The debate that took place last year over Protein World's "Bikini Body" campaign sparked a conflict within me. Yes, it is important that girls, boys, well people in general to not embark on a road of body shaming. With insecurity and mental illness rife among women, the last thing we should be doing is making someone, anyone, feel inadequate or self-conscious; we need to start being kind to each other but at the moment we're doing quite the opposite.
Having attended an all girls school, I experienced first hand how much of an impact body image can have on one's life. Anorexia, bulimia and self-harm were three of the evils I was presented with during my time at school. The University of West England carried out some research that concluded that fifteen per cent of girls would stay at home rather than go into school on days when they felt bad about their bodies. In addition, it was suggested that five per cent of ladies would not attend a job interview in the same situation and three per cent would not go into work. There has to be something wrong when advertising or popular culture, pushes people to the point where they cannot carry out daily activities. Body confidence needs to be put on the agenda, and fast!
The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) claims that ninety-one per cent of women surveyed on a college campus had "attempted to control their weight through dieting" with twenty-two per cent "often" or "always" dieting. This can NOT be healthy. It gets worse; ANAD's research goes on to reveal that forty-seven per cent of girls in fifth to twelfth grade reported wanting to lose weight because of magazine pictures. Eighty-one per cent of ten year olds are afraid of being fat (Mellin et al, 1991). The fear of "fat" seems to be entrenched in daily life. You can't go a day without being exposed to some perception of "beautiful", normally manifesting itself in being six foot tall and weighing less than 140lbs.
The Body Confidence that followed Protein World's Bikini Body Campaign was thus a breath of fresh air. Women of all shapes and sizes were coming out to show that you don't have to fit the media's perception of beauty; it's ok to be different! Wonderful! This is the message we need to be communicating. Perhaps the most pertinent retort to Protein World was the Three Step Guide to having a bikini body that went:1) Buy a Bikini, 2) Have a Body and 3) Put Bikini on Body. My experience has shown me that people come in all shapes and sizes. I am never going to be a size 6, or 8 if I'm being brutally honest, but it doesn't matter. What matters is that people feel comfortable and confident in their own skin; comfortable enough to not bunk or consider bunking school or work. It's time ladies started complimenting each other rather than shaming.
However, I am experiencing an internal conflict. For me, it is obvious that the media and advertising is having a negative impact on body image and the mental health of many people. This has to stop. But, the body confidence campaign, in places, promotes equally unhealthy ideals.
Currently, obesity is said to cost the NHS approximately £6 billion, possibly rising to £8 billion by the end of the year. Complications associated with obesity are set to cost the NHS even more, with Type 2 diabetes (I am Type 1, which, for the record, is a very different condition indeed!) estimated to cost the NHS £9 billion this year alone.
It is said that one in five secondary school children are "obese", as are a quarter of adults. I spoke earlier of the disgusting amount of young people suffering with eating disorders, but surely this statistic is equally as shocking? Being both under- and over- weight comes with health complications; both can have a detrimental effect on a person's quality and length of life.
Obesity is, for me, just as evil as anorexia, so when body confidence campaigns are promoting an equal evil, I can't quite accept it. Tess Holliday, a plus size model, is often cited as girls' "hero". Is her body not just as harming as the one shown on the Protein World Advert? There is no denying Holliday is beautiful, but her body should not be the body girls are aspiring to either. We need to find a happy median; we need to find a way of depicting healthy bodies, not bodies at either end of the spectrum.
I have the upmost respect for those who joined the body confidence movement; being comfortable in your own skin is still something I struggle with, but whether you're body confident at a size zero or size twenty-two, we need to remember to promote health and awareness alongside. Social media seems depict two extremes, and it is important that young girls, adults, everyone understands that NEITHER end is healthy, and healthy is what we need to aim for!