Op-Ed: Crazy Expectations - Why Your Body Will Never Be Good Enough

*TRIGGER WARNING*

I remember with a faint feeling of sickness the first time I worried about being ‘fat’.  I was frighteningly young,  probably about 6, and when you’re that young any worries you have become pretty consuming because you don’t have all that many of them. Fast forward five or six years, throw in a few hormones and ‘hey breasto’, you’ve got a whole new wobbly bit to cry over.  It’s not an easy time of life as we all know. You’re pretty much damned if you get them early, damned if you get them late, damned regardless of how open you are about them. But it seems that times were kind of simpler back then. You were either ‘fat’ or ‘skinny’, you either ‘had boobs’ or you didn’t.

Everywhere you look now, there’s a bit more to think about.

‘The Gap’ has just fewer than 12,500 Facebook Likes.

Apparently we should be aspiring to maintain a handy bit of airspace between our thighs. A quick Google image search of ‘the thigh gap’ brings up picture after picture of girls, many of whom are painfully thin or victims of Photoshop. A substantial number of these image results were obvious ‘thinspiration’ – a term used to describe images of thin women used as a source of diet and exercise inspiration, often by people suffering from eating disorders.  One bore the caption ‘I need to be skinnier’.

The ‘Bikini Bridge’ debacle is a crude reminder of the light hearted way that society takes this issue. This term refers to the space created between clothing and skin by protruding hip bones, most easily seen when wearing bikini bottoms. Although started as a ‘prank’ by members of a comedy internet forum, they actually stole the term from pro-anorexia websites which have been using it for a number of years. Far from considering the implications of trivialising a concept which girls with eating disorders use to fight their hunger, the internet allowed the ‘bikini bridge’ to become a new trend almost overnight.

Of course the internet is a powerful tool, but sometimes it reflects little of what people are actually thinking. Discussing women’s bodies with male friends left me somewhat confused.  ‘A good back’ was deemed desirable in a woman. Back? Since when have I had to worry about what my back looks like? I can’t even see my back – it’s behind me? They also mentioned collarbones – a trend that appears frequently online as well. Again, Google it. You’re bombarded with search results that will send you to Tumblr (a hotbed for thinspiration), the query ‘how to get collarbones that stick out’ on Yahoo Answers and photos of celebrities sporting ‘razor sharp’ collarbones. I’d like to join our Yahoo friend in her question, because I for one haven’t the first idea how to get collarbones that stick out. How often do you hear the sentence: ‘I shouldn’t eat that, it’ll go straight to my collarbones!’ or ‘Swimming really tones up my collarbones’?

Is it any wonder we hate our bodies? Is there any part that is safe from the sharp eye of society? And where is this problem stemming from? It certainly seems that the internet is playing a massive role in creating unrealistic expectations for the female body. While magazines and other print media have been, and still are, largely responsible for some of these expectations, the internet is something on a whole other scale. It is extensive, it is growing, and it is a place where everyone and anyone can control what’s on there. Whether the ‘Bikini Bridge’ pranksters were innocently parodying ridiculous ideals like the thigh gap, or whether there was something more malicious behind what they did, the fact remains that they created something very real for body-conscious women worldwide.

When speaking to those male friends, I realised two things (despite some of the bizarre answers I got from them):  1) Men’s opinions about what makes a woman’s body great vary hugely from person to person; and 2) Men actually don’t scrutinise our bodies half as much as we do.

So who are we doing it for? Ourselves? To an extent, maybe. But how many people really care enough about the circumference of their thighs to put themselves through a painful and unsustainable diet and exercise regime? It seems to me that we’re doing it to please society. We’re being told from all angles that certain things are desirable and certain things are not. It’s not straight forward, it’s not logical, and it’s incredibly dangerous because it’s breeding a generation of women who are being terrified into trying to achieve something that, for many of us, is simply unachievable. And the joke is on you, because there’s one truth in all of this: the only person who has a right to care what your body looks like is you, and if you felt able to exercise this right, this article never would have been written.

 

Edited by Luisa Parnell