body image – this is not a gender issue

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On Monday, I went to a screening of the documentary film Embrace, featuring Taryn Brumfitt who, in 2013, following her own battle with her body image, posted a before and after photo of herself with a difference and caused a media storm. In the film, she explores the issue of how women feel about their bodies; the media and fashion industry; and meets various women with unique appearances. Her Body Image Movement has gathered pace and women all over the world are being inspired by her.

The film is thought provoking; the photo was a brave thing to do and raised the profile of the discussion. I can’t help thinking, however, that we’ve been having this conversation for a long time now and there are a few places I’d like the discussion to move on to.

I don’t believe that this is a womens’ issue, I don’t really understand why it has to be a gender issue at all. I bet there are as many men as there are women with body image issues; I’m tired of being positioned as the victim. The media promotes the same unrealistic body types for men as it does for women. And there are many people who would not categorise themselves as women or men, dealing with stereotypes promoted. There has been an opening of the gender closet in recent years and it has felt like a good shift in gender equality. But whilst we are still in our she-camp, talking about this, I can’t help feeling we’re missing something.

The film also focussed on women who felt too fat …. everyone interviewed wanted to be thinner, there was a big focus on the fashion industry’s promotion of thin women and interviews with a plus-sized model (don’t get me started on that particular label!). I accept that this is probably the largest group affected, but my tall, slim friend sat next to me felt marginalised by the overweight gang and the overuse of the word skinny. She constantly faces comments that she finds hurtful, whilst we assume she’s happy with her body because she is what the media tells us is the ideal body shape.

I think what Taryn has done is amazing, my point is that this is not an issue just for women or men or transgender, fat people or thin people, tall or short …. we are human and for some reason we have a propensity to want what we haven’t got. Advertisers tap into this in every way possible to sell us stuff. This is an issue about the culture in which we are immersed, a media image issue, a commercial world issue and it affects us all.

After the film, I had a de-brief with a couple of smart, strong minded friends. One said, she wanted her son to see the film. I’m not so sure? Rather than a film about victims, I want my children to see the next version which includes all genders feeling happy about their bodies. But I do want my sons to see it just as much as I want my daughter to.

So how do we do it? How do we teach our kids to value themselves when we find it so difficult ourselves? How do we stop falling victim to what the media tell us. I think we have a long way to go before we truly embrace our differences, understand what it is to walk in some one else’s shoes and stop making assumptions about others based on our own desires and insecurities.

I truly hope Taryn is the start of real change and her next film is the one I take my children to. A quote from Monday’s screening might be a start ….

“We get to be the new magazine. We get to define what it means to have a beautiful body” 

Despite a huge decline in magazine sales, there seems no real change in the media or by designers to want to change they way they advertise clothes. So perhaps we humans have to come together and do it for ourselves, show the next generation what beauty is by just being it, accepting our wonderful bodies they way the look and celebrating our different shapes.

Finding our happy place with our bodies is easier said than done but I’ve started.  A little while back, I took a long, hard look at mine in a post entitled “Body shape: Me”. I also explored the crazy fashion industry to try and put my ideals in some context and shift them to a more realistic, happy place in “Fashion: we are all different shapes.” Good luck, everyone.

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2 thoughts on “body image – this is not a gender issue

  1. It’s is so refreshing to read this Em. In fact I love it. A mature, thoughtful fresh perspective.
    I am not a victim!
    I am fed up with this focus on women who feel too fat, I have a teenage son who is constantly bombarded with images of ripped, six packed guys to aspire to…and I was so sad to see the recent video being shared on fb of two guys half naked, doing yoga in kilts – naked underneath. Sexualising an ancient yoga practice that has very little to do with the overworked, defined pecs of the models or their naked buttocks.
    So many women I respect and admire shared this and liked it. And it perplexes me that it didn’t jump out that it was gobsmackingly wrong!
    As you know I teach yoga to absolutely anyone irrespective of age and gender, in order to offer people a way to connect with their body, learn what it can or can’t do, see how it feels just to be quietly in your skin with your breath. And yes often we get stronger and bendier (over time!!) but I think this is a wonderful secondary effect to the improved relationship I see appear time and time again between people, their minds and their bodies.

    It is indeed time to step back and perhaps open our perspective in a thoughtful and engaged way… we need to look at body image and fashion from a wide inclusive stance, not a narrow perspective. And maybe start appreciating the wonderful bodies that we have that carry us through each day, because, we only have this very day to experience it.
    Did I rant ?!?! Sorry?

  2. Hey Emma, I’m pleased that our Embrace event on Monday has stimulated more discussion on body image. As the event organiser, I took the view that the film would start the conversation about body image on a local level. There are many layers to this discussion and it is certainly not gender specific. I think the film beautifully opens up the conversation, from the point of view that in a hour and a half, a film can only do so much. In the same vein, I knew that my 3.5 hour event would only achieve so much. I agree with you, the discussion begins in earnest now, and we hope, bring welcome change. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and I think all the points you have raised will be addressed in time, I’m with you on that one. Finally, the film certificate is 12a, so, as we consider screening a local matinee of the film, we will keep the ‘Body Image Movement Wantage’ Facebook page updated. Thank you so much for sharing the Embrace message!

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