Smoke & Mirrors: Notes on Body Image

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It struck me the other night that if I didn’t look in the mirror I would never feel fat. How I only just realised this I don’t know. Now don’t get me wrong, I know I’m not fat, in fact I’m quite slim for someone my age and height, logically I know that, but like most girls out there I too have “fat days”.

You think that sounds ridiculous, right? Well yes you are right, it is ridiculous, but that doesn’t mean it’s not real and it’s not relevant. And I know I’m not alone in this. So before you tell me to shut the f*** up because I’m a model and all models are skinny and all that bullshit, that doesn’t mean I’m not just like almost every other girl out there who is, at times, insecure about their body.

Isn’t it interesting how what we see in our reflection can determine our relationship with how we feel about the way we look. I say “how we feel” because it really is just how we feel. For many women (too many women) it’s these feelings which form the basis of what we believe is reality. What we see is what we are. We feel fat therefore we are fat. How ridiculous is that? There’s a scale of extremities in reaction too; for some it’s a fleeting moment and they just brush it off, for others it’s enough to ruin a day, and for far too many it’s enough to send them into a tailspin of anxiety. Why? Because they think their legs look fat, or their arms are flabby, or their hips are too big. But realistically, are they any of these things? I’m guessing probably not, or at least not nearly to the extent they believe themselves to be.

My revelation really got me thinking about the topic of body image and young women. With summer just around the corner and girls everywhere declaring war on their bodies before bikini season hits, I thought it timely to open a dialogue about some of the things I’ve learned, observed, and realised in my seven years as a model and 24 years as a girl on the subject of body image.

Please bear in mind while reading this that these are just my opinions and observations based on my own experiences and the experiences of those around me; in other words, this is based on MY world. Remember also that I have spent the last seven years working in the modelling and fashion industries to some degree, both of which thrive on a superficial level. I don’t necessarily mean this as a negative thing, but it is a fact in this type of work that looks are everything. Who knows, maybe if I was an accountant or a lawyer or a vet I would feel differently. Either way, these are things I’ve noticed and learned along the way which you may or may not agree with.

Another point to note – I’m mainly referring to body image issues in otherwise “normal” and “healthy” young women, by medical standards. Even using these words ‘healthy’ and “normal” is fraught with tension because to some extent that’s subjective and open to entire debate on its own, but you know what I mean for the purposes of this discussion.

Okay, so these are some of the things I have learned about body image over the years.

Mirrors are anything but a reflection of who you are

Mirrors, money, men. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them. No but really, mirrors are the root of so much negativity related to body image. What you see in your reflection may or may not be what you are in reality. Learn the difference. Be rational. Chances are you’re not anywhere as “fat” as you think you are.

It’s all in your head

You create how you think your body looks in reality with thoughts based on irrational feelings which you believe to be facts. Okay, that’s a mouthful but you get my point. Stop blowing it up in your head and drop the negative words. Change your thoughts, change your behaviour. Why not say I look fucking awesome in this dress and wear that confidence as well as you wear that LBD. That’s looking and feeling great!

There is no such thing as normal

How can there be when everybody (and every body) is so different? Yes there are parameters of healthy, but I don’t think it’s fair to say this is normal or that is normal. Change the dialogue. Drop the word normal and replace it with the world healthy otherwise as soon as you fall outside that category your negative body talk is amplified. Healthy is aspirational, normal is just stupid.

Skinnyfat definitely exists

This is something I have noticed a lot in the modeling world, you get a lot of girls who are very thin but they’re not in good shape. They have no muscle tone and they don’t eat well. Just because someone is skinny doesn’t mean they’re toned. Maybe it should actually be renamed skinnysoft. They’re ‘soft’. It exists.

Boys think you’re either skinny or you’re fat

I can’t tell you how many guys I’ve met who describe girls as either “skinny” or “fat” (yes I have met a lot of douchebags). There’s no normal, healthy, toned etc. It’s just the one of two options; skinny (i.e. has a thigh gap) or fat (size 10+). This is so beyond ridiculous and it makes me so mad. Every time I ever hear a male make a comment like this I call them up on it and point out how in fact that girl is what I would call healthy/slim and then proceed to tell them how its comments like these that perpetuate body image issues in women. At this point they usually shut up.

People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones

This is mainly aimed at guys, especially those who are overweight, but unless you’ve got the body of a male Dolce & Gabbana model please do not comment on that girl’s “fat ass” when you look like you just ate an entire bucket of KFC. Thanks. And likewise don’t call a model fat when a. she’s anything but, and b. she’s a lot smaller than you’ll ever be. Just because she’s a model doesn’t mean she’s perfect. We’re all human. We all have flaws.

Never date a guy who makes you feel insecure about your body or comments on what you eat

This is pretty self explanatory but your boyfriend (or girlfriend) is supposed to make you feel like the you’re the best person in the entire world. If they make you feel bad about yourself, especially when you have nothing to worry about, or they nitpick at everything you eat then drop their ass before you get a complex. You want the guy who wants to have a three course meal with you and brings you ice-cream when your sad, not the guy who says “are you sure you want to eat that?”. Douche.

Models do eat

Nothing irks me more than when people assume models don’t eat, or even worse when they make stupid jokes like “oh you wouldn’t eat that because you’re a model”. I mean, PUH-LEASE. Sure there are a few girls here and there who take it to an extreme (more often than not the international runway models who are subject to miniscule measurement restrictions), but of the countless models I know (especially in the NZ market) and in the numerous model apartments I lived in internationally I can assure you that the girls do eat. Their eating patterns may be a bit different to your average person’s (when you’re earning that much to look a certain way of course you’re going to watch what you eat a little more carefully than someone who doesn’t have to parade around in lingerie to make money) but for the majority of girls I know, this is not an issue. Case in point: have you ever been backstage at a fashion show? Put out some food out and it’s like moths to a flame. Fun fact: I would say in NZ the most common form of food given to the models is pizza. Do they eat it? Hell yes they do (no pun intended).

Hangry is a real thing

Hangry = hungry + angry. Models become very hangry if you don’t feed them. Please feed the models!

Cellulite is a fact of life

Ew is what you’re probably thinking. I’ll admit, I hate cellulite as much as the next girl, or should I say every girl. “I love cellulite” – said no one EVER. But do you know what I’ve learned? It’s a fact of life, so get over it. The way I see it is you have two options: either deal with it or feel like shit every time you take a shower or go to the beach or have sex or try on lingerie or whatever else requires you to bare all. Sure there are things you can do to reduce the appearance of it – eat well, drink lots of water, body brush, exercise etc. – and in fact all these things fall under my ‘deal with it’ category, but the fact of the matter is that it all comes down to your fat cells and your genes. So, despite your best efforts at reducing its visibility, you still might be stuck with dimpled skin. In this case, rather than dreading the fact that you can’t wear your opaque stockings at the beach, just get over it and realise that at least half (probably more but this is just an estimated guess) the females around you are in the same bumpy boat. Skinny (models included), slim, healthy, overweight – no body type is exempt and I’ve seen it all, and chances are you have too. Eat well, exercise, and drink plenty of water and the rest is up to Mother Nature…

Boobs are awesome

I used to hate having big boobs. I can remember being 14 and 15 and being mortified by the fact that I had a C-cup, and feeling even worse when people would state the obvious. Duh you think I didn’t notice I had these massive lumps of fat glued to my chest. Cue some serious insecurity. It wasn’t really until I spent time in Europe as a 22 year old that I actually started to appreciate being genetically blessed in that department. What changed? The fact that every girl I came across seemed to want big boobs or have a boob job certainly helped shift my perception. Yes, I needed that validation, but that was enough to change my mindset and I’ve been happy ever since. Oh and make the most of it, not only are there are plenty of clothes out there that will only look good on you, but guys think your boobs are goddamn sexy.

Don’t judge a book by its cover and yes you can be skinny and eat whatever you want

Just because someone is slim doesn’t mean they’re healthy, and just because someone is skinny (like model skinny) doesn’t mean they don’t eat. I know countless girls who are in great shape, some even super thin, and can eat whatever they want. Do you know what the difference is? These girls tend to have a healthier relationship with food than anyone else I know. Take note of what I said – they can eat whatever they want. Therein lies the difference – what they want is not mountains of crap. These are the kinds of girls who actually listen to their bodies and they eat accordingly – if they’re hungry, they’ll eat; they eat a balanced diet and tend to make healthy choices because that’s what their body craves; they don’t deny themselves of treats (if they want cake, they’ll eat cake); they certainly don’t have emotional binges, however they will sometimes have a blowout (had a few too many treats at a shared afternoon tea – no biggie. IT’S OKAY!); and they exercise to a normal degree. On the flipside I also know a lot of girls who may have a so-called ‘banging body’ but they are far from healthy. You know the types – they’re the super strict, no carbs, no dessert types. We all know that doesn’t last. FUCK THAT!

Exercise should never be a chore

Exercise should be about feeling good and being healthy. It should be something you look forward to and enjoy and pumps you full of energy. It should not be a chore. How many girls do you know dread going to the gym or force themselves to exercise even though their body is telling them to rest? Find something you love and do it for the right reasons. Don’t force yourself to do it because you feel like you have to. I think exercise is crucial to a healthy lifestyle, but in saying that I think the motivation behind it is what makes it a healthy vs. unhealthy. Think about it.

Models are the worst gauges of a healthy body

Whatever you do, do not compare yourself to the sixteen-year-old girl in the magazine who’s barely been through puberty when you’re 26 and wondering why you don’t look like she does in a bikini, or those shorts, or that dress. Chances are when she’s 26 her body won’t look much like it did in those pictures. Don’t forget it!

And lastly, I’ve never personally met a single girl who’s genuinely said “I love my body!”

I left this until last because I think it’s the most disturbing realisation of the lot. Maybe you know someone who can say with 100% confidence they love their body, but to this day I am yet to come across such a person. To me, that’s pretty devastating. Every single female I know has insecurities to some degree. Of course there are the kind of girls who don’t like a certain body part but they get over it and it’s all okay, but the fact is they’re still dissatisfied with something, to some degree or another. What do you think? For most young women to truly love their bodies 100% – is it possible? I’m not talking about just being satisfied or comfortable, but really, truly embracing exactly what they are. I’m not so sure…

Well, there you have it. Women are crazy and irrational when it comes to their bodies. So, what’s my advice?

Firstly, take a step back (from the mirror too). Be realistic. Listen to your body and ask yourself honest questions – how do you feel physically? How are your energy levels? Do you ‘feel’ healthy? Are you exercising because you want to or because you feel like you have to? Do you realistically think you are going to gain the 2kg you swear you did because you ate the whole packet of biscuits?

If you’re craving something, just eat it. It’s not like you’re going to be lying on your death bed thinking man I’m glad I ate those grapes instead of chocolate cake. In fact, chances are you’ll be like damn I wish I ate more cake. Just eat the fucking cake.

Maintain a “healthy” lifestyle – eat well (that is eat a balanced diet and don’t deprive yourself of treats. I like to think of it as a ‘everything in moderation’ kind of thing), exercise for vitality, make sure you get enough rest, don’t smoke (ew), and try not to drink too much (it’s hard, I know).

Tell your friends how ridiculous they’re being when they make irrational and incorrect statements about their bodies. Don’t turn around by saying something equally as stupid about yours.

And finally, tell your boyfriend to please shut the fuck up when he tells you that maybe you shouldn’t have that ice cream, or when he calls a skinny girl fat. Or throw your drink on him for being a pig. I would.

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7 replies »

  1. I enjoyed reading this blog and it has valuable content for women to read.

    However, I would also make a note for another assumption that just because a women isn’t slim (eg. Larger than size NZ6/8 US2/4) doesn’t mean she can’t be healthy. There are plenty of women who have genetically larger frames or greater natural muscle mass who may look “big” but may be completely healthy.

    I also would like to ask, when you say women size 10+ are categorized as “fat” by men, is that NZ or US sizing? Pretty worrying to think that men would say a girl who’s a 10 wearing size 28 jeans is fat?! I second your opinion that they need to take a good hard look at themselves (in particular their midsection and check if it’s chiseled abs or a bloated beer belly lol).

    Thank you for the blog post.

  2. I would completely agree with you on that one – just because a women isn’t slim doesn’t mean she can’t be healthy – but in my case I was reversing the assumption and discussing that. I know a lot of what I would consider “healthy” women who aren’t slim. Again it comes down to so many factors and just another example of how size is a contentious issue and can be a deceiving indictor of health. Of course someone who is “average” or even a little “bigger” can be healthy and in fact maybe even more healthy than someone who looks slim and fit. I hate to even use those words average and bigger but you know what I mean.
    By 10+ I am referring to an NZ 10+. Again – this point was related to guys I have come across and as part of my involvement in the industries I have been in. I know that not all guys think like this, but I am just pointing out personal observations.
    If this discussion were to extend beyond these industries and my experiences obviously the conversation would change a lot. This is such a small snap shot of what is a ginormous issue.
    Thanks so much for your feedback!
    X

  3. This is an awesome article – thanks for sharing! I would love to be the woman of my dreams and to see other women doing the same thing. Surely we can do it, it may take effort and diligence but with practice I’d hope that we could be that person. Thank you for getting the conversation going !!

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