It’s 2022, and Victoria Secret have finally given in and “rebranded”. A real-life size ten is on the catwalk! Just one of them, mind. We are all required by Mika’s Law to take to the streets in celebration. Now they’re just like us! The internet is engulfed in a collective nervous break-down. Joyful proclamations of progress are set against the bitter realism of the ‘too little, too late’ crowd. Some remind us that there are bigger issues at stake; the planet is on fire. Still, we march and sing. In true British fashion, we find an excuse to party. Yet, an unspoken unease remains in the air. We chant and wave banners. We sing ‘big girls, you are beautiful’. We ignore the ‘curves in all the right places’ line.
In truth, I find it exhausting. I’m tired of hearing about how Instagram perpetuates unrealistic aspirations, as if deleting the app will lead to world peace. I’m bored of hearing emphatic arguments over what is or isn’t ‘plus size’. About agencies that ‘welcome big girls, too’. I’m not bashing conscious inclusivity, or Loose Women. It’s just that the narrative irks me. It seems skin deep, like when Facebook issues identical apology number ten.
Yet, I buy into it. The conversation, the pressures, the self-doubt. The sun is finally making an appearance, and part of me is freaking. I walk into Boots and can’t help but cast an eye over diet pills that I’m aware don’t work – pills that many would say I don’t need. Of course, nobody needs diet pills: there are natural ways to lose weight. ‘Calorie counting and exercise – it ain’t ROCKET SCIENCE!!!’ screams the social media of your annoyingly bronzed local PT, who advocates replacing Full Fat Coke with Coke Zero, as if this is the cusp of the revolution.
But back to the diet pills – and people thinking that I wouldn’t want or need them. For clarity, I don’t want the pills. But I do want to be thinner. Try as I might, I can’t shake that. I want to be thinner in some places, but fatter in others. And herein the problem lies. Something that should be subjective is dictated in incredibly stringent terms. No one idolises Victoria Beckham’s slight frame any more, yet the new ‘body goals’ seem equally out of reach. It’s Kim K and the fitness influencer’s who are rocking the go-to dream bod. You need slim legs, but they should be toned. Your bum should be peachy, but muscular. A bit of a wobble is great – but no one ever bantered ‘more to grab’, when chatting about bingo wings, or mum tums.
Speaking of the mum tum. It hasn’t quite kicked off in the same way as the ‘dad bod’. No recent survey has attested that in order to alleviate the pressure of attaining their own washboard abs, men have realised that the ‘mum bod’ is incredibly attractive. Cellulite, stretch marks, and excess skin haven’t become dreamy in the way that a protruding beer gut seemingly has. Yet apparently, as women, men with ‘a little more to love’ are deemed attractive simply on the basis that they allow us to relax a little. Fantastic.
Sadly, the relativity concerns don’t end there. Female friends and strangers alike: I analyse and contrast. I compare their thighs to mine. How toned their back is. Are their shoulders sculpted, their calves defined?
In many ways, society’s gravitation towards strength – thus away from pure weight loss – is positive. Taking control of our own health can be empowering; often especially so for those who have suffered from eating disorders, or poor mental health triggered by physical insecurities. Fitness can facilitate coping mechanisms. It is ultimately very good for us. Yet I, like many others, am left feeling increasingly inadequate in the knowledge that there are now infinitely more areas that I should be sculpting. Since when did I care about some random woman’s back muscle?
Societal perception of what is beautiful, or healthy, will never escape its state of flux. Concepts of the ideal body are not static; they evolve and vary between culture and generation. Yet the notion itself, that we are all working towards a specific ideal, has not budged. As a millennial, I’m hardwired to try to look a certain way. As a woman, I’m also hardwired to compete. To discover and embrace our own inner beauty is the only real ideal. A token ‘curvy’ girl on a catwalk may in some sense represent this, but it’s going to take a little more realness to truly make an impact.
Article by Young Reporter May Woods
Appeared in Grimsby Telegraph 29th August 2019