Body Autonomy: Owning Our Bodies for the Greater Good…

As a fat woman, I am well-versed in having my body shamed and not receiving accurate representation of my body within the mainstream media – but I believe it true to say that all bodies suffer a lack of representation in the mainstream.

A recent Guardian article reported that only 39% of girls in the UK and only 46% of girls globally had high self-esteem – in the same article, it was reported that the less body-confident girls feel, the less-assertive they become in other areas of their lives. The co-author of these findings, Phillippa Diedrichs, associate professor from the Centre for Appearance Research, University of the West of England, said: “We [also] need to change the social and cultural environment directly so that girls are not judged on their looks and are not held back from getting a seat at whatever table they want, be it in the boardroom, or in parliament, because of body image concerns.”

The report concludes that higher levels of body-esteem have a lasting impact on a girl’s confidence, resilience and life satisfaction. So why, pray tell, are the media, society and those in a position of power, abusing their positions to frequently get behind an ideal that shames and belittles young women and their bodies.

I find myself frequently lost, fraught, even, that our bodies are pitted against us as being sources of unfavourable emotion. It is also shocking to me that we are still judged in terms of status, worth and value by the shape and size of our bodies.

But it’s not just girls and women who are suffering, boys are also falling victim to misleading and toxic body image ideals. University of Queensland anthropologist Dr Mair Underwood said in a recent article that while the dangers of young women falling victim to eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia had been well documented, the spotlight was now shifting to teenage boys who feel “immense pressure” to bulk up.

“They’re presented with completely unachievable and unrealistic ideals,” Dr Underwood said. “Look at today’s action figures and cartoon characters — they’re becoming so muscular you can’t even achieve that appearance with the use of steroids. These young men have grown up with that and haven’t ever known any different.”

Whilst I, and many others, are fighting for better body image ideals and wider representation of all bodies – many are falling behind in getting on board with a movement that could change the whole world and how we view body image. It is not enough to call yourself a body image activist or advocate but only represent bodies that reflect your own – boys, girls, men, women, trans-folk, those in the LGBTQI community, mothers, fathers, grandparents, people of colour, children, adults, the elderly – we are ALL susceptible to the pain and torment that comes with hating the way that we look.

More often than not, society ignores the damage that it might be causing. The collapse of self-esteem worldwide is imminent, and yet the media still insists on pushing thin, white, cis women and bulked-up, white, cis men as the be all and end all of success and body acceptance.

This is not the real world. Bodies are varied and diverse, it is not enough that we are offered breadcrumbs by the media in terms of slightly ‘curvy models’ and the infamous ‘dad-bod’. We need solid, accurate representation and role models of all bodies at the centre of the mainstream. Trying to blindside wider society by reporting on and supporting bodies that are slightly different is not enough to encourage body acceptance for those bodies that are completely different to those presented, no – those foisted upon us, by the mainstream.

It needs to be acknowledged worldwide that body autonomy exists – and it needs to be understood that our bodies do not dictate our souls, our essence or our worth as human beings. Now is the time to harness a positive body image ideal, we’ve dug our heels in and have begun to make ourselves heard – but there’s still a long way to go.

If you can’t find it within yourself to love your own skin, then please for the love of god find it in your heart to allow others the freedom, time and space to love their own. Do it for the greater good, do it for future generations of young people who are growing up in this godforsaken world.

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