Let me tell you one thing: I love fitness bloggers. I’m a bit addicted to their sunset yoga selfies, their fresh-faced post-workout Instagram updates and their ability to spur me on when I’m too lazy to peel my butt of the sofa, put on some yoga pants and get moving. I appreciate fitness bloggers for reminding me that strong is the new skinny, that working out will give me more energy, and how radiant and healthy I’ll look and feel if I just look after a few healthy habits.
It’s easy to resort to body-critical thoughts when changing into (or out of) one’s gym clothes. Some days, depending on how I’m feeling, I’ll look at my stomach after a workout and think, ‘damn, those are some killer abs!’. Other days, I’ll glance at my thighs while changing out of my yoga pants and go, ‘wow, those things are gigantic’.
But here’s the thing: once I am done working out (and done looking at Instagram), I am fully capable of putting my phone away, changing back into my pyjamas and going about my day without a second thought to whether I can hold plank position for longer than a minute, and how my butt looks while I’m doing it.
And apparently, mainstream media deems me incapable of doing so.
According to the voices of the web, there is some sort of war on women going on, spearheaded by “fitspo” bloggers, thin models, or even those with “unrealistic curves”. There are, of course, tons and tons of muscular male fitness role models on the World Wide Web, but the media, for some reason, avoids speaking of the effects these have on the the male audience. Because while it is safe to assume that while men have better things to do (duh), women apparently spend their entire day a) worrying about how their bodies look and b) suffering because of it.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I understand that there is a substantial difference between how women’s and men’s bodies are portrayed in the media. And I understand that it can be stressful, and I’m not denying the pressure. What drives me crazy about the constant attention on women’s bodies is the condescending attitude of those who, under the guise of ‘caring about women’, reduce them to inept Barbie dolls who, apparently, are unable to care about anything other than their physical appearance. The issues is, we can hate our thighs and not let it consume our entire lives. Do I acknowledge that Kayla Itsines is fitter than me? Of course. Do I suffer because of it? Not a chance, I am a rational adult who understands that a full-time trainer is going to have a body that I will never achieve – not because I am somehow lesser, but because, having chosen a different career path, I work out a mere 30 minutes a day. It’s simple maths, and not only am I confident that my fellow women are smart enough to make that connection, I am also a bit offended by the fact that media doesn’t appear to think that we are.
It saddens me when I read that between a £1k pay rise and significant weight loss, the majority of women would choose the latter, but it is equally true that I have never seen male-focused media put their readers in front of such a choice. Why must women constantly face questions about their bodies and how they feel about them? In a time when women are starting groundbreaking businesses, writing bestsellers, selling millions of records and running for president, reducing them to to crying, nervous wrecks crippled by ‘body insecurities’ is limiting and disrespectful – and it goes against everything feminism stands for.
Again, I’m not saying it’s time to stop talking about body image. What I am saying is that it’s time to stop talking about body image as a women’s issue – men face just as much pressure as we do, and important as it is to promote a healthy body view in media, it is much more complex than just ‘get rid of skinny female models’. It’s about not reducing the concept of womanhood to a body, to measurements, to clothing sizes. Let’s stop consoling these imaginary pathetic female figures crying over the size of their bingo wings and instead talk about what women can achieve in their lives and in the world – which is infinitely more than showing off our bodies, slim or curvy, in the media.
What we need is not to “empower” women showing off their nakedness in the media. What we need is to empower PEOPLE through opportunity, creativity, community. Not through selfies, clothed or otherwise.
It is also imperative that we keep in mind that the self-acceptance movement must focus on strength and well-being rather than the freedom to slob on the couch wolfing down Pringles – the rising levels of obesity all over the Western world should be alarming enough to remind us that when talking about food and exercise, we must shift our concentration from appearances to health, for men and women alike.
If our goal is confidence and equality for women, I say let’s talk about their work rather than waistlines. Let’s celebrate women who start inspiring businesses, who fight to save the world, who break rules and laugh in the face of conventions. Let’s discuss Lena Dunham’s incredible writing skills rather than how ‘brave’ she is for being naked in an episode of Girls (especially as no one ever tells Jessica Alba she is brave for shedding the layers in favour of a bikini in a movie). Let’s talk about Angelina Jolie’s dedication to philanthropy rather than her ‘toned’ legs on display in that gala dress. Let’s focus on Hillary Clinton’s election programme rather than her hair. Let’s talk about what women do instead of how they look. It’s really that simple – we’ve been doing it with men for ages.
Top photo by Croisy via Pixabay