When you hear the term ‘wellbeing‘, it’s likely that you cringe a little. What was once used to describe the condition of a group or individual has now become an insatiable industry of fitspiration, clean eating and attaining nirvana. I remember when healthy food meant swapping my white bread Nutella sandwiches for brown bread with grilled veggies. Making sure you ate your five veggies and two fruit every day and getting out for a couple of walks or jogs meant you were looking after yourself. But now wellness is something that calls treats “cheats” and believes feeling fine is directly correlated to how much you spend on weird sounding whole foods, and Lulu Lemon activewear, rather than being damn proud of who you are.
Throughout the ages, womens‘ bodies have been subject to being to object of desire. From the busty figures of the Renaissance, to the slender flappers of the 1920s, 1950s pin ups, 1990s supermodel slim and now gym bunnies – the ideal female form changes from decade to decade. But unlike changes in fashion like rising hemlines, shrinking or expanding waistlines can have a higher cost for women than just splashing cash. Women could be left breathless in their pursuit of perfection, I’m looking at you Victorian era corsets. Worn under clothes these garments helped shape an itty bitty waistline (think Kim Kardashian hourglass proportions), but some of the ladies who laced up in these garments from a young age developed bent lower ribs… Healthy? No way!
Body positivity, in the context of feminism, is about reclaiming all aspects of our body which society has deemed unacceptable. This includes rejecting Instagram images that equate being motivated with getting up at 5am to lift weights. For many women, whether they have chronic fatigue, cystic fibrosis, or a caring role, this is obviously not possible (and further to that, no woman needs an excuse as to why she doesn’t do this.) Whether you’re slim, curvy, athletic, able-bodied, or distinctly abled, tall or short, you are beautiful, no matter what they say, words can’t bring you down. (Yes, I love X-tina!)
But what if they do?
Maybe your mum tells you your butt is too big to be in a bikini without board shorts. Perhaps your little cousin points to your belly and says “baby?”, or maybe it’s a billboard of a girl whose boobs look perfect, or the blatant skinny shaming in a song by Megan Trainor. If that wasn’t enough to have you counting calories and sucking it in for photos, the reality is the harshest words a woman faces is from someone closest to her… Yes, the worst criticisms can really be the ones we give ourselves.
One in ten Australians suffer from eating disorders, and a vast majority of these adversely effect young women. Negative body image is tightly woven to self esteem in our culture. I, like most young women, have looked in the mirror and felt repulsed by the thing staring back at me. Pulling at flesh on my stomach or my arms, surely I can’t look as flabby as I feel. But with trash mags heralding miracle diets, congratulating women on getting their post baby body back and sidebars of shame calling out celebs for a carpark burger binge, it’s tricky not to feel the push. What we see on screen and in the magazines shapes our reality. And with the lure of gaining followers and fame fast on Instagram and Tumblr, it can be harder than ever to let it go rather than freeze up and be the ideal queen.
Recently, 18 year old Insta-famous Essena O’Neill made headlines when she edited her Instagram posts to reveal the truth behind her glamorous photos. In shots where she has an enviable flat stomach, she writes that it “took over 100 in similar poses trying to make my stomach look good” and that she “would have hardly eaten all day…” Sounds like fun. Not. Essena wrote of how being paid to model clothes, promote fruit drinks and look beautiful consumed her and left her feeling pretty isolated.
The even harder truth is she’s not alone. Believe me. I’ve tried everything. I’ve yo-yoed from choosing an apple over a home cooked meal for dinner to get so slim my period almost stopped, to eating only half a yoghurt for lunch because I ate a single Tim Tam the day before, or being so obsessed with my weight lifting and clean eating routine that I missed out on friends birthdays because I didn’t want to be tempted by cake and party food. And when my body seemed perfect, was I happy? No. I was pleased that I was getting results but I was missing out on so much. I also found my mind was consumed by thoughts of my body rather than letting my body feed my mind with ideas and creativity.
I’m not saying there is a perfect balance. Even if there is, you’d have to be very disciplined to follow it all the time. Life is about being well. And being well is about….. well just being.
Now if I can’t hit the gym, maybe I dance in my room to get my heart rate up. If I want that extra bit of cake, I will have it and I don’t beat myself up about it. And if I’m not hungry, hummus and carrots will tide me over. Because happiness comes with the option to enjoy things without having to obsess over whether we should punish ourselves for putting a bit more pleasure into the everyday and a little less pain into pushing ourselves to look like our ideal of perfection. At the end of the day, we have to be so much meaner to ourselves to get there, and I reckon the grass is perfectly green on this side of the fence.
If you or someone you know might be suffering from an eating disorder, contact the Butterfly Foundation on 1800 33 4673
Image Credit: iStock