It’s not that I believe that body image has ceased to be one of the central parameters for how women – and especially, girls – define themselves. Nor – if musician Pink’s recent “fat shaming” episode is any bellwether — do I think that others won’t continue to pressure women, and particularly celebrities, to stay thin.
It’s just that culturally, I see a few signs that the the tides are slowly turning on this one and that one day in the foreseeable future, much like smoking and not using sunscreen in days gone by, our cultural obsession with being thin will wane and “fat” and “chubby” and “plus-size” will cease to have the negative cultural resonance it holds today.
“Rubenesque” will be the new black.
I first started noticing this shift a few years ago, when the British parliament launched an investigation into the problem of body image in the UK, including the problems of anorexia, obesity and self-harm. This inquiry was accompanied by a protest outside parliament where people literally set fire to diet books, slimming magazines and calorie counters as part of a global movement to “ditch diets” and their toxic impact on our physical and mental health.
One year later, the internet went mad when the image of some plus-sized mannequins from a Swedish department store went viral. The well of global enthusiasm for a couple of purple bikini-clad plastic women who looked downright normal suggested to me, at least, that there was a real appetite to project more realistic body image for women and girls.
This year, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see that trend continue. Earlier this month, the French National Assembly passed a bill making it illegal to hire dangerously thin women to work as models. Just this past week, a company in the U.K. made headlines for hiring the largest plus-sized model at a mainstream modelling agency.
And then there’s the Lane Bryant #Imnoangel campaign, which goes out of its way to use women of all shapes, sizes and colors in the company’s latest line of bras to redefine what “sexy” means. Dear Lord, they look fantastic. The campaign is part of a broader social media appeal to challenge conventional beauty standards.
Even Facebook – no stranger to using its platform to make powerful cultural and political statements – has gotten on board by banning “feeling fat” from its status update repertoire in response to an online petition arguing that the erstwhile chubby-cheeked emoticon accompanying this status reinforced negative body image stereotypes.
I know what you’re going to say. A charred diet book, a plump mannequin and one less Facebook emoticon does not the world change. Nor is it perhaps accidental that most of these examples come from Europe which is – let’s face it – more progressive on these issues than the United States.
But we need to start somewhere. And since many of us take our cues about how we’re meant to look from the ads that we see and the books that we buy, I, for one, am heartened by this trend.
Nor can it happen too soon. My daughter came home from school the other day and told me, sheepishly, that one of her 11-year-old friends is on a diet. “A diet?” I asked, scrunching up my face. “How can an 11 year-old possibly feel that she needs to go on a diet?”
My daughter looked positively downcast. “I know,” she said. “We’re trying to talk her out of it. It’s not healthy.”
No it isn’t. But if we’re going to change an 11-year-old’s mind, we need to change her cultural reference points.
Now *that* would be a “plus.”
Delia Lloyd is an American writer based in London. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Financial Times and The Guardian. She blogs about adulthood at realdelia.com.
Image: Feeling Fat by Caitlin Regan via Flickr