From a very young age we are influenced through many different means that give us a certain beauty ideal, whether it’s in the story books that we read, the cartoons/TV shows/movies we watch or even in pre-teen magazines we read (or if you were anything like my friends and I, you would generally skip to the problem pages at the back because they were the most entertaining parts!) Struggling to accept how you look and constantly comparing yourself to others is no rarity. I’m confident that everyone in the world has done this at some point in their lives. No matter if you are a man or a woman, there is an immense amount of pressure to look a certain way, to meet a specific criteria if you want to fit into the category of beautiful/handsome or having a rocking body and especially now the summer is upon us (well when it wants to be in Scotland anyway), the pressure is even more intense. I have touched on this subject before in a previous blog but in today’s post I want to delve into it even further and also explain how my time in China has affected my opinion on the matter.
Everyone has their own view on body image and thanks to the internet and social media, we can see/hear/read all of these opinions and that in itself can be a problem. If you go online you can easily access one page that promotes thin, toned and svelte body shapes while opening another site which tells you to embrace your wobbly bits and your curves because that is what is most attractive. Now I am not going to say which I think is right, at the end of the day it’s your body and you should do with it what you feel is best. We live in a world now where we have body shaming on both sides – if a woman is overweight then she is made to feel inferior but if a woman is thin she also comes under scrutiny. The phrase ‘real woman have curves’ gets thrown around a lot and I have to ask the question, ‘Are we really still in a time where the shape of a woman’s body is what defines her? If a woman finds herself without curves then should she consider herself less of a woman? That makes me feel terribly sad and not just for myself and my fellow ladies but also for my future daughter if I am lucky enough to have one. I don’t want her to measure her worth based on the size of her waist, boobs or hips. The worth of a person is not a calculable measurement, we are not objects and we shouldn’t identify ourselves as such.
I don’t condone promoting images of bodies which are underweight, undernourished and altogether unrealistic, in the same way I do not condone promoting images of bodies which are unhealthily overweight, unfit and at an increased risk of health problems such as diabetes, heart disease and strokes. Thin and fat shaming both have to stop but we also have to be responsible and realise that if we go to either extreme of being very thin or being very fat, there will more than likely be consequences.
We also need to take responsibility for ourselves: yes there are media pressures but let’s be stronger than that. We ultimately make the decisions of what we eat, what activities we take part in and how we live. The longer I have been in China, the more I have come to realise how amazing your body is. It’s the very means which allows me to do all the wonderful things I have done, to travel, to go out dancing with friends, to play games with my students, to go swimming in oceans all over the world. Instead of hating certain parts of my body because they don’t look like a photoshopped picture in a magazine, I have come to love and appreciate my body a lot more than I did before. I don’t have a thigh gap, I never will because I’m just not built that way, but I do have two legs which are pretty thick and muscular for someone of my stature and those legs allowed me to win multiple 100m sprints and long jump events when I was a teenager and carried me through two half marathons as an adult. My stomach will always stick out just a little and that’s because I love carbs – I love pizza, I eat potatoes pretty much everyday and pasta is my go to for most meals. I have a faster metabolism than most people plus I have always been pretty active so I don’t tend to put on as much weight as I should for the amount of grub I eat, but that’s just how my body is made, I can’t change it and I won’t apologise for it.
If you come to China and speak to many of the women and girls here, you will see that not much is different in their body shape aspirations – they want to be slim. However there is something else I have witnessed that is different here: the older generation are constantly out and about doing some form of exercise. They might be dancing in a car park or on the side of the street or possibly working out on the outdoor exercise machines or just taking a speedy stroll around the city, especially after dinner. If the elderly aren’t walking here then they are most likely cycling instead and the nimble way they hop on and off their bikes is most impressive. I’ve witnessed people in their 80’s slapping their thighs which are hoisted on a climbing frame at an almost 180 degree angle with the ease of a prima ballerina. The strength of the older generation here is truly impressive and many think about how they can enhance their health and increase their longevity. It provokes me to think about all the people in the world who are painstakingly trying to shape and change their bodies to look like someone else when what really matters is being healthy and happy for as long as we can be.
There are people who make the decision to sculpt, tone and train their bodies to their physical limit and others who take a more relaxed approach to exercise. We all have different goals for ourselves and some people include ‘the perfect body’ whatever that might be to each individual, in those goals. What I think we need to do is show more respect: respect for one another’s choices rather than judgement or criticism and above all, a respect for our bodies and an acknowledgment of how flippin fantastic they really are!
Photo credit: Alistair Errington