Real Women

This post has been a long time coming, it’s probably still a bit confused.

First of all, there is another push for the use of ‘real women’ as models.  A group led by Mia Freedman and Sarah Murdoch met with Federal Minister Kate Ellis about it, and I suppose the government is the way to go if you don’t have any connections in the modelling/fashion/media industries.  (Heavy irony here, for those who don’t know Mia Freedman is an ex-editor of Cosmopolitan and has written for most of the women’s magazines, and Sarah Murdoch is host of Autralia’s Next Top Model and married to a Murdoch.  Mia Freedman did introduce non models, ban diets and show different skin colours while editor.)

And that’s great.  But all of the commentary I’ve seen is focussed on weight.  Or let’s be honest, fat.

I struggle with fat and body image.  When I was a kid I wasn’t fat, but thanks to comparisons with my family and all the other little girls at ballet I thought I was.  Since uni I’ve swung between mildly overweight and mildly obese.  I don’t yoyo diet or anything like that, but I’m aware that I don’t have healthy eating habits and periodically try to improve.  And that’s really the key to some of my ambivalence – health.

No matter how happy you are in your skin, heart disease is the number one killer in the world.  You can be confident and glowing and look good, but it’s not going to save you from clogged arteries or insulin insensitivity.  I don’t think that overweight people are stupid, or lazy, or anything like that.  And I know that there are medical conditions or lifestyle factors that make it hard to stay thin.  But I have to admit to a little voice that says come on Deb, you know you could do it if you cared enough.  You could find the time to exercise if you really wanted to.  You don’t have to buy chocolate.  It would require a lifestyle change, but I could do it if I was really serious.  And that’s the problem – I certainly don’t think it’s ok to discriminate against fat people, that’s me too! but it doesn’t quite fit in with the other isms.  You don’t have control over your skin colour, your ability, your gender or sexuality.  But most of us do have at least a little bit of control over our food and exercise.

So I struggle and I stress about what to teach my girls.  I want them to be happy and healthy, so I’m aware I somehow have to teach them better habits than I have and give them, and me, better food choices than I usually make.  It has nothing to do with how they look – it’s about giving them healthy eating and exercise habits.  But at the same time, I want them to be happy with their bodies and confident however they are, and not think that they have to conform to some limiting ideal.

And then I received a sewing magazine I subscribe to, and there was an article about French women and their body confidence.  As children they generally aren’t put down as we are, and are much more successful at living by “If you feel good, you look good.” At first I thought this was wonderful, because here was a rule I could use.  You don’t have to conform to an artificial look, but it’s important to be healthy so you will feel good.  But then I started thinking about all those other little body flaws.  And I realised I’d bought in.  Whether you like seeing skinny models because we shouldn’t let muffin tops be the norm or think there should be ‘plus-size’ models because that’s how most women are, you are still defining worth by weight.  Either they have eaten right/had lucky genes/exercised hard to be skinny, or they are confident in themselves/not bowing to societal pressure – whichever is important to you.

Real women aren’t just fat or skinny.  Real women have short legs.  Or hooked noses.  Or moles.  Or big hands.  These are the things that have nothing to do with health and we can’t control, it is just the way we are born.  So these are the things I need to work on, or rather not work on and not mention.  These are the things my girls never need to hear about, because if they feel good, they’ll look good, and I can help them develop that confidence.  And I can also try to give them healthy eating and exercise habits, not because it will fit in with society, but so they can continue to feel good for a very long time.

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