Editor's Letter: Body Image

Holly’s article this week about mental health at university was an extremely important one. She wrote about the need for us all to take care of our mental health just as we do our physical health. The notion of body image and the way we view our bodies is definitely relevant in this sense, especially at university. Danni’s beauty box - "love the skin you're in" - also highlighted the pressures surrounding our image and the ubiquity of insecurities at our age. This is because even though we arguably become more mature and confident at university, it doesn’t mean that the insecurities we have about our bodies miraculously vanish. If anything, it’s a time when people feel most insecure.

A couple of weeks ago, at UBTV we made a short video about body image to highlight some of the pressures faced at university. We chose to interview FUZE models (see Abbie’s article about the event which has been going on this weekend) as we were interested to hear from the models who have their bodies fully exposed on the catwalk. What a lot of the models noted was the sheer amount of students that attend the gym at Bristol and the way in which this causes an unspoken coercion for others to join. Certainly, when I was at school I never once felt this pressure. I had never set foot in a gym until I came to university because it was only the sporty people at school who would exercise. For the rest of us, it was okay to sit around in the common room eating cake without remotely thinking about burning off the cals. Whereas, at uni, and perhaps at Bristol in particular, there is a strong sense of the need to be healthy. It’s more a question of who doesn’t go to the gym or do exercise than who does. If someone told me when I was 18 that at uni I would be walking around in my gym kit I would have been horrified. Yet, this is a regular sight on campus and it’s reflective of the sheer number of people who endeavour to keep fit. It’s a clear reflection that body image is at the forefront of most people’s minds at university. Not only this, but it’s at university where, for most people, we start properly making our own food. We have complete autonomy over what we eat, whereas at home we would usually just have what our parents had made for us. It certainly was not a case of asking your parents to buy you the latest super food and make sure your dinner was full of kale and pulses.  However, at university, we can be surrounded by those who follow these healthy food fads, which seem to put your delicious bowl of cheesy pasta to shame.

When asked "what features are associated with the 'perfect' body image?" none of the models hesitated in citing that the infamous "thigh gap" and flat stomachs are the things which most girls desire.  Yet interestingly, these bodily characteristics haven’t always been so desirable. This is demonstrated by the onslaught of articles and videos on the internet recently show casing the ways in which the desired female body shape has changed over the years. Nine Bahadur, in an article on the Huffington Post, noted that “A woman with a "perfect body" in 1930 would barely get a second look from Hollywood producers or model casting agents today.”  It’s true, the way we view woman’s bodies is constantly changing – from the skinny supermodel Kate Moss-esque look to the Kardashian booty. We are inundated with different perceptions of the “perfect body” that no wonder we feel pressures to eat and exercise a certain way. This has also come as a result of the recent craze for reality TV star fitness DVDs. Now suddenly, even those reality stars who used to embrace their bodies and not pay attention to their diets, have become supposed fitness gurus. Wherever we turn there’s a before and after poster board for the latest DVD. I for one, being a Geordie shore fan, bought Charlotte’s "Belly Blitz" DVD last year and have probably used it a grand total of 3 times. Now, I’m not slating the DVD itself because I’m sure a lot of people enjoy this kind of exercise and it apparantly has great results. But it is a shame to think, that on top of the flood of Instagram fitness posts, these DVDs put yet another pressure on the average female. 

I’m not saying that I’m against exercising or staying healthy. I’m simply pointing out that the changes at university which make us more aware of our bodies are something we should all be wary of. I believe that when we get older and start getting jobs (hopefully!) we probably won’t even have the time to worry about our body shapes and whether they “fit in” with the rest of society. But, at university it is hard to ignore these pressures and so we must at least be aware of them in order to retain some kind of an objective view. So long as you're doing exercise for enjoyment and not because you're feeling guilty after watching the latest Victoria Secret show, then that is okay. Besides, there is NO such thing as the perfect body, as one girl said in the video - “as long as you are happy with the way you look, then I guess that’s perfection for you.”

(Featured Image Credit: greatist.com)