Wednesday, July 04, 2007

String up the Body Fascists!

I'm a bloke. And I'm straight. So this post may seem a bit uncharacteristic as I'm going to vent my spleen about body fascism.

I was always a skinny kid but I put on a lot of weight in my 20s and 30s and, by the time I hit 40, I tipped the scales at just over 20 stones (that's 280lbs for my American chums or a staggering 127 kilos). I've now lost a major chunk of that weight, and my BMI is looking healthy, as are my blood pressure and cholesterol. It's been a long hard struggle but worth it as, hopefully, I'll live a bit longer and feel healthier and happier than I have done. However, one thing I have realised is how much harder it is for the ladies. Us blokes do have a certain amount of muscle-bound, slim, tanned, six-pack wielding models thrust at us from magazines and TV ... but women get it from every angle, continuously, every minute of the day. And it's having a devastating effect on female self-esteem.

In a recent UK survey of 25,000 people conducted by BBC Radio 1's Newsbeat programme, more than half of the female respondees said that they'd consider surgery, and over a third of women who wear Size 12 clothes or larger believed that they were overweight or fat. Over 50% honestly believed that their body image stopped them from finding a partner and, saddest of all, 10% of women said that they actually hated their bodies. Conversely, less than 1% of the respondees were Size Zero (UK Size 4) – which is often pitched by the media as the ‘perfect’ size.
In the USA, one recent study showed that 63% of female respondees identified weight as the key factor in determining how they felt about themselves. It was seen as more important than any other factor including family, school, or career. Other research suggested that 86% of all US women are dissatisfied with their bodies and want to lose weight.

And on the other side of the world, another survey commissioned by news.com.au found that 94% of Australian women wanted to change something about their body and of those who claimed to be overweight, 82 per cent indicated they would be happier if they achieved their goal weight – however unrealistic or misguided that goal weight was.

But here’s the thing … ask most women or men what the ideal woman looks like and they will often choose averagely-sized people. Take Marilyn Monroe for instance ...

In 1999, Marilyn was named the Number One Sexiest Star of the 20th Century by Playboy magazine. In the same year, People Magazine's readers voted her the Sexiest Woman of the Century. And yet her measurements were hardly Size Zero. Her 'official' size, as put out by her studio bosses, was 37-23-36. Her dressmaker claimed it was 35-22-35. Marilyn herself once said that her epitaph should read 'Here lies Marilyn Monroe, 38-23-36'. Of course, people do fluctuate throughout life but, by taking all the available evidence (such as her clothes that still exist) and her height of five feet five and half inches, we can say with reasonable certainty that Marilyn was around a UK Size 16 (US Size 12) … which is four dresses larger than the 33.3% of British women who believethat being over Size 12 means that they are overweight or fat.

Do these same women believe that Marilyn was fat? Come on girls ...

Marilyn was gorgeous. And normal. Believe it or not, Size 16 is the average clothes size for British women (Source: Department of Trade and Industry). Really. It is.

But, such are the pressures brought to bear by an unrelenting body fascist media that, as psychologist Deanne Jade says, 'Marilyn Monroe would be trying to diet herself to a Size Zero if she was on the cinema screen now, which is such a shame.' Of course it would be! What we all love about Marilyn was her vivacious, sexy, womanly curves.

I'll leave the last word for now with model and actress Liz Hurley – a modern icon of female body shape – who is on record as saying (rather cattily) to Allure magazine, 'I've always thought that Marilyn Monroe looked fabulous, but I’d kill myself if I was that fat'.

Really? All I can say is ... have another pie, Liz.

More on this subject later.

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