Cathy Dobbs: Weighing in on the matter of body image

Cathy Dobbs takes a look at life.

“Stay thin, stay pretty and marry well,” is the advice one mum at school has given her 10-year-old daughter.

After I picked my jaw up off the floor she explained that a thin, pretty girl is happier and has her pick of more men – and so she is more likely to find someone rich and handsome.

I quickly checked we hadn’t been transported back in time to the 1950s and then asked her how she would feel if her daughter didn’t ever settle down, gained 100 pounds and had a fabulous career.

“She would be miserable,” was the reaction.

It seems that no matter how much we progress and fight for equal rights, there is always going to be pressure on women to look a certain way – and this will actually hold us back from achieving some great things.

It's not like we have a clear picture of how we ‘should’ look. At one extreme there is the catwalk telling us that the skinny, androgynous size zero is the only acceptable body shape, and at the other end are the over-inflated curves of the airbrushed glamorati on Instagram.

Back in the 17th century, Rubenesque paintings show the ideal shape as something that we would call ‘fat’ or ‘obese’ today and Marilyn Monroe, if she went shopping in our high streets would be looking for size 16 clothes.

According to The Female Body Survey of Great Britain 2001, conducted by Top Sante Health & Beauty magazine, this pressure on women isn’t doing us any good. It found that 90 per cent of women questioned were depressed with their appearance, and 85 per cent hated the shape of their body.

Last week, actress Emma Thompson spoke about how women are brainwashed into hating their bodies. In her latest film she said that standing naked in front of a mirror and just accepting her body was the hardest thing she’d ever had to do.

Emma urged women to do the same and to “just accept” what they see in the mirror.

She said: “If I stand in front of a mirror, I’m always sort of pulling something, or I’ll turn to the side, I’ll do something. I can’t just stand there. Why would I do that? It’s horrifying. But that’s the problem, isn’t it, that women have been brainwashed all our lives to hate our bodies. That’s just the fact, and everything that surrounds us reminds us how imperfect we are, and everything is wrong with us.”

So where does the brainwashing come from – and who does benefit from it? Well, there is a whole industry out there that is reliant on women feeling dissatisfied with their bodies, and it makes billions every year. From food manufacturers that create ‘balanced meals’ to slimming clubs, gyms, private hospitals and beauty salons. To survive, each one needs women who are unhappy with their bodies.

Also, each generation brainwashes the next until we start to believe it is unacceptable and almost offensive to look anything other than ‘perfect’ – whatever perfect is.

So, telling your daughter to do whatever makes her healthy and happy has got to be better advice than focusing on an unattainable body shape, that could actually lead to a lifetime of unhappiness.

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