Women & Body Image: Are Things Really Changing?

Robyn Lawley plus sized model

The recent inclusion of Australian ‘plus-size’ model Robyn Lawley in Sports Illustrated’s latest swimwear issue attracted a good deal of media attention. Lawley, at 6’2 and a size 12/14, is probably not most people’s idea of ‘plus-size’. However, within the fashion industry she is very much a plus-size model, with so-called ‘straight-size’ models being on average a UK size 6/8.

I myself am 5’5 in height and a UK size 10/12. I maintain a reasonably healthy lifestyle and, most of the time, I like my curves. Why then is society and the media so determined to make me hate my own body?

Firstly, there is nothing  wrong with being a size 6 or 8, if that is what’s right for you. A lot of slender girls have beautiful figures and look great. But surely thin isn’t the only body type that is attractive? It is difficult to understand how the late twentieth century obsession with thinness began, and that is probably a job for historians of the future. But there is no doubt that the pressure on women to be thin in western society is intense, far-reaching and, in my opinion, shows little sign of abating.

One of the strongest memories from my teenage years was reading Bridget Jones’ Diary at the age of 14. The main character complains constantly about her weight, despite the fact that she weighs less than 140lbs. For me, this led to an ill-advised and unhealthy crash diet that lasted several months. Part of this was down to my own immaturity and inability to fully appreciate the satire in the novel. Nevertheless, it was my introduction to a media and society that continues to put intense pressure on women to be thin.

‘Fat-shaming’ is common online, with celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Kate Upton and Kelly Brook being regular targets. Although I am not privy to their weights, all of these women look healthy and I would imagine have a perfectly normal BMI. It is difficult to understand the distorted minds that see these women as being ‘fat’.

Perhaps the only way to make sense of the claim that ‘things are changing’ within the fashion and media industries is to consider the fact that models like Lawley and Brook are getting work at all – and they are getting highprofile work. Lawley in particular has done campaigns for Ralph Lauren and Mango as well as having appeared on the cover of Vogue Italia.

But those who wish to body-shame women continue to hang on grimly. Most model agencies list their ‘plus-size’ models on a separate page to their straight-size models. One plus-size model I spoke to told me that it is still difficult for curvier models to get work in Ireland. On the other hand, the curvy models Tia Duffy and Louise O’Reilly are getting an increasing amount of media exposure. But it will take a good deal of time before more larger than usual models make their way into the mainstream here – if at all.

From a personal point of view, body image is very important to me at the moment as I will be competing in a pageant later this year. Luckily, the pageant I am in is very accepting of different shapes and heights, and hasn’t made me feel like I need to change my shape. However, this is not always the case. For me, the pressure to be ashamed of my body comes more from the media, the internet and society as a whole.

Many women with thin bodies look beautiful, and have fabulous figures. But, in my view, the same can be said for a lot of curvier women. The most important factors should be health and happiness. I believe that the day that society has a mature, balanced view of women’s bodies, in all their diversity, is still a long way off.

[Image: Wikimedia]

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