In a recent (?) episode from TV series Big Bang Theory, Amy Farrah Fowler (actress Mayim Balik) is seen telling Sheldon, “Sheldon, sometimes you forget. I’m a lady, and with that comes an estrogen-fueled need to page through thick, glossy magazines that make me hate my body.” The dialogue got me thinking: why do beauty magazines end up making its readers feel anything but beautiful? And why are we so hung-up with our imperfections? When I was young(er) I used to have a hate-hate relationship with my body. Every time I looked into the mirror: the one startling realization that hit home was this: I was big! My hips were big, my waist was thick, my thighs were humongous, even my forehead and lips were big. I don’t know how to quantify this “bigness” suffice to say it was bigger than my peers and friends. Needless to say, it disgusted me and the not-so-subtle taunts by some of my “friends” added to this disgust.
Even back then I was extremely interested in outdoor activities: hiking, cycling, trekking, mountain climbing and so forth. But none of my peers or even my own relatives actively encouraged me perhaps thinking that my “big” body would prevent me (and them) from enjoying these activities. So, I remained in this vicious cycle of hate. Books and magazines were my refuge and whilst as a kid I was perhaps too naïve to even care about things like body image or this quest for perfection and devoured my mom’s glossies as a teenager and a young adult even that refuge was gone; as even my favourite magazines were telling me the same thing: that I am worthy only if I am slim.
In a 2011’s alarming study it has been revealed that girls as young as six think they are fat and about a third of teenagers skip breakfast to become slim. Many have blamed glossies for fueling such unhealthy habits. And yes they are partly guilty. Vogue UK has recently started an education campaign wherein they will be visiting school campuses and teaching students about the entire process of photo shoots, about each painstaking work that happens behind-the-scene to make a model beautiful and even about the elephant in the room—airbrushing. The effort is definitely laudable but only slightly.
When asked if the magazine will be using larger models, Alexander Shulman, the brains behind the initiative said, “I don’t want to pretend we are going to try to change the way we portray fashion.” And this is why I find this initiative depressing. Today, kids as young as two have their own I pads; teenagers have a much-better idea using a Smartphone’s built-in photo-editing tools for a flattering selfie. So, it is safe to assume that at least some of them would be aware of airbrushing and photo-shop. So, while I do give Vogue a pat on its back for taking some step to break the perfection myth unless and until we see women (and men) of all shapes, sizes (and races) in mainstream media this debilitating quest for perfection will only continue. Charity, as they say, begins at home so it will be a much more powerful step if parents and acquaintances consciously reinforce positive body image and healthy (not skinny or obese) attitude in children right from the start.
As for me, whilst it has taken a long time, I have started loving my body and embracing my imperfections. I love the cut on my calves and biceps, the abs that sometimes cry in pain (after a nice run) and even the little wobbliness of my tummy. I love the fact that my body is much more than mere numbers or a size. I love the fact that I can trek a mountain without getting too tired or that I can hold a shoulder stand for three minutes or more.
It is not that a fairy godmother came and transformed me overnight; it is just that I have developed a positive and healthy attitude in life and my imperfections don’t bother me. I heart them because they make me unique. They make me….well me!