Women and Body Image 2010

4 01 2010

Until starting the third magazine some six months ago I wasn’t a great reader of women’s magazines. I might thumb through a copy of Cosmopolitan in the dentists waiting room or Hello at the hairdressers but that was about it.

Over the last few months, unsurprisingly, I have spent a lot of time looking at women’s magazines and websites and have become increasingly struck by the uniformity of the women as presented in the press, film, tv and video. The overriding image is of a white, slim, beautiful, young woman with perfect teeth but vacuous smile. And the image is virtually always overtly sexual.

This is the image that we are portraying to young people – young girls in particular – as being “ideal”. In order to be a success, to be famous, to be a celebrity, this is how you have to look and behave.

The sexualisation is a real problem. More and more clothes for young girls, children not just teenagers, are small versions of adult clothes. You can buy bras for pre-pubescent girls. Tots look like teens and teens look like WAGs. It was not so long ago that children of the working classes had to go out to work to support their families. With changes in society over the past 150 years this is no longer the case but we seem prepared to rob our children of their childhood in a different way, by encouraging them to look grown up too soon.

The body is thin, but not athletic. The body shape is achieved by not doing (not eating) rather than by doing (competing in a sport).

The rise of eating disorders can surely not be unrelated to the body image presented as desirable but with the concomitant rise in childhood obesity, this complex debate will wait for another day. We see very few sportswomen presented as role models and those that develop an athletic physique can be subjected to a whispering campaign, or worse, about their sexuality. Look at the disgraceful way that the case of South African athlete Caster Semenya was handled at the World Athletic Championship.

And it is not just body image that is a uniformly presented in the media. Women are still presented in the media, particularly in advertisements, as superwoman….juggling shopping, husband, kids, cleaning, and hundreds of other tasks. While we have moved on from having to have the house spotless, dinner on the table and a gin and tonic ready for our man walking through the door… OXO mum is alive and well and serving hearty stews to her family some 50 years after she first hit our TV screens..

How many women do you know that look like the women on the front cover of Cosmopolitan? How many women do you know that go to A list parties on the arm of a film star every night? How many women are in the house, car and 2.4 kids perfect family? Judging by the way we are presented we all should know people like that as surely we are all like that?

But we are all, if not guilty, than compliant! I had to get new photographs taken for use in the magazine as the one I had used from launch was a few years old and not great quality. I agonised over which photograph to use so that I didn’t look old. STOP PRESS. I am old, or as Kath Temple put perfectly in last months issue of the magazine, I am in my “wisdom years”. But we all do it, don’t we?

One of the principles of the3rdi magazine is to be inclusive. We ALL have a story to tell. Those of us already successful can inspire and mentor the next generation of female entrepreneurs. Those of us doing a job we love, irrespective of fame and fortune can share their stories here. We are different colours, shapes and sizes with different skills and talents and different targets and dreams. Isn’t it time we took more control over the way we are portrayed in the wider media so that the young women coming up behind us wont be having this same debate in another 50 years time.