Much has been made in the media about the link between self-esteem in girls and young women, and the body-types of fashion models. Designers Karl Lagerfeld and Alex Perry both sparked public outrage by defending the use of size-zero models or criticising models for being too large.
I have to deal with women who want to achieve a certain look and size through diet and exercise. I strongly believe in the benefits of regular strength and cardio workouts and good nutrition. I don’t promote the merits of one particular type of physique over another. How you would like to look is a matter of individual choice. As long as your goal is not detrimental to your health, I will do everything in my power to help you to achieve it.
I personally defend the rights of those in the fashion industry to use young, slim models. Haute couture is about fantasy, not reality. Yes, the models are teenagers with good genetics who couldn’t afford to buy the clothes they parade. So what? I think we should be asking ourselves: why does the issue of body-image loom so large in the collective consciousness of women? Why are we all so hung up on how other people perceive our bodies? Why are we so much more concerned with how our bodies look than how they feel and perform?
The possible answers to these questions have fuelled entire theses, and I won’t even attempt to answer them fully here. But I have a suggestion. Rather than lament society’s objectification of the female form, and the way in which that affects our individual lives, why don’t we take control of our own self-perception? Why don’t we stop looking at our bodies as passive objects to adorn the backdrop of patriarchal society, and start seeing them as vehicles for self-expression, triumph, mastery?
There are so many genres of media, which all glorify different manifestations of the female body, and the internet makes all of that so accessible, that there is no need to focus on a type of physique which isn’t helpful in your feeling good about yourself. If fashion photography celebrates a sort of beauty which doesn’t help you to love your look, focus instead on something that does.
Nicole Scherzinger from the Pussy Cat Dolls was one of the first celebrities whose aesthetics made me feel good about myself as a woman. No longer caught in the no-man’s land between the Barbie-doll-like white women of Hollywood and the willowy porcelain beauties of Hong Kong cinema, here was a dark-skinned Eurasian with angular features, original parts (I assume?), and muscle tone. God bless Hawaii! It felt so much better to use Nicole as an affirmation of my looks, than to try to change myself in order to adhere to an ill-fitting standard.
Your job may not be to display next season’s new designs. Who said you have to look like a fashion model? (If you do, don’t feel guilty, and don’t put up with the snide comments some women will make about bulimia in your presence.) You can look like a swim-suit model, a centre-fold, a burlesque dancer, an athlete, Nigella Lawson, Cris Cyborg, or Sophie Dahl. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are active, healthy and eat well, and that you see your body as your own. The state of your physical form – whether you love yourself enough to take care of it, challenge it, groom it, feed it, let it recover – is a reflection of your self-worth. It shouldn’t be the other way around.
When you’re exercising and planning your meals, expand your thinking about what it means to achieve your goals. Think about how you want your body to feel, the kind of strength, energy, self-assuredness and power you would like to have. Be the woman whose level not only of comfort, but of pleasure, within her own skin gives her a certain ineffable glow, what the French call je ne sais quoi. Instead of approaching your work-out like a nun going to penance, charge forward like an Amazon into war. Revel in your ability not only to elicit desire but to perform, to seek out, to acquire, to fight, to conquer, to subdue. Be shameless in enjoying your own physical power, and you’ll get so caught up in the thrill of overcoming challenges and setting new personal bests that you’ll actually start to enjoy exercise for its own sake, and probably get the body of your dreams without noticing how hard you’ve been working!