We have had an upsetting week. My 18 year old step-daughter dropped a bomb-shell; she announced, quite out of the blue, that she was going to go ahead with a breast enlargement operation. Breaking down in tears, she told us that she hated her body, felt inadequate to other women. . . had felt this way for years. “The choice, " she said, “is between a having a boob-job, or hating myself for the rest of my life!"
You can imagine the shock and upset we felt. We had absolutely no idea she felt this way! Frankly, Rowen is a beautiful girl. She is slim, takes care of herself, keeps fit, dresses well. She has the appearance of confidence, enjoys work and has a regular boyfriend. While I can see that she could be described as being quite ‘small-chested', she is certainly not unfeminine; the size of her breasts perfectly compliments her athletic physique and allows her to wear the kind of low-cut clothes that a larger woman could not get away with. It occurred to me that if Rowen considers herself to be ‘ugly’ and ‘inadequate', she must look in the mirror and see something totally different to the girl everyone else sees - in short, her perception of her own body-image must be severely distorted!
This problem with Rowen has really raised my awareness about the subject of body-image. As an exercise counsellor I am in the privileged position of being party to many people's body-image anxieties; I try to help them to overcome them, but I am becoming sadly, increasingly aware, that it has become ‘normal’ to dislike your body. Where, I wondered, does this ‘perfect’ body image that we should aspire to come from anyway?
Doing some research (typing the words ‘body’ and ‘image’ into internet search engines certainly throws up some interestingly eclectic results!) I found answers; stumbling on a hard-to-find website I discovered some ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos - before and after airbrushing that is! Here I found evidence of models and celebrities with legs elongated, tummies slimmed, acne removed, wrinkles and stretch-marks magically erased, flat chests inflated, flat chests filled out! I made some telephone calls, and one photographer who I cannot name confirmed, “It's a simple fact - every single image you see that is ‘posed’ in some way, is artificially altered. No-one actually looks like the images on bill-boards or in magazines!".
What a revelation! These ‘perfect’ images of beautiful women with perfect bodies do not exist! They are pure fiction - a fantasy created by a few men in a dark-room! Maybe if we realise this we can stop beating ourselves up for not being ‘perfect’ ourselves. (Men, by the way, are not exempt from ‘body-image pressure’ - I found images of both the French President Nikolas Sarkosy and Tony Blair, with beer-bellies and wrinkles tastefully removed!)
I think that we need to get away from the obsession with ‘how-I-look’ and concentrate more on the importance of ‘who-I-am’. This is not easy, and ‘how-I-look’ will always be a part of ‘who-I-am', but it need not be the only, or even the most important part.
I hope Rowen realises this before she does something she may really regret.
Donna Watmough lives in Norfolk, UK. She is a highly qualified and experienced Nutritionist and Exercise Counseller, specialising in Weight Loss. She is also highly in demand as a Freelance Journalist and Motivational Speaker. She runs her highly successful business, Live. . . Diet & Fitness, along with her husband Bill, who is a Personal Trainer. Please visit her website at http://www.norfolk-nutrition-weight-loss.com/ and her ‘sister-site’ at http://www.livefitnessworld.com/