The Incredible Shrinking Woman

It interests me that in a world where we pretty much shun minimalism in favour of overt consumption and maximalism, if that is indeed a word (and if it isn’t, why the bloody hell isn’t it?), we still want women to shrink away to nothing.

We encourage people to get more this, more that, collect the series, get a free ring binder with part one. We invent king-sized chocolate bars, and you can literally buy a ‘yard’ of sweets. We do not have ‘small’ as a requested serving in fast food restaurants (which drives me insane. How can you start with medium? How?).

We have bigger tellies, we have vast, petrol guzzling cars. Even Minis are now not mini for fuck’s sake.  The new Mini is the size of a tank.

When we go out on the lash, we are; ‘having it large.’ We can buy cocktails in buckets, and this is no exaggeration. We celebrate excess in everything, except, it seems, when it comes to women.

So why are we so intent on pushing women into a smaller and smaller physical space? Why can’t we accept hips, and bellies and boobs that are big because they’re naturally big, when we can accept silicon filled, zeppelin like monstrosities, but only if they’re on twig like frames? Why can’t we accept hair where it is supposed to grow? Why can’t we stop making dolls that in real life would fall over, their proportions are so exaggerated? Why can’t we stop peddling them to our children as desirable play things? Anorexic, porn star swollen, plastic injected, play things.

Why can’t we accept stretch marks, and rolls of fat, and flesh, actual flesh. Why is flesh so repellent to us that we cannot accept that we have to give in order to bend? Must we be so rigid we literally cannot move in our own skin? Why is this good?

Why are we are pushing images of skeletons at our children, at our daughters, at our wives, our girlfriends, as ‘the norm’, when it comes to what women should be?

Why can’t we allow women to be women? To be normal? What is wrong with the way we think about women that means that we have to erase them from the face of the earth to be comfortable with the look of them, the idea of them? What we are saying is actually that we do not want to look at them. What we are saying is that normal women take up too much space, and that we would rather they were not there, and we are doing everything in our power to try and make this happen.

Why do women collude with this?

It’s an age old problem. I’m not saying anything here that hasn’t already been said before by people more eloquent than me, but a few things really drove this home to me this week. Firstly, my post on the Illicit perfume ad, where the model in question looks like an emaciated child. Then I read this article in the Guardian yesterday. Conservative MP, Caroline Nokes, is heading an all party parliamentary group on body image. She is campaigning for the fashion industry as a whole to take responsibility for the image they are promoting of women, and do something to get images of healthy, normal women out there in the media as standard.

She is, for the most part, being roundly ignored. When she’s not, she’s being attacked, mostly for the way she looks, for her own figure.

What is wrong with people?

One thing struck me as I read the article.

She points to research from the United States that suggested that 20 years ago the average fashion model weighed 8% less than the average woman, while today she weighs 23% less.

So we are presented with images of supposedly normal women that are getting less and less normal with every year that passes. Then we wonder why problems like anorexia and bulimia are on the rise.

People may argue that this disparity is due to the rise in obesity levels. It may be. But rather than promoting images of impossibly anorexic girl women as the answer, perhaps we need to stop marketing extra large food portions as the norm if we want to deal with obesity? It’s just a thought.

We hear on a daily basis that being too fat is bad for us. Who tells us on a daily basis that being too thin is just as bad, can kill us just as quickly?

Here are the things that trouble me about the issue.

UK size 6 is the average size for a model these days. Note the word ‘average’. Depending on the shape of the girl, they may well be expected to lose more weight if they don’t conform to the accepted look.

My 12 year old daughter, Tallulah, is a  6-8 UK size. She is tiny. She is also short, so she is, for her height, pretty much in proportion, and she still looks tiny. Models have to be tall (for the most part). I looked at Tallulah yesterday and tried to think of her, the size she is now, but tall enough to model. It made me feel sick. She would look like a famine victim. If she looked like that, I would be fretting myself to a flinder. I would think about taking her to the Dr. I would certainly be thinking about what I had done wrong in terms of diet/messages/emotional trauma for her to look like that. I would not be patting myself on the back and congratulating myself on how wonderful she looked or what a successful woman she is going to turn out to be.

I accept that some girls are going to be naturally tall and skinny and still eat their heads off. I was, in my teens, known to my family as ‘tin ribs’. I was not tall, but by God I was skinny, and yes. I ate like a horse. However, there is the key phrase; ‘I ate like a horse.’ I was also healthy.

We cannot use the skinny celebrity mantras; ‘Oh, I have a healthy diet. Oh, I eat tonnes of food. I just have a high metabolism,’ to excuse everything that goes on in the fashion and media world. Only a tiny percentage of those girls will have the luck to have that kind of figure naturally, that kind of metabolism. The rest of them?

They get the way they get because they do not eat, and they make themselves ill, and you can see it, because it is easy to see the difference between someone who is healthy skinny and someone who is ill skinny if you have eyes, and if you are actually properly looking at them.

And that’s part of it isn’t it? Do we really look at them? Do we see the difference between reality, and a frankly, hideous fantasy? No. We look at airbrushed, glossy photographs and we think that if we starve ourselves, that we will look like that. Guess what? It doesn’t happen.

When we starve ourselves, and we don’t have the make up, the lighting, the technology, the people primping and preening us in a studio, it is a very different story. When we starve ourselves to the kind of sizes the fashion world, and a lot of us think is perfect, this is actually what perfect looks like.

Perfect looks like us, grey, and prematurely old. Perfect looks like balding hair, loose teeth, bleeding gums, bones that stick out so much it is uncomfortable to sit and lie down. Perfect looks like there is nowhere in our own lives where we fit properly. Perfect looks like parchment, concentration camp skin. Perfect looks like our periods stopping and hair growing like fur in our body’s futile attempt to keep us warm.

Perfect looks like clothes hanging off us in swathes, because contrary to popular belief, nothing really fits us because we cannot afford designer sample sizes and we must dress from the children’s department in the real world.  Perfect looks like giant, lollipop heads and frightened eyes on disproportionate ,ever-dwindling bodies. Perfect looks like shivering all day long because you can never get warm and stay warm. Perfect looks like the constant companion of nagging, vicious hunger and the fear of putting something in our mouth that we should not. Perfect looks like food turning into a stick to beat us. Perfect looks like a losing battle because we have to eat to live, and yet the thought of eating terrifies us. Perfect looks like a battle for control that we will never win.

That is what perfect really looks like.

We tell ourselves that when we get to that, we will be happy, because those models look happy.

They look happy because they are paid to look happy.

We tell ourselves when we get to that, that if we don’t like it, we can come back from it.

Some of us never do.

The truth is that being that skinny is a prison. It is a prison for your thoughts, which like your body will become poor, and starving, and obsessed with food and the lack thereof. Hunger will drive you. Hunger will haunt you. Hunger will make you all that you are and all that you think about, and the only way you can not think about it? Probably sleeping, but it’s unreliable. Mainly people escape through alcohol, or drugs. It’s why addiction is rife in the fashion industry. It lets you carry on. It lets you forget.

Death, of course, is the final forgetting, and some people get to that.

The prison that being excessively skinny is, doesn’t just keep you captive. It affects your friendships. People will leave because of it. You will push people away because of it. It affects your family. It can tear it to shreds. It affects your love life. Your relationship with food you see, will be the great love of your life, regardless of who is in your bed. It affects your ability to have children. You may never meet them, the children you dream of, if hunger rules you like this.

It affects even your old age, which will come a lot sooner than you think if you develop osteoporosis and your bones start to eat themselves.

In the old days, women used to be restricted by fashion; by hooped skirts that denied them mobility, by corsets that denied them the right to eat and breathe, by tiny shoes that hobbled them.

These days, fashion is supposed to be all things to all people, and yet it has found a new, much more dangerous way of restricting women. It has found a way to shrink them right out of the clothes that they are supposed to be wearing. It has given them the freedom to wear whatever they want, as long as they are ghosts in their own lives, prisoners of their own hunger and their desire to be just that bit thinner, until one day, they will disappear altogether.

How convenient this is for those people who are horrified that women are too loud, too present, too much in their own flesh, and who wish that women would go back to being silent and subjugated. People who wish women would just shut up and disappear.

How convenient that these people have sold this prison, this trap, this slow, miserable dwindling to women as something so desirable that many women believe the lie, and now they do it to themselves. They don’t even have to have it done to them. Women are starving themselves into emaciation in the name of emancipation.

The great irony is that women are starving themselves into nothingness because they are so desperate to be seen. It is all about being seen these days, and yet the people they want to see them only ever glance at them in disgust, as far as I can see. They skim across the surface of women, and for them the surface is always too big, so the message to shrink a bit more please, to not block my view please, gets more and more insistent, and women comply.

How about we figure out how to be heard instead of seen? Words must be powerful, otherwise the fashion industry would have replied to Caroline Nokes by now, instead of colluding in a wall of silence. Ignore it, and it will go away seems to be the plan. Don’t speak. Keep silent. Just keep pushing the pictures at the hollow eyed junkies. Eventually they will disappear.

They do not see the flaw in their long term plan. They are killing off their own customers. If women get so thin that they cannot have children, who will they sell clothes to next? If women get so thin they die, what will they sell next? Skinny shrouds?

How about we take back the power we’ve given away and if we have enough flesh on our bones that people have to look, and properly look, maybe we won’t need to slip away to nothing anymore.

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