It is the time for fitness resolutions and promises of body transformations. Maybe you would like to be fitter, healthier and happier with yourself this year. Against a barrage of images that feast on your bodily insecurities, though, can you ever win?
A glance at body image in the media over the new year, as we plan our self-improvements, would suggest not. The lenses of social media, reality TV and the women’s weekly magazine market (for which there is no male equivalent), seem to make it harder than ever for women in particular to be content with themselves. Men have to live up to bodily ideals too – often through athletic achievements – but women are constantly being scrutinised either for their insecurities, or the way that they deal with them.
The people who are most scrutinised for their body image are popstars, TV personalities, actors and sportspeople, but their public punishment is designed to instil anxiety in the audience. Now magazine’s cover last week featured “21 shocking bodies”, which promised to make readers “feel normal”. Celebrities were shamed – both for being too flabby and too thin – in the name of women’s own hang-ups. Almost as a response to itself, Now’s cover this week features three celebrities telling us how happy they are with their own bodies. Although the approaches may be different, the wager is always the same: are you happy enough with your body?
Elsewhere, Grazia sells us Beyonce’s 22-day vegan diet as a new year event, ironically while celebrating the singer’s critique of the body police in new track Pretty Hurts. You can find the standard “How I dropped …” (a certain amount of dress sizes) on the cover of Woman’s Own, while Reveal has a slim woman saying she’ll never get fat again, and a larger woman saying she’ll never get thin again. Which one do we want to be? It doesn’t matter as long as we’re obsessed with conquering our own bodies.
2013 proved to be a year when the way women were policed through their body image was repeatedly highlighted. Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli vocally challenged the attack on her appearance by BBC presenter John Inverdale. Olympic swimming champion Rebecca Adlington showed her vulnerability when put on display next to a model in I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here, by breaking down in tears, yet later clarified, “I am very grateful for my body. It gave me four Olympic medals”. These two women who had achieved awesome sporting achievements resisted, in their own way, the fencing in of their athletic achievements via a specific standard of beauty.
Meanwhile Lily Allen and Chantelle Houghton turned the media making a spectacle of their own bodies into a spectacle itself. Allen parodied the objectification of women in her controversial video for Hard Out Here, then appeared in a racy shoot in a bathtub for February’s Esquire magazine – surely not a publication renowned for its critique of objectification? In response to the pressures on women to recover their bodies from pregnancy – see the confusion around the Duchess of Cambridge’s post-birth body – Houghton ran around in a sports bra showing off her big belly, sticking her middle finger up to it all.
Aside from the media spotlight, we all – men and women – have to deal with our own body image, and making new year’s fitness resolutions is a positive step. Yet with confusing and conflicted media messages that keep our body image constantly on the line, the best way to get the body you want this year is to begin by wanting the body you already have.
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