I am 25, and I am a curvy size 10: one of those people who is by no means skinny, but by no means overweight either. I inhabit that ever-so-comfy middle ground, the area where everything is perfectly ‘ok’ but where there is a continuous consciousness of lumps and bumps that it would be nice to get rid of. If you could just be bothered to. I imagine this is the experience of plenty of women. I imagine that I am pretty ordinary in my outlook.
Throughout my life, I have felt pretty ordinary too. All of the above thoughts have never existed beyond a little niggle, or a short conversation - they have been there but I have certainly never dwelled on them. By this I mean that they have never influenced my actions (this could be good or bad) - I have never denied myself a biscuit on their behalf, I have never gone to the gym to smooth them out. In fact, I have probably actively scorned those who have done so (that is bad). I have felt content in my body image middle ground, in school, in university and in my social life.
Until now - until the workplace. For some reason, an office seems to be an intense breeding ground for talking about either our weight, or what we’re eating, or both. Maybe it is the guilt from inactively sitting in front of a computer each day. Maybe it is the cakes that are brought in, and the biscuits on offer during meetings. Maybe because it is the way female colleagues bond (not knowing each well enough to converse about personal lives in depth, but wanting to share something of themselves). Either way, going on diets, attempting to lose weight, or being discontent with the current state of affairs is so much more prevalent.
Slowly but surely, this has infiltrated my mindset. For the first time, I am getting a sense of elation from denying myself the biscuit. Last week I found myself wandering around Sainsbury’s choosing lunch based upon my calorie intake, visiting and revisiting aisles to make comparisons. I am even getting a small buzz from prolonged feelings of hunger, and I have started weighing myself when I go swimming. Perhaps most significantly of all, I have started telling people that I am on a health-kick, and that I am trying to eat better.
None of this is particularly monumental - certainly in comparison to the huge challenges some people face in their relationships with food and exercise (of which I really don’t want to belittle). In fact, they could even be interpreted as positive change - I definitely am not as fit as I should be, and going swimming each week is needed. However, what I have noticed is that, for the first time in my life, I am not content with the way things are. With who I am. And I think this might be because I am so much more aware of how predominant these anxieties are in the minds of others…and so feel they should concern me just as much.
It’s totally understandable - humans seek empathy and support. But by constantly critiquing ourselves in front of others, and documenting our unhappiness with our body image, maybe we are cementing the importance of its role in our lives. Rather than being an internal anxiety, it becomes blown out of proportion - a biscuit isn’t really going to have an impact, and birthday cake is just delicious. An attitude of everything in moderation will get us a long way.
Ultimately, diets aren’t bad. And exercise is good. But maybe we shouldn’t talk about them quite as much?