in the media, when it comes to body issues; it’s a minefield. For me personally, I’m using this month to recalibrate the way I perceive my own body but also how I discuss it in public.

As a nation, it’s a rolling joke that we’re self-critical. We take the piss out of ourselves and it’s a harmless trait, for the most part, but if we want to feel in any way good in our own bodies then the self-deprecation has to stop.

I’ll hold my hands up, I’ve been overly critical of my own body for years. Without realising what I was doing, I was spewing fatphobic sentiments into the world. As I’ve spoken to people and made a concerted effort to re-educate myself, I wanted to look back at history in order to make some sense of this self-hatred that so many people struggle with.

Through the years.

Let’s journey back to the 1800s, a shitty time at best, aside from not having the vote, women were squeezing themselves into painful and health-impairing corsets to accentuate the hips, breasts and bum. Fast forward to the end of the 20th century and it was the “thin at all costs” rhetoric that defined a generation: the heroin chic look which saw women starve themself to achieve the figure of a 16-year-old.

And what do we have today? In a gruesome full-circle moment, we’re back to corsets (although we call them waist-trainers now) and worshipping celebrity figures achieved through wealth and surgery.

What’re the parallels between these body trends and fads we’ve seen through history? The sizing changes but the ultimate message remains the same: a trend is created that defines what beauty is and the masses (and media) follow suit.

What can be done?

When thinking about pulling this content month together I was cautious of what the objectives were. Our aim with everything we do here at Her is to engage, entertain and enlighten our readers and quite frankly, the shit we’ve all had to deal with when it comes to body portrayals through the years hasn’t been enlightening.

Everything from the “leggy displays” to the red circle of shame has contributed to the way in which we all perceive ourselves when we look in the mirror. We need to reprogram our minds about how we think and talk about our own bodies, that goes for ingrained fatphobia, even if it’s not intentional. How can we expect advertisers and companies to respect us and treat people equally if we’re constantly shaming ourselves?

One could argue that we bring it on ourselves by consuming the content that is drip-fed to us through digital and broadcast media, but how does it have such an impact that *70% of people go out of their way to avoid certain accounts that make them feel bad?

There’s a famous Fiji study that examined teenage girls when television was introduced to the island for the first time in 1995. After watching television for three years, the girls who watched it most were 50% more likely to describe themselves as, “too fat”. Even more concerning, 29% of those scored high on the test of eating-disorder risk.

And to think, if TV had never arrived on that island those young girls may not have succumbed to “Western dysmorphia” and would have been perfectly happy and confident just as they were.

History has done us no favours, but the truth is we are in a position of power now more than we’ve ever been when it comes to content, and although the past seems pretty grim, there’s always hope for the future.

Stay tuned to Body Month here on Her to hear more from our audience on the type of content they want to see.

If any of the issues discussed in this article has affected you, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. You can contact Bodywhys here.

*70% of our audience polled via the Her Instagram account.