BY MIA FREEDMAN
Over the holidays I felt really bad about my body. I won’t go into details because I’m not fishing for compliments or reassurance.
I debated even writing this post because I am passionate about promoting body positive messages and saying that I was feeling crap about myself is not exactly true to that philosophy.
Except that my over-riding philosophy, even more than being body positive, is being authentic. Honest. I don’t believe we do each other (or ourselves) any favours by only speaking about how things SHOULD be. Sometimes we need to acknowledge how they actually are. Hopefully we can then try to work out why and fix it but I’ll get to that in a minute.
It’s ironic that I spent some of my summer holidays feeling bad about my body because I was going to the gym almost every day.
I realise this isn’t the way it’s meant to work. On holidays you’re meant to NOT go to the gym. It’s only when you get back to regular life after Christmas that you’re meant to get all resolution-y and start going to Pump classes or lifting weights.
I know. I KNOW.
But I like to exercise because it’s good for my head and it’s actually a treat for me to have the time to do it during the less structured, frenetic pace of holidays. Also, gyms are a novelty for me. I usually exercise alone at home on my treadmill in my pyjamas with a sports bra underneath. I’ll leave you with that sexy mental picture while I tie my laces.
So I’m at the gym on the treadmill and the stepper (I’m a mindless cardio type of girl) for about half an hour a day, listening to podcasts or music on my phone.
In front of me, like at most gyms, is a bank of TVs playing music videos. This too is a novelty because I never watch music videos.
Ever since I had kids, they’ve been banned in my house just like crack and cigarettes.
It was only when I found myself thinking “I feel fat” that I remembered some great advice I once read from a therapist who said you should always answer that bit of internal dialogue with “…but fat is not a feeling. What’s actually going on here?”
And then I realised what was different. What had triggered this unexpected bout of focus on what my body WASN’T (toned, skinny, ‘perfect’) instead of what it was (healthy, strong, the bearer of three children).
The difference was music videos.
Bloody music videos.
Nothing else had changed in my life. I was on holidays, relaxed, happy, unwinding from stress…..I hadn’t particularly gained weight so WHY THESE WEIRD FEELINGS OF FATNESS?
For half an hour every day for almost three weeks I had unwittingly exposed myself to a steady diet of images like these:
The Pussycat Dolls in the video for their song Don't Cha
At first, these videos simply pissed me off due to the appalling way women are portrayed like porn stars. I’ve written about this before, the way this type of imagery is invading public spaces like bars, bowling alleys, restaurants and gyms and how uncomfortable it makes me. Particularly when I’m with my kids.
How has this kind of imagery become wallpaper? How have we allowed a small group of men in the music industry to confuse pop music with stripping and portray women in such a demeaning, one dimensional way? And how did it quietly become a backdrop to our daily lives?
The vast majority of music videos featuring women are as soulless and nasty as bad porn. Girls in their undies faking how insanely pleasurable it is to hump the floor or feel your own boobs? Please.
But at the gym, on the Nightlife video feed that is used by countless pubs, gyms, bars and restaurants, even in the music videos that weren’t that sexually explicit or degrading, there was still an unrelenting depiction of skinny, ‘perfect’, tanned, toned, young, ‘hot’ bodies.
Bodies that are rarely achievable unless it’s your full-time job to keep them looking hot. And that’s after you were born with one-in-a-million genes.
As soon as I realised this, I felt immediately better – and worse. I was relieved to find a ‘reason’ for the way I felt but I was alarmed and depressed to see how easily and subconsciously I had internalised that imagery.
If I, as someone who has spent most of my career trying to raise awareness about body image could get sucked into feeling like shit, what hope does some poor young girl have when her world is wallpapered in this stuff?
Not just music videos but all the other media depiction of what constitutes hot: almost exclusively thin, white, young and genetically unattainable.
So you know what I did? I prescribed myself some medicine. Over the next few days, I sat down and re-watched every episode in the first series of my favourite US show: Girls.
You may have heard of it after it’s 26-year-old creator, writer, director and star, Lena Dunham won a Golden Globe for herself and another for her show this week.
It’s revolutionary for so many reasons, not least because the four women it stars have normal bodies. With flesh. That moves.
That’s not the only thing I adore about the show – the premise, the writing, the performances, all of it – but it had a profound effect on me visually the first time I saw it because unlike every other piece of mainstream media, it made me feel normal; good about myself.
I loved Sex & The City but the undercurrent I often had after watching it – especially the later series – was of inadequacy. Similar to how I used to feel after reading a glossy magazine. Like my body, my face, my wardrobe, MY LIFE just didn’t measure up. It wasn’t bright or shiny or cool or perfect enough. Not even close.
Girls is the opposite of that; it DOES the opposite of that. I cannot urge you strongly enough to go download a few episodes from iTunes. You won’t regret it.
And as for the gym? Beware. It’s totally in their interests to make you feel bad about your body – it’s the same philosophy that magazines used throughout the 80s and 90s to great effect: promise you that they hold the key to perfection and then whisper words of angst and inadequacy so you’ll keep coming back in the desperate hope that maybe NEXT time, you’ll reach perfection (you won’t).
By all means join a gym. If you want to lose some weight or get fit in 2013, do it. But just be aware of your OTHER diet – the one women’s bodies in the media, and make sure it doesn’t consume you.
How have you been feeling about your body?