Body image and the value of hindsight


Like many women, I have spent my entire adult life, and most of my teen years too, worried about my weight, my size, my shape, how I look to other people. In this age of multi-media saturation when photo-shopping is de rigeur, it is worse than ever for young women who look at pictures of famous women who look absolutely flawless. They are flawless because they have been made to look that way by use of professional hair styling and make-up, designers and dressers, clever use of lighting and camera angles, and of course, the computer programmes designed to skim the unsightly lumps, bumps, and myriad imperfections from the final picture.

We are force-fed a diet of perfection and made to believe we are not good enough because we cannot possibly live up to the ideals of beauty shown to us on billboards and magazines and websites.

This weekend, I was going through a few boxes we had just brought out of storage, and I came across a photo album filled with some of my old modelling shots. In these photographs, I am 21 years old, I did my own hair and make-up, I wore my own clothes, and I used my own props. The photos were shot by a member of a local camera club for my portfolio.

I remember that modelling session like it was yesterday. I sucked in my belly and my cheeks to try and make myself look thinner, and I felt horribly fat, wishing I’d skipped a few meals and dropped a few extra pounds beforehand so I could look that little bit better. I wished I was taller, prettier, had better skin…

I was barely a UK size 12, having spent over a year recovering from an illness that caused me to lose a hell of a lot of weight in just a couple of months, dropping four dress sizes during that time.

Looking at those photographs now, I marvel at how thin I look, at how young and fresh I appear. But I think my eyes look sad. They look sad because I was never happy with how I looked, and I never felt at home in my own body. And there are only one or two where I actually crack even a tiny smile.

I also marvel at how big my eyebrows are, as this was before the salon waxing disaster that left me with sparse, scarred brows that never grew back properly!

I’m trying very hard to be happier in my own skin these days. I’m a good deal larger than I was, and yes, I’m trying to lose weight, but I’m doing it to try and be a healthier person and to rid myself of my poisonous personal relationship with food. With any luck, some day very soon, I will be able to look at a current picture of myself and think I look as great as I now think I looked back then, but didn’t appreciate at the time.

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