I grew up in the era when Kate Moss was just everything. From her normal blonde hair to her couldn’t care less attitude, she was pretty much the only message I received from anywhere I looked. We could imagine her wisp like entity barely disturbed the air as she moved; an image of serenity mixed with attitude that we all loved. The waif who didn’t care is the iconic life, style and fashion emblem of the ’90s that (because of this exposure to waifs and heroin chic and nothing else during my teens) I still have pinned to my internal ideas board of how I want to be. It’s easy not to care, if you’re a waif, but this, as a natural non-waif, is the biggest dichotomy I and my generation battle to deal with.
Body image for the older generations is pretty black and white, thin or fat. But the more pressing issue for them is about how to make the right impression image wise; fully subscribing to the notion of dressing appropriately for the occasion, caring about protocol, dreading style faux pas and generally doing the ‘done thing’ . We end up with Jeremy Corbyn wearing a tie more often and Hilary Clinton having that hair just to ‘look the part’.
The other end of things sees the youth having access to a wider range of styles, and the lines are far more blurred about how we should wear clothes, but the bigger issue here is about what the body looks like underneath. The social media generation see body image ‘role models’ daily on their newsfeed, that’s another story, but alongside these is a very prominent feminist and body-positive presence, which I think is reaching young women loud and clear. It’s impossible to hear one view on social media without getting its polar opposite rammed down your throat, battling it out to win the debate; the righteous do-gooder versus the offensive troll.
But we’re the generation of contradictions. We are educated and we’ve lived a little, we know about breaking free from stereotypical image ideals, conformity and pleasing society, we have all the tools and the brains and the chutzpah be happy with our healthy bodies, but still, it is ingrained in us to aspire to be a waif. Our philosophy fluctuates. The internal debate ensues; if we aim to lose weight we are failing as feminists, but if we neglect our bodies we are failing to achieve our own goals of how we desire to be. We’re damned either way, it’s like being stuck between a rock and bony hip.
The battle of head and heart is a constant flip flopping of ideologies, which, long term, we generally manage to keep in check. But day to day there is as much chance of us feeling worn down by the conflict as there is feeling in control of our sex with a goddess-like confidence. Our mindset can even change multiple times within a day, especially if there are biscuits involved, as we struggle to make sense of who we want to be, I mean really want to be on the inside.
The culture of mixed messages is perpetuated in magazines and on TV, where one minute we see high end fashion waif advertisements and editorial shoots, then an article on how to find happiness (get this) even if you’re fat, followed by how to lose those stubborn few lbs before a big event. We’re told how to look like we’re not wearing make-up by wearing a load of make-up, we’re empowered to make our own style choices, then ridicule those in the public eye who ‘get it wrong’.
It’s just plain broken.
Maybe we’re being provided with what we want. Perhaps we enjoy the constant building up and tearing down of our self confidence from one side bar to the next, finding comfort in the fact that so many others feel the same. But that doesn’t make it right.
I have no doubt that the messages we receive from the media result directly in us wanting to buy stuff to ‘better’ our appearance. The cynic in me may feel that is the sole purpose of these media; to merrily keep the wheel of capitalism turning. But I’ve worked in those offices, I’ve seen the woman-dominated industry from the inside, and so the human in me realises that the people producing our pop ‘culture’ images are our generation too, and they’re just as confused as we are, and that’s why we’re screwed.
What’s missing is just a little bit of strength, from all of our peers, be it those with the power, authority and heavily followed media profiles, or our circle of friends, to make the effort to get across one steady and consistent message about healthy body confidence and self worth, over fashions and unachievable body goals.
A little strength of mind is all it takes.
I should start with me. My usual next step would have been to go and have a couple of Oreos (moderation in moderation!) then end up tonight watching 23 year old 8 stone beauties on Love Island for inspiration whilst simultaneously hula-hooping or doing squats or some such other Oreo-undoing activity. Not tonight. Well, let’s see.
*Husband reading over my shoulder ‘When do we ever have Oreos in the house?’