Weight Is Just A Number

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No one likes stepping on the scales to be faced with the horrible reality that they probably ate too many slices of cake last week. The chances are you’ve had your suspicions about those extra couple of pounds for a while but have been in a firm state of denial with yourself. Finally, you pluck up the courage to see for certain and can deny it no longer – the numbers don’t lie after all. While to most, a little weight gain is a minor confidence blip, an inconvenience, for me it’s a minefield. No matter what size I am, I spend my life both dreading it and trying to avoid it, in equal measure.

So when I started to return to health after an illness that saw me shrink to just under 8 stone, the joy and relief of recovery was tainted by the fact that I would inevitably gain weight. I knew it was something that needed to happen – I was the thinnest I’ve ever been, even when in the throws of an eating disorder, I just wasn’t prepared for how horrific it would be when it started to become physically noticeable.

I didn’t notice for a while, I was too busy thinking about what I was going to eat next, high on the excitement of being able to enjoy food again and while I was aware that the food I was shovelling into me wasn’t particularly good for me, I was powerless to my appetite. White bread, smothered with Lurpak became the staple of my diet, I would go to bed dreaming about McDonald’s double cheeseburgers and my boyfriend watched in awe as I devoured sticky toffee puddings every weekend at dinner. Concerned by these new eating habits, I broached the subject with my dietician and of course, there was a perfectly reasonable explanation. My body was starving. I should point out that by this point I had been ill for a considerable amount of time, struggling to eat barely anything most days and what I did manage to eat, my body wasn’t absorbing any nutrients from. It turns out the human body is a pretty intelligent organism and it knows what it needs. I was craving these calorific foods, high in fat and carbohydrates, because my body was severely lacking the nutrients that they provide. The dietician reassured me that once my health and weight began to return to normal these cravings would stop and my diet would stabilise and she was right. Now that my body is nourished again, the bizarre cravings have stopped and I’m back to eating the balanced diet I had before, I’m back to myself again.

What isn’t quite as simple however, is accepting myself. As much as I know that gaining weight is a good thing, I can’t help but be disgusted every time I look in the mirror. When I step on the scales and the dial inches up a few more notches, my heart sinks a little bit more. Each time I’m offered a well-meaning compliment along the lines of,  “You’ve gained weight,” I die a little bit inside.

My arms – the only part of me I have ever considered as slim enough – now appear twice the size they used to be, my collarbone is no longer protruding and the gap between my thighs is getting smaller by the day. While all of these are positive signs, physical indicators of good health, I hate each and every one of them and I also hate the fact that I hate them. I’m happy my body is healthy again, yet I can’t accept it in its healthy form.

The worst part is not knowing if what I’m seeing in the mirror is as it really is or if my mind is lying to me, distorting my view with it’s dysmorphic tendencies. I might feel bigger than I’ve ever been, but the scales say I’m no heavier than I was before I fell ill – a healthy weight – and the numbers never lie, right?

I may be healthy physically, but mentally there’s still some work to be done. I need to listen to my body and to trust it, if I’m craving that slice of cake it’s not because I’m fat and greedy as the voice in my head would have me believe, it’s because my body needs sugar. I need to train my mind to work with my body rather than against it so that the dinner table is no longer a battlefield. I need to learn to love my body and to look after it, because it is healthy and for that I am grateful. For me gaining weight is the first hurdle, but the real recovery begins after.

How Is the Fashion Industry Affecting Your Body?

Fashion, Opinion

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As I was reading this fantastic article, taken from the 1993 Beauty Issue of I-D magazine, I couldn’t help, not only completely agreeing with everything Avril Mair says, but also finding that many of the issues are still of extreme prominence today. I find myself asking the question, has anything actually changed?

I mean, apart form the obvious differences, the increase in statistics of Eating Disorder sufferers, and the celebrities who we are choosing to idolise, the basic principles remain the same.

“A woman’s experience of her own body arises from how she believes it compares with the magnified images of women that surround her on billboards, on television, in films, magazines and newspapers.”

“A consumer society in which women’s bodies are used to sell products while being presented as the ultimate commodity creates all sorts of body image problems.”

These quotes, taken from the original article, seem obvious, common knowledge to us today, but yet that doesn’t make them any less accurate. Even though the issue of the negative body image caused by the media has been recognised and addressed in recent years, making us aware of what we are being sucked into when we open up a magazine or switch on the TV, this realistically hasn’t changed a thing. Consumerism is all around us, in the digital world we live in, it is impossible to avoid and impossible to live without. Just because as a society we are aware that the media can have a negative effect on body image does not stop it from happening, or even help us recognise when it is.

“No matter how many ‘feminist’ features magazines may run, body fascism is reinforced by the advertisements, the fashion stories and the beauty pages”

The truth is, women’s magazines are still full of diet tips and the latest fat-busting work-outs, they are still full of photographs of celebrities looking their “flabbiest” at a size 10. The models filling the fashion pages are still painfully thin, they might not be size zero anymore but they are certainly not the same size as you or me. Yet even though we are now more informed, more aware, and we know it’s all an unrealistic expectation, we can’t help ourselves but be sucked in. Because it’s consumerism, and at the end of the day we are consumers.

Today, the diet industry is still without doubt, one of the fastest growing industries in the world and we still face the problem that almost half of British females are on a diet at any one time, yet most of these are not obese or even over-weight. The UK diet industry is worth £2 Billion, yet as a nation we are still only growing fatter.

As for the men, it goes without saying that the affect the media has on male body image has certainly not improved. Men suffering with eating disorders is still something which is rarely discussed, viewed as shameful and not masculine, but the same time it is a problem which is only expanding. The worrying thing is, we can have no real idea of the scale due to the only small numbers of men who feel comfortable enough to speak out and seek help.

21 years on from when this article was written, I am struggling to recognise any major developments in the effect the media has on our body image, in fact, this piece could of been written today were it not for the few differences.

If anything, I fear the media has only become more obsessed with our bodies and how we should look, whether it be “too fat” “too thin” “plus-size” or “anorexic” the media is constantly comparing, judging and sending out subliminal messages to its audience, and now with the power of digital and social media, it is almost unstoppable.

Avril Mair was right, enough was enough a long time ago.

 

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Bikini Body, Why Bother?

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So tomorrow I will be jetting off to Indonesia. This means many things are happening for me right now, excitement, nerves, and perhaps the most dominant, massive body image worries. It is not unusual for me, or a lot of women, to suffer with body confidence issues in the weeks leading up to a holiday, particularly if that holiday includes sun, swimming pools and a lot of flesh being on show. Usually around this time I would be losing my mind (no pun intended) counting calories and desperately trying to resist carbs whilst checking my physique in the mirror 27 times a day. This time however, I have tried not to take this approach with my pre-Asia preparation. Though I might still be plagued with self doubt, the thought of slipping into my bikini provoking sheer terror, this time I have bypassed the two week panic fast – which usually happens when I realise I’m running out of time and must do something drastic and quick – and have just, gone to the gym.

As a result, I feel toned, healthy and positive. I don’t feel exhausted, depressed, lightheaded or any of the horrific side effects that come with restriction and starvation. My body is nowhere near how I would like it to be before I bare almost all on a beach, but it is healthier and therefore it is better.

My point is, as the time approaches when everyone starts the annual marathon to the perfect bikini body, the best advice I can offer is exercise, and don’t panic. Don’t let your mind drag you back into old habits just because the rest of the world seems to be on the latest 6 week fad diet. The beauty of overcoming an eating disorder is that it puts you in a better, stronger position when you come out the other side. You have a heads up over the rest of the serial dieters, you know first hand that fasting and diets don’t work and you are learning to accept yourself the way you are.

The Weight of Living

Fashion, Food, News

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In a country where obesity rates are soaring, but at the same time roughly 1.6 million people are suffering from eating disorders, there is no doubt something needs to be done to help people’s health, the solution? Stepping on the scales to see which celebrity you are weighing in at.

According to Superdrug, one of the best ways to help people be more open about discussing their health needs, is the introduction of weighing scales which don’t tell you the figure you weigh, instead, they replace the numbers with the names of various celebrities and compare you to these famous faces, in front of your very eyes. As if our own mind isn’t good enough at comparing us to every other woman encountered, these scales will instantly compare you to some of the most celebrated women on the earth.

It’s a joke you must be thinking, and you’d be right to. If it wasn’t such a serious issue the whole thing would be laughable. Superdrug have since released a statement saying they wont be trailing the scales in their stores after (unsurprisingly) receiving a great deal of public backlash, but what concerns me is how Superdrug thought this was a good idea in the first place. In fact no, scrap the ‘good,’ how did they even think this was an idea?

It is widely known that the celebrity culture of society today has an immensely negative effect on women and young girls when it comes to self esteem and body confidence. This product is exhibiting the very worst of this culture, if I was to create a product that depicted everything that is wrong with the media culture we have today, this would be it.

The celebrities used on the scales, including, Cheryl Cole, Ellie Goudling, Adele, Gemma Collins and even Kate Middleton – even royalty can’t escape the wrath of the bathroom scales – have obviously not given Superdrug permission to involve them in such a monstrosity. Therefore, their weights are more than likely to be presumed, though this is besides the point, as our weight fluctuates anyway and actually tells us very little about how healthy we are since it is made up of muscle mass and fluid as well as a proportion of fat.

Cheryl Cole tweeted a genuinely shocked response when she saw an article about the scales, posting “..Pls do not include me in your scales. Girls should be worried about the number on their exam page not a weight scale ffs.” True as this may be Cheryl, it couldn’t be further from reality, especially when this is one of our leading high street brand’s idea of a solution.

'Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy Of A Plains Indian)' Premiere - The 66th Annual Cannes Film Festival

A Resolution is For Life, Not Just For January

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January is upon us now, the resolutions well underway. Smoking, alcohol, food and caffeine are the most popular things that each january millions of us vow to give up in a bid to better our health and rid ourselves of that post Christmas guilt, after weeks of overindulgence and enjoyment. The want to better ourselves is perhaps one of the most beautiful parts of being human, but is there any point in giving something up ‘for January?’ I certainly don’t think so, as someone who doesn’t believe in New Years resolutions.

I am all for eating better, taking up exercise and even drinking slightly less, anything for a healthier life, but these are dramatic lifestyle changes, not habits that’s can be dropped or taken up in the space of a few weeks. Bringing science into the equation, apparently it actually takes 66 days to change a habit, meaning that even if you were to succeed it would take longer than just a dry January. I can’t help but feel that we are just setting ourselves up for a failure, resulting in us only feeling much worse about ourselves when we do eventually give in to the carbs or that glass of red (let’s be honest, I don’t fancy facing the January blues without wine to hand, do you?) It’s a vicious circle.

Then there’s the health aspect, we may have our bodies best intentions at heart when we banish all small pleasures from January’s long days, but restricting one particular food group from yourself for long periods of time is only going to have unhealthy effects on the body and mind. There’s the risk of cravings and obsession and getting caught in that vicious circle again.

I have always believed that if you really want to change an aspect of your life, it shouldn’t take a new year to do. It can be done at any time if you want it enough, mid month, mid-week, even mid-morning! However New Years resolutions don’t have to be a waste of time, they can inspire and offer us a chance to be more positive, so make a different sort of resolution and try adding something to improve your life rather than taking things away. Compliment your friends more, read that book you’ve been meaning to, travel to a different country, write a blog or simply just smile more.

My Walk To Freedom, 2013

Features, Food, Opinion

As 2013 draws to a close, it wouldn’t be right not to finish the year with the obligatory reflective blog post.

For me, this year has been a significant one. I graduated from university, began a new relationship and began recovery from an eating disorder. As much as this year has perhaps been one of the most important and successful years of my life, it certainly hasn’t felt like that a lot of the time.

As proud of myself as I am that I finally sought help for my eating disorder, recovery isn’t easy and it certainly isn’t quick. Recovery is a lonely, confusing and scary place to be. Without the comfort blanket of the eating disorder for reliance, but still without a healthy attitude towards food, it is easy to relapse and even easier to beat yourself up when you do. That was my reasoning for setting up this blog. I wanted to reach out to others in recovery and talk about eating disorders.

This blog is perhaps my greatest achievement of the year. Speaking openly and publicly about eating disorders, is something, which 12 months ago was completely unfathomable to me, yet somehow, at the end of 2013 here I am, writing this post. It may not reach many readers and it may not be a national phenomenon, but to me this blog in a success in its own right. I still have that overwhelming sense of sickness and fear every time I hover doubtfully over the ‘post’ button, and I still worry constantly about how others will react to what I’ve written, and if I’m being really honest, what they will think of me and how they will judge me. Simply the fact that I am writing this blog means that I have spoken out and tried to make a difference, even if I haven’t managed to reach out to anyone else – which I sincerely hope that I have – I have definitely reached out to myself.

I will leave 2013, still worrying about how many calories I ate yesterday, but feeling proud and lucky. Proud, because I have achieved something I never thought possible, and lucky because I have began to overcome something which too many people do not. I will also leave thinking of those who haven’t been as lucky as I have and those who are still suffering and I urge them to have the courage to seek help.

2013 was the year I realised that I hadn’t failed at anorexia and bulimia, I had beaten them.

 

SARAH

‘It’s Okay to be Overweight’ – Say Size 16 Mannequins

Fashion, Opinion

As fashion department store Debenhams take the bold and brave step of introducing size 16 mannequins to their high street stores, I’m wondering if this is a step too far? Don’t get me wrong, it is definitely a positive sign that fashion retailers are starting to acknowledge the unhealthy body image issues that surround their models and campaigns, I just fear that this is the right move but in the wrong place.

It is quite a remarkable move for Debenhams to make, although they must believe there is a profit to be made from these, equally unrealistic, overweight mannequins. Size 16 might be the average women’s size in Britain, but generally speaking, size 16 is not a healthy size to be. Britain is not a healthy nation. I’m not discriminating against those who are naturally a size 16 and for whom this is a healthy weight to be, I’m talking about the majority of those size 16’s who are so because they lead an unhealthy lifestyle, of eating too much and not exercising enough.

I don’t believe shops should be promoting the message that it is okay to be overweight, it is not, and the government spends millions of pounds telling us this. This isn’t because the media says a size 16 is fat and only size zero is beautiful. It’s not okay to be overweight because its dangerous for our health. This is mind, I can’t help but wonder why Jo Swinson has decided to undo some of those millions by reassuring and encouraging people that – to put it bluntly – it’s okay to be fat.

It is the attitudes of the media, and women themselves that need to change, not the size of the shop mannequins. Of course the mannequins are not a realistic model of the average size 16 woman, with flat stomachs  and legs slimmer than my own ‘size 10’ legs, but that is because they are just that, mannequins. Dolls. Not real. Therefore, I am doubtful about how they are going to make real women feel better about their bodies. This change needs to be applied to the real women who front the fashion industry, then maybe we will get somewhere in the battle for better body image.

 

Copyright of itv.com

Copyright of itv.com

Mind the Gap – The ‘Thigh Gap’, That Is

Opinion

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Type “thigh gap” into Instagram or Twitter, and you have yourself a huge collection of photographs of women’s slowly disintegrating legs. You will also find the Twitter page @CarasThighGap. Yes, it is exactly what it says on the tin, a Twitter account dedicated to Cara Delevingne’s thigh gap, with various photographs and tweets from followers, paying their great respects to the nothingness between her limbs. Cara is one of the the few women on the planet who can have (if it is possible to ‘own’ thin air, I am not entirely sure of the correct terminology here) a thigh gap, without becoming completely emaciated – though I’m fairly sure you won’t catch her down McDonalds. The problem is, that young girls, teenagers and to be honest even some “fully-grown” women see this obsession sweeping across social network sites and believe that, in order to be good enough, they too must look like this. This is partly down to low self-esteem, bad body image and the media, but a large part of it is down to other women.

We, women, are so judgmental of each other in all aspects of life, but when it comes to weight, it is every woman for herself in a viciously competitive world, where there are no real winners at all. We shouldn’t be marketing these forms of body hatred and dangerous obsessions to vulnerable girls, who are already struggling with their bodies and self-esteem and do not need any encouragement from social media. Once the idea of the “thigh gap” has lodged itself in the mind, it is extremely difficult to get rid of, resulting in young women everywhere starving and torturing themselves in an attempt to achieve something completely unrealistic.

We should know better than this. We should be uniting against ‘thinspiration’ and extreme body hatred, such as the thigh gap, not witnessing it as a worldwide Twitter trend. Extreme and unhealthy obsessions on social media, like that of the thigh gap, need to stop, if we have any chance of moving on from this culture of eating disorders and emaciation.

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Great British ‘Slate’ Off

Food, Opinion

 

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As Britain’s most talked about cooking show came to it’s much anticipated finale this week, more than eight million viewers tuned in to find out which of the three bakers would take home the title – and the prize of the glass cake stand, of course! However, it was neither the cupcakes, nor the puff pastry which attracted my attention to the reality cooking show, which, as well as making baking a hot topic among Britons everywhere, has caused a ridiculous amount of controversy on the internet. I was shocked to discover that a show which, essentially is just about people baking pretty cakes, could have caused such outspoken and vicious opinions to surface.

“Not much skills, female tears and a winner so thin who makes me doubt her love for cooking,” wrote TV chef Raymond Blanc on his Twitter page, about finalist Ruby Tandoh. Another classic example of good old weight stereotyping. It is not unfamiliar now, for us to hear about a woman’s weight being used as a way to judge and attack her other, usually unrelated, skills, but yet I still find myself in a state of disbelief at how someone could be so narrow-minded and think that this is a perfectly reasonable statement to tweet to their hundred thousand followers.   article_3682adc07d4e587c_1382507536_9j-4aaqsk

However you felt about Ruby Tandoh as a contestant, there is simply no need, or reason, to use her weight as a weapon against her. Does the fact that she enjoys cooking (and happens to be pretty good at it) mean that she must sit there stuffing consecutive cupcakes into her mouth, barely giving them a chance to cool? Do you have to be overweight in order to be successful in the kitchen now? If this is the case, it’s one social stereotype I must have missed.

The media is constantly warning about obesity and slating people for being fat, but when a slim girl wants to make a cake, it is simply not acceptable. It just won’t do. It is almost as if society has gone to such extremes that we can no longer fathom the fact that there are svelte women out there who do eat food, with calories in it and everything.

If this isn’t enough, then there’s the rest of the attacks which were made about the three female finalists. Too meek, too confident, seducing and manipulating the judges, and of course using those “female tears” as a tool to get to the top. I personally, wasn’t aware that a female’s tears were any different from a male’s. Not forgetting the predictable debate on which of the finalists was the most “shaggable.”  I just can’t help but wonder how different, the tweets and comments which went spiraling across social media might have been, had it been three males in the final. Then again, I’m sure those trusty internet trolls would have devised some other nasty stereotypes as they sat poised behind their keyboards.

When a TV show about baking becomes a national platform for judging, slating and stereotyping, perhaps it is time to chill out and just let them eat their cake.

 

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