CSSB: Body Positivity – Unicorns Vs Rhinos

I can’t decide whether this image is in support of the body positivity ideals or making fun of it.

It does get one thing right though.

Unicorns don’t exist.

If you’re holding up a unicorn as the representative of the fashion industry ideals, you got it absolutely spot on. The Unicorn DOES NOT EXIST. That perfect image that the fashion industry are trying to sell you? Trying to make you strive for? Trying to make you chase? It’s not real. It doesn’t exist. It’s manipulated and altered and changed and tweaked until there is absolutely nothing genuine left in it. This industry is pushing women into chasing a mythical ideal. It is impossible to become a Unicorn. They do not exist. You’re much better of being a Rhino. A real life, genuine, impressive and awesome creature who does not give a damn about whether her bum looks big in this skin or what the other females at the waterhole think of her.

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CSSB Sunday Rant: Looking ‘Thin’

What ho, deary ducks! Sorry for the absence, but recovery has taken more energy than expected. But I am back now, with a new guest post lined up, some more treats in the offing this week and a big new rant today which follows the story of a small occurrence on Twitter staring myself and my sister, Ms Moo.

In case you didn’t know – this week just past was Eating Disorder Awareness Week.

Now, first comes the disclaimer: I sympathise with people who are attempting to lose weight because their size is affecting their health. If the size of your body is causing you to be breathless, find movement difficult, suffer from backache, have diabetes, experience high blood pressure or be at risk of pressure sores – then you are absolutely right to do something about it, for the sake of your life and standard and health. This post isn’t about you. 

I don’t post here about dieting or trying to lose weight or whatever because that isn’t the focus of this blog. However, I have strong opinions on this having had horrific issues with my weight, tied in to the state of my mental health, in the past. For me, the idea of ‘looking thin’ is incredibly negative, and the idea of being ‘skinny’ is even worse. If you are remotely interested in why, I suggest you pop over here and have a look at my long post about my experiences of these states.

Not nice. At all. And now for me, the idea of being think or skinny equates to ‘unhealthy’.

As back up for my assumption on the link between ‘thin’ and ‘unhealthy’, let’s look at another slightly more well known person’s experience of this. Louise Redknapp, one of my teenage-years heroines, recently undertook a documentary on how her health was affected by trying to reach a size ‘zero’ – which in the UK is a size 4. If you want to see what happened to her, go and see here. This is part one, there are links from this to the other chapters.

Nothing about this experience is good. It affected her health, her temper, her relationship with her husband and child, her ability to do her job and her self esteem. And none of those impacts were positive.

My sister is a proud proponent of EDAW, and of BODY who work with people to combat their Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Naturally she was horrified when she popped into her local supermarket and found this on sale during the very week when these issues should be given attention and consideration:

I absolutely agree with her. Poor show indeed. So we retweeted this message and shoved it under the nose of the Twitter account for Sainsburys PR. I am delighted to say that Sainsburys responded in very short time and agreed to remove the product from sale. Victory is ours. Slowly we are changing the world, one opinion and one mind at a time.

But the very existence of this card prompted my thinking.

Why does the world value the idea of being ‘thin’?

It’s not a consistent thing which stretches back over a long time. If you look back through literature, being ‘thin’ often equates to being ill. Jane Eyre becomes ‘thin’ when she is ill. So do Becky and Sara Crewe in ‘A Little Princess’. So does Marianne in ‘Sense and Sensibility’. The idea of being thin is not painted as an attractive idea. Quite the opposite in fact. Blanche Ingram, Jane Eyre’s rival for Mr Rochester’s affections, is described as ‘a real strapper … big, brown and buxom’! Further back still, Chaucer’s wife of Bath, who was married five times and hunting for hubby number 6, was described as large, gap toothed and red faced, all of which were positive descriptions for women at the time!

The idea of being thin being a desirable element of femininity is a relatively modern thing and I believe it is linked into other desirable ‘feminine’ traits – self control and self denial. The western world is a land of plenty and availability for the majority of the population when it comes to food. Or so it would have us believe. It’s just not done to talk about people in poverty having insufficient food or relying on food banks to survive. The sheer size of portions, the regularity of adverts, the indulgence of convenience food – it all adds up to an image of plenty.

So a woman now could, if she wanted, eat as much as she liked. Especially in the days of female emancipation where women are able to work for, earn and control their own salaries.

But we’re not supposed to indulge. We’re supposed to be restrained. Controlled. Self denying. And nowhere does that show more than in our physical appearance.

I despise cards like this one that Ms Moo complained about. Because the message doesn’t actually compliment a woman on her looks.

What it actually means is ‘Congratulations, you have managed to forgo your own natural desires for sustenance and starve yourself into a physically unhealthy form in the name of gaining society’s approval. This is what we want from you, and don’t ever change’.

What a disgusting social message, framed in a neat pink congratulations card.

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Body Image – what it’s like to be skinny

I notice a lot of the people I follow post on this issue of Body Positivity a lot. So I figured I wanted to make this post, after thinking about the issues on and off all day.

About 5 years ago, I was diagnosed with moderate depressive episodes. The state I got to before the diagnosis was quite frankly shocking.

Self Harm, other than a spate as a teenager, has never been my way of expressing things. But I suffered from agoraphobia quite violently. So yes, I couldn’t leave the house.

At times it meant I couldn’t leave my room. Or my bed. Or come out from where I had wedged myself in under my desk. And I am not a small lady, being all of 5’8” tall and I was a size 12-14 at the time (for Americans, that’s a size 8-10 in your sizes).

What this meant was that I did not, for some periods of time, get as far as the kitchen or even the bathroom. So by the time I eventually went to the doctors I stank, I looked terrible, my hair was matted and I had lost a lot of weight very quickly. Almost a third of my original body weight in fact. I was down to a size 6 (American size 2) and my body is really too tall to support that kind of weight frame.

People assumed I must be thrilled at this unexpected side effect of serious illness and mental torture. *facepalm*

However, what I would like to mention here are my experiences of life at that body weight. I was eight stone at my worst. That’s 112 pounds. I’m 5’8” tall. So using the BMI scale, I was at 17, well under the 18.5 which marks out the point at which a person becomes underweight.

For those who care I’m now at 168 pounds with a BMI of 25.5. Slightly (by 0.50 over the upper band for a healthy weight. My nurse tells me I should lose a few pounds. I tell her to sod off. She smiles and agrees that I look better as I am but she’s required by job description to peddle this nonsense.

I suffered some horrific side effects as a result of being so thin. Some of which are never mentioned by the rapid-weight-loss ads that I see scattered around the internet. And these continued even after I started eating properly and did not abate until my weight rose.

* My hair started falling out. I have beautiful hair, even if I say so myself. It’s long, with natural highlights and a mix of red/brown colours and because my testosterone is naturally high for a girl it is strong and can with stand some pretty imaginative styling if I feel like it. It started falling out as I brushed it as I did not have the nutrients in my body to sustain healthy-looking hair.

* My skin suffered. I got eczema around the edge of my hair line where my skin started flaking off. I looked like I was rotting. I also got terrible acne.

* I would vomit after food because my stomach was so shrunken that it could not abide solid food. I lived on soup and tiny portions of things. And tea with lots of sugar in it for energy. I cannot tell you how horrible it is to be so thin and so hungry and to eat food and then to have everything you’ve just eaten come back up and leave you stinking of bile and aching from the wretching and knowing that all your good work was involuntarily undone. And then you have to start all over again.

* I became an insomniac because I was so bony that I could not get comfortable. My spine, collar bones and hips were all protruding and my bed was too lumpy to sustain me. I slept on a pile of fuzzy jumpers and dressing gowns and they used to absorb all my sweat during the night and be *stinking* the following morning. I went through washing powder like nothing. If I slept on the matress and passed out with exhaustion I would get bruises on my more bony bits.

* My nails stopped growing. And my toenails snapped. I think this was due to calcium deficiency.

* I could not sit on any hard chairs for longer than 10 minutes without my legs going numb and experiencing chronic pins and needles which were, at times, very painful

* I had difficulty walking very far without getting out of breath and dizzy. I would get heat flushes and more than once I collapsed in the street on a trip out to get food or any sort of supplies.

I do not want to be skinny every again. I had a rotten time being thin, even when I was at the thin-healthy end of my BMI scale, I still suffered some of these side effects which were enough to ruin my quality of life for sometime.

Right now, I am a size 14-16 (size 10-12 for Americans). I have a bum. And love handles. And a squidgy tummy. I have boobs (in fact I was told by a female friend last night while we were out having drinks that I have *awesome boobs*). I have weight around my thighs which possibly isn’t the prettiest thing in the world, but I LOVE ALL OF THEM. I LOVE MY BODY. And so does my fiance, who knew me when I was ‘skinny’ and nursed me through being ill to get back to my current state. He worries when I diet at all. Even though he has a preference for ‘slim’ in terms of attractive body shape, he classes me as slim. I would be classed as a plus size were I a model. But to him, I ‘go in and out in all the right places and have a definite feminine definition to my shape’. Regardless of what the tape measure and my clothing size labels say, I look DAMN hot. And I love seeing that reflected in his face.

I also have my hair back. I have grown my nails. My feet are healthy. My eczema has abated. My sweat doesn’t actively stink beyond the usual unpleasant smell of body odour. I can sleep without getting bruises on my ribs and back.

I know that some people’s bodies are designed to carry very little weight. They can look good being skinny and not have their health suffer as a side effect. But me – I’m not one of them. And even though society values the skinny side of feminine beauty, I know that I look (and feel) far better carrying that extra weight as nature intended me to do so. My unintended experiment of going without it was painful, uncomfortable, frankly disgusting and was enough to  put me off crash diets for life.

What does it feel like to be skinny?

Well, if you’re not naturally built for it – it feels like hell. Let’s leave it at that.

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