The Body Issue

Losing weight is a big goal for me this year, although to date I’ve done nothing about it (putting down the chocolate brownie right now).

It seems I am not alone in this goal and women’s magazines everywhere are taking the whole new year resolution of getting slimmer to new heights. You can’t find a magazine that doesn’t offer a new diet, training program or before/after weight loss story at the moment.

In the meantime women are getting into arguments over how these magazines are portraying the whole body issue.

Goodness me, the debate has been heated, particularly over the covers of two of our local women’s mags.

First up, The Australian Women’s Weekly featured a naked 50-year-old woman on the cover and admitted a little photoshopping of some freckles and sunspots. A row erupted over how she wasn’t a typical 50-year-old and it was wrong to photoshop her. Now Deborah Hutton, the 50 year-old in question, is a model. Modelling is her career so I guess she starts out with a genetic windfall and works it to her advantage, I’m guessing she’s probably more familiar with the inside of a gym than I’m ever going to be.

While I am jealous she looks that good at 50 I have to accept that I didn’t look as good as Deborah Hutton when I was 20 let alone now. Even if she wasn’t photoshopped and I was I still wouldn’t match up.

I was however, surprised by some of the on-line comments the cover generated. There was the issue of whether we should have photoshopped covers but there was also a lot of comments that became particularly vitriolic toward Deborah herself and claiming she doesn’t represent a true 50 year-old. I’m pretty sure she feels she represents the 50 year-old that she happens to be. Does she represent the majority? Nah. Does that matter?

Now another argument is taking place over last week’s New Idea who did put a non-model on the cover. Julie Goodwin, winner of Masterchef and now author of cookbooks. In a gutsy move Julie donned a swimsuit and stood next to some stick thin creatures wearing bikinis. The article was on “best bodies at every age”.  Ros Reines a columnist for the Sunday Telegraph took the magazine to task saying the “message to love our bodies whatever their size and age is inspirational” but that it was “irresponsible to pretend that it’s fine to be overweight” and suggested that a waist measurement of more than 80cm meant Julie was putting herself at risk of “type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers”.

Julie responded with her own blog on the issue which has been featured on a number of prominent media sites. Happy, and obviously comfortable in own skin why should Julie want to change her shape?

The whole kerfuffle got me thinking about a number of issues. Firstly, what do we want to see represented in our magazines? Do we really, truly want to see people just like us or do we want the fantasy image? I know I get frustrated sometimes with the perfection on display in the magazine world but would I buy magazines that featured folk just like me? In all honesty, I’m not sure I would.

Secondly, although Reines comments may have been misdirected her point is correct, being overweight isn’t good for you. So why do so many of us struggle with it? What does inspire and motivate women to get moving, eat right and shed the unwanted kilos?

Thirdly, why are we all obsessed with bodies?

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21 thoughts on “The Body Issue

  1. Good questions – I think the whole issue of weight and health is muddied by the issues regarding beauty. We are always being fed (no pun intended) messages that tell us that we are only going to be happy and successful and really worthwhile if our looks conform to a certain norm. This is rubbish and very destructive but also means that people often don’t hear the health messages and instead hear only condemnation and disapproval.
    The spilt you are describing in the magazines reflects exactly the split in our societies – we yo-yo back and forth between ‘I wish I looked like that’ and ‘To hell with everyone I’ll be fat if I like.’ We’d be better off – and healthier – if we felt we were fine human beings as we are – no matter how we look – who can define ourselves and our value by how we act in the world and not how we look. Then we might be able to hear health advice about our weight without feeling we were in danger of annihilation.

    • Great points, and you capture my own back-and-forth on the issue, on one hand I like to see images to aspire to, yet given how unobtainable they are I then go into the “to hell with it” mode. Looks/image is such a big factor in our society from tv, film, magazines, music videos even blogs that I think we are finding it harder and harder to define a sense of worth outside of how we look.

  2. Not to mention that women’s magazines focus on food, cooking and taking care of other people’s needs. Women are given conflicting and unhelpful messages about how to care for themselves. Fact is, if you’re going to lose weight and keep it off, every bit of food in the house has to be healthy for you (not just what your kids and husband want to eat, which may be very different.) You’ll also have to commit to an hour of exercise every day, an hour away from others’ needs, which is a decision.

    And focusing endless attention on women’s bodies means not focusing on more essential issues like their rates of pay or how they are treated by the legal and judicial systems. The world would be a very different place if every hour wasted discussing our bodies was re-focused.

    • It is amazing how difficult it is for women to find time for themselves – I thought with my children being older it would be easier to get time to work on some of my own projects but it continues to be a struggle – and I’ve already decided the exercise will probably have to happen early in the morning before they wake up. I have been surprised about how these stories have drawn such attention (from women) it seems they are deeply angry about bodies,and many of the comments showed how lacking in confidence they were about their own, but you are right issues such as rates of pay etc would never have drawn this much discussion or attention. Which might be why things are still unequal in that regard.

  3. Every culture throughout the centuries has had idealized images of beauty. Because they are idealized, they are also, generally, unattainable by the majority of people. The problem comes when we feel compelled to emulate these idealized images. Maybe it’s a sign of getting older but I’m getting less and less interested in trying to measure up to that standard. I can’t, for one. But when I put down the magazine and turn off the TV and wander out into the world, I find that I am well within the “normal” continuum. I’m not the most beautiful, I’m not the least beautiful, I’m not the fattest, I’m (definitely) not the thinnest. Like most of humanity, I’m somewhere in the middle. I also think it’s interesting that we would never apply those standards to our friends or our daughters. Do we have friends that we think are beautiful? Of course! Do they look like models? Probably not. But that doesn’t make them any less lovely. I need to lose some weight myself but this time my goal isn’t to be thin, it’s just to get down to where I’m healthy. I think we need to take our eyes off of the magazines and just look at reality. I think we’d find that we’re just fine.

    • Well said Heather. Even though I sometimes get narky about the beautiful women living beautiful lives in the magazines I was surprised that much of the attack on Deborah Hutton seemed to be focused on the fact she was beautiful.No amount of make-up or lighting will get me looking like that but do I need to hate her for that problem? When I look at my 50 year-old friends their beauty comes from their kindness, their sense of fun, the joy it is to be in their company. We are just fine.

  4. Great post, Janine. Glad to see that I’m not the only conflicted one out there. You and other commenters have expressed so well what I (sometimes) think. When I’m thinking about this stuff and not eating M-n-M’s.

  5. hello janinie – my theory is to not pay too much attention to looks, but try to be authentic, and at the same time really work to be healthy. i’m always working the vegetable issue with my family.
    does that make sense? so i would never say “diet”, but instead say, “eat healthy, get outside, pay attention to nutrition.” joy, n

  6. LOL…as I also sit here eating M & M’s! I have been fortunate to have lost 52 lbs since I was there visiting almost 2 years ago (M & M’s are not on my diet but I have my weakness) …and I am happy to say that I did it for the healthier aspect with hopes that the beauty part would be a benefit also and can honestly say that I feel so much better…healthier and happier! I’ve even started running again~who knew that it would be so much easier without that extra weight? I agree tho that to accomplish this feat I had to clean out the cupboards and replenish with healthy foods (to the point that when my kids come home to visit they complain because there is nothing to eat…which isn’t exactly true but the foods there are require thought and actual cooking)! In all honesty the compliments received as others noticed my weight loss are a big motivator in continuing my efforts to lose “those last 10 lbs” something I’ve been working on for a long time now it seems. I know that it is easier since my children are all grown and I don’t have to deal with a “significant other” but running my bar is my “baggage” and still finding the time to exercise every day and eat the right foods is difficult. I also realized that sometimes I just need to have that handful of M&M’s and take a nap rather than run 4 miles…it’s balancing out in the end!

  7. I put “being more healthy” on my New Years Resolution list this year. I’ll admit that I’m decently thin, but the week before Thanksgiving I put on 8 pounds – no, not DURING Thanksgiving, shockingly – I was giving somebody a food tour of Philadelphia (what can I say, the food is great) and then I made an effort to lose that weight as soon as it happened to get back to a point where I felt comfortable. All I did was eat healthier and try not to snack on so many unhealthy things throughout the day. I liked the simplicity of it all. I still need to find a way to make exercise seem fun though that doesn’t involve me dropping $100s a year on dance classes though… let me know what you come up with.

    PS. I think this was the first post I realized that you’re not in the US – 80 cm. (1 ft = 30.5 cm-ish, 2 ft – 61 cm-ish, the extra 19 cm is approximately 8 inches, 24+8 inches = 32 inches) Now I’ve got myself thinking, is that really all that big?

    • I think 80 cms equals 31.5 inches. (Although maths has never been my strong point I used an internet converter).

      According the Department of Health and Ageing here in Aust.

      No matter what your height or build, an increased waistline is a sign that you could be at greater risk of developing serious ongoing health problems including chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and some cancers.1

      Increased risk
      – Men: more than 94 centimetres
      – Women: more than 80 centimetres
      Greatly increased risk
      – Men: more than 102 centimetres
      – Women: more than 88 centimetres

      NOTE: These are World Health Organisation and National Health & Medical Research Council figures.

      I was surprised yesterday to read a post by another blogger who was very upset about her weight but was only a size 8/10 (no idea what that is in US sizes) and obviously it is something you think about too (and you look tiny)so weight really is a key issue for women of ALL sizes obviously.

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