For those of you that don’t know, this week is Fat Talk Free week, but what I hear you ask, is Fat Talk Free?
It has been in the US for the past 3 years and has only just been bought to the UK by The Succeed Foundation, it is a week to get people to look at the way they talk about body image, weight, appearance and all the derogatory ways we do that. There are two events in London that Succeed are putting on, which will be attended by Body Gossip, Men Get Eating Disorders Too and other campaigns that have close links to body image. So in my true style, I thought I would kick the week off with a blog…
One thing that has annoyed me in the run up to Fat Talk Free week is the way that Succeed have publicised it. Women have these issues, when women talk about…, when a group of girls are together…
It is just yet another time that the issue has been feminised when the fact is the way we talk about our bodies has a lot to do with men too, the conversations may be slightly different, the way they are had may be slightly different but under it all it is the same issue, as a nation we are obsessed with ideals and the way we fit into them and we like to talk about it, usually negatively.
I have always said and will continue to say that men have missed a lot of the body image debate. But gender roles in society, in my opinion, have shifted away from the traditional model of women being the ones who have to watch their appearance and men being the ones who went out and built the career. This went a long time ago and as a result women are now under the same career pressures as men and men are under more pressure to fit in to appearance related ideals. This is of course a very narrow example, but otherwise I could go on about how I think it has come round to this all night long!
So what is it with men, we certainly don’t have the sample conversations I have seen on the Succeed website, about sliding into jeans and “does my bum look big in this” type discussions. The conversations are different, they revolve around muscle, height, fitness and the like, but they can have the same damaging consequences. Doing what I do, I speak to men all the time who engage in the kind of talk about how they need to look a certain way to be considered attractive all the way to people who feel they need to go the gym 6 times a week just to keep this up and when guys get together it is the same body competition, just in a slightly different way. You so often hear men in a pub, talking competitively about how much they have worked out or how much they can press or lift, which can make people feel very insecure about their appearance and ability, they may not show it, but it can.
Fat Talk is a very general term, you call it what you like, Fat Talk, Muscle Talk, Height Talk, but it is all the same thing. When we talk about our bodies excessively, it not only creates problems for you, but for the others that have to sit there and listen. It is certainly a fact that the way we are so obsessed with ideals isn’t helpful and the fact we have such a narrow view of what is to be considered to be perfect really limits our ability to see that really if someone is being themselves, then that is pretty much as perfect as it is ever going to be, for them!
You could blame the media, the way body image is portrayed, but we have a responsibility to moderate what we are exposed to and how we look at it. Yes I believe that the way body image is shown needs to change, but we need to change also.
I feel the need to mention Natasha Devon and the whirlwind that is Body Gossip, for every time I meet with her she makes it abundantly clear that body image is an issue that affects everybody! And it is one of the only campaigns by far that makes an extra effort to include everyone in the body image debate.
So as this is all getting very long now, my message is easy, can we take this one week to look at the way we talk about ourselves and other people? And, can we also take this week to look at the way men are affected? As it is all too often forgotten.
Over the last 10 years I feel we have seen a drastic shift in the way Men envisage an “ideal” body image. While body image issues in females have pretty much always concentrated on the “super skinny” culture the male perception of what is “ideal” has changed a lot over the last decade and is still very much evolving.
It’s a fact I feel that the female body image debate has been around a lot longer, with examples of women attempting to achieve what was considered the “ideal” as far back as the Victorian times, there are probably even some instances that pre-date that. For the men it would seem that the majority of the debate has been missed, with less emphasis over the years for men to achieve an ideal image but instead be expected to live up to a masculine front in regards to behaviour, like providing for the family and working hard coming way before how a man looked.
Come crashing back into the present day and it would appear the culture has shifted, with more Men than ever before concerned about body image, feeling the pressure to conform to what society considers to be normal and “attractive”. What interests me most about male body image is the impression that there seems to be two divides into what men consider to be ideal….
On one side you have the men that feel they should be masculine in appearance and carry off defined bodies and a muscled appearance. Who will spend massive parts of their day exercising and sometimes supplementing to achieve what they consider to be an ideal. This can lead to problems with excessive exercising and the general health risks that come with it.
Then you have the flip side, the idea that for a man the ideal is to be skinny. This is a growing and rather worrying trend which seems to be more popular in younger men. With these attempts to achieve that sort of image the likelihood is it will take both a lot of exercise and a restricted diet to achieve it, all of which carry their risks.
Don’t get me wrong, some people are naturally skinny and some people are naturally toned, but it is when it comes to what society expects someone to be that drives me up the wall. Body image is another classic example of what we as a species are particularly good at, categorising or “boxing” people into where we think they should fit. You can couple that with the pressure from the people around you with the constant bombardment of diet advertising, weight loss programs, exercise programs and celebrity gossip and voila! All the ingredients you need to make you really insecure about how you look.
It also used to be the adverts, programs about weight loss and toning up were more often than not targeted towards women, now even this culture is starting to take a turn. Companies that produce these sorts of messages have now realised that Men can be insecure about the way they look too. Especially this New Year when the diet advertising was unusually inclusive of both sexes as opposed to swinging one way.
It seems that nowadays both sexes have a tough time steering clear of body image pressures and it’s a real shame that anyone from any sex, age or background should have to feel negative about the way they look. Attitudes need to change at such a high level, about the way people treat others and the way the media and the general population perceive others. There is also the huge element of self-respect and self-love, the lost art of being “body confident”.
How much further are we going to go to try and achieve the perceived perfect image and what extremes will we use to do it, there is the question as to whether the battle for body image will ever end, and I don’t feel I can answer that. It is down to each and every person to stand up for their rights to be who they want to be and challenge those that stigmatise others or try and categorise people based on appearance.
So why don’t we all try to shake off the shackles of what we “should” be and instead concentrate on our true selves, after all if everyone was the same life would be boring, right?