“My face, it’s fat, it’s just fat. I need some kind of face diet.”
That was the final comment of an otherwise sensible discussion I had with a friend over lunch last week. She picked up her compact mirror to look at her appearance before heading to another business meeting, stating her assessment of what she saw reflected back at her.
Now this is a woman with two degrees, who speaks three languages and is the director of a company. She’s pretty time-poor and really shouldn’t be spending it concerned with any alleged excessive pounds on her face.
I laughed at her comment as she walked off, but remembered them watching Taryn Brumfitt interviewed on television this week.
She’s a woman who experienced first hand how having a “perfect bikini body” was too much effort. A couple of years ago she posted a before and after photo of herself that went viral, viewed more than 100 million times. The ‘before’ featured her bikini body on parade at a body building competition, following months of endless work. The ‘after’ featured her naked, looking very natural and relaxed at home.
The photo caused plenty of discussion and gave Brumfitt enough attention to launch and complete a successful $200,000 kickstarter campaign to create a documentary about how we view our bodies.
What Brumfitt found travelling the world to talk about body image and appearance was the same story over and over again: that women hate their bodies.
We obsess over it. We talk about. We think about it. We try and work on it and spend yet more thinking time loathing ourselves when we fail to meet what we perceive as the necessary measures to make it perfect.
“Unfortunately so many women are anchored down by this, this negative ping pong that goes on in their head,” Brumfitt said.
The ‘anchored down’ comment sat with me, especially at a time when women’s workforce participation is (and should be) on the rise, when more women are focused on creating careers that are satisfying, and on doing everything possible to put themselves forward for leadership and promotion opportunities.
How do you do all that — potentially while also having and raising a family — while continually obsessing over body shape?
How is there any time left in the day to give the self doubt and self loathing an opportunity?
This is a constant psychological battle, according to Brumfitt. A battle that props up entire industries.
“It’s a financially rewarding place for companies to make people hate their body because it makes us want to run and buy their products,” she said.
“What happened for me was learning to unconditionally love my body. I told myself that my body is not an ornament it’s a vehicle and it will change. That I don’t need to conform to the narrow ideals of society, of how we should conform to this one body type to be happy.”
When the so-called ‘perfect body shape’ is continually reinforced in the media, it’s easy to see how we might just get a little preoccupied with what we supposedly should look like.
And it’s a preoccupation that will continue until the work of female engineers or scientists or board directors or great entrepreneurs or other great women finally get more attention than the body shapes, diets and the products that will supposedly make us better.
Until then, Brumfitt’s just released documentary Embrace is a reminder to love what we’ve got, and to simply get on with living.