03/08/2017 Our Growing Obsession with Body Image


There has been so much talk about body image recently. What’s realistic? What’s unrealistic? What’s healthy? Are TV shows like Love Island lacking body diversity? Is social media giving us all body issues? Let’s take a look at this growing obsession and its effects…

Firstly I think this obsession with looks has always been around pre Instagram, pre Love Island and pre selfies. I’m a ’90s child. When I was a teenager it was dial up internet and your mobile phone was used to beat your top snake score not to update your Facebook profile. This does not mean I did not spend every waking moment concerned with how I looked, because I did. I would pore over teen magazines wishing I looked like one of the popstars I idolised. I watched Top of the Pops religiously. I remember some of the music videos causing scandal for their raunchy lyrics, sexual dance moves and skimpy outfits. I dreamed about being in one of those videos and was clueless to the inappropriateness!

When I was young I didn’t have a feed to scroll though on my phone filled with images of amazing washboard abs, booty gains and thigh gaps. But similar images could be found elsewhere whether in print or on TV. How we consume imagery of the ‘ideal’ body has changed and what the ‘ideal’ body looks like has changed but nevertheless the obsession with how we look has stood the test of time.

Corsets were being worn by the majority of women back in the mid sixteenth century. The desire to alter the shape of our bodies has always been alight. The fashion trends may go round and round and the tools change but the goal is always to change how you look, to look what is perceived to be ‘better.’

If we look at the fitness industry, it is no different to the beauty or fashion industry. In the fitness industry there is always a hot new workout, a new exercise, a new technique. I’ve been told quite a few times now that I could start using weights to take things to the next level. Weights are definitely the ‘in’ thing right now. I’m well aware of the benefits of using weights and I have nothing against them. If you love doing them, fantastic! The problem is I’m just not that bothered. I love dancing and I’m quite happy with how my body looks as a result of dancing.

I saw a fantastic post on Instagram recently from a fitness professional I follow. He was saying he knew he was in pretty good shape but that he also knew he could be in amazing shape. However, he would rather stay in good shape and remain happy as taking things to extremes always requires extreme sacrifices. This really resonated with me. I probably could get a six pack, a more bootylicious bum and build a lot more muscle if I wanted to. But I love my food and like to eat out at the weekend. I also don’t have much spare time outside of work as it is but would need to commit to a strict daily workout routine in addition to all my classes. It’s a basic lack of time and inclination! I’m much more interested in feeling fitter and healthier than looking drastically different.

Whilst there has always been an obsession with body image throughout the years, I think we are now more than ever being told what we should aim to look like and we are being told in an explicit, not subtle, manner. Images of bikini-clad supermodels fill our social media feeds with the hashtags fitspo, fitspiration, goals and thinspo! Good looks have and will always be celebrated and ways to look better have and will always be sold to us. I think most of us would admit we have phases of wishing we looked better. But now we are being told exactly what that ‘better’ looks like, what our goal should be and what beauty is as if it is something that can be defined. It is now assumed we should all want to have minimal body fat or the muscles of a professional bodybuilder! Sure, some people may have these desires but we should not be worshiping these physical attributes as if they are the only attributes worth celebrating or achieving. Everybody looks different and has different goals for their health and fitness.

It was announced this week that the average adult checks their phone every 12 minutes. That’s every 12 minutes we are viewing content which is saturated with images of people showing off their bodies. These images can have all sorts of effects on us. They may simply make us go “Wow!” or they might make us feel ugly in comparison and not good enough. They might make us feel jealous and turn us green with envy. Or they may give us a kick up the bum to go and workout! The important thing here is not to fall down the rabbit hole obsessing over images of other people. After all, the photos are posed for and taken at good angles with use of good lighting and make up (and sometimes Photoshop wizardry!)

Just make sure when you are working on yourself you are working on being the best version of you, not a carbon copy of someone else. And by the best I mean the healthiest, the fittest and the happiest version of you.