Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Short History of A Body

As I read my morning paper today, I came across two very different articles tackling the same broader issue: our bodies. There cannot be a fashion week without discussion about the weight of fashion models, and it is welcoming news that Coco Rocha refuses to lose weight, even if it means losing work. On a very different side of the spectrum, a mother of an 8-year-old has requested gastric bypass surgery for her obese child, and a 14-year-old had the operation done and dropped her weight from 404 pounds to 175. It is obvious that a) our society is obsessed with our bodies, and b) so are we. We are bombarded with messages to either look a certain way or to love the way we look. Regardless of what the message is, we are forced to stare at ourselves in the face (and body) and either hate, accept or even love our own bodies. We are never able to just be. We are forced to make a conscious decision to think about our bodies all the time, be it good or bad.

I don't know anyone who hasn't had body issues. Whether we are too fat, too thin, too short, too tall, whether we have big feet or skinny calves, breasts that are too big or too small, we face the gruelling scrutiny from both the outside and also from our own inside. What we want to be, what we want to look like, how we want others to see us - it is all a part of the same game. Our bodies are tools for self-loathing, self-loving and self-acceptance. But they never just are.

When I was little, I was always at the top of the growth curve when it came to height, and way at the bottom with weight. Me and my sister were asked by the school nurse more than once if our parents fed us. Not only did these remarks make me fully conscious of my skinny body, but they also made me feel that essentially it was my fault that other people accused my mother of being a bad parent. By the time I was a teenager, I had developed the stardard answer to anyone making enquiries about my weight. I would tell the school nurse or doctor that I was skinny because my parents were skinny. My siblings were skinny too, as were my cousins. This seemed to satisfy their appetite for asking an insecure 13-year-old time after time what was wrong with her body, and if she had anorexia. The questions re-appreared every year like clockwork. Out came the growth curves, as did the notion of labeling my body abnormal. Throughout my childhood and youth I was told that I was an extreme, that I was not what I should have been, just because my body didn't fit their beautifully crafted standards. By the time I was 19, at 5"11 (180 cm) and 120 pounds (55 kg) I was labeled unfit to be womanly, a freak of nature, possibly ill and consequently, perfect material for the world of modeling.

For the past ten years or so I have looked back at my short and not-all-that-glamorous career as a model with a strange combination of pride and self-loathing. At times I am ashamed to admit that I worked within the industry that crafts unhealthy body images to young women worldwide. During my first years of university I tried to lie and not tell too many people, especially my professors, how I made ends meet. After I had to attend a seminar in full make-up right after a photo shoot, my cover was blown and in came the glances and the whispering: "She must be stupid." Some of these whispers probably came from inside my own head. Because I had taken advantage of my frail, imperfect body, I had sold it to an industry whose values I did not respect, surely I wasn't all that smart. My body was unacceptable to the society around me, and it was only good for an industry that I deep down wanted to reject.

The pride kicks in when I read opinion pieces labeling models as pieces of meat, when models are blindly categorized as stupid little skeletons, and when their eating disorders and drug use are paraded in front of the horrified "normal" people. Models are free game, and no one has any regard to the fact that they are people, they are freaks who are trying to love themselves just like everyone else. As much as I hate the fashion industry's portrayal of models' bodies as some kind of a sick mold for everyone, the small voice inside my head (and heart) has no other option but to look at high fashion at times, and look at my own body, and note that this is the only world where I feel like I am not a lonely freak. If I don't stand up for my own freakishness and the freakishness of others whose weight index suggests hospitalization, who does? The model fanatics of The Fashion Spot?

Accepting one's body is a tricky business. Loving it is even more difficult. Not looking around and peeking at other people's bodies is practically impossible - perhaps that is just the way we human beings are as a species. We have no choice but to scrutinize ourselves and our societies that for some strange reason make us do so. We go around in circles and try to understand why it is so difficult for societies to accept anything. Be an extreme and you are a freak. Be normal and you take part in nameless, uninteresting mass.

I try to think that we are all freaks of nature. The fact that we breathe or that our hearts beat in this limitless universe is, or it has to be, against all odds. But here we are, with our strange minds full of questions, forming imperfect socities, and tearing apart the very fact that makes us exist in the first place: our biology, our bodies.


Sal said...

You rule. I think many women buy into the myth that thin = happy, and forget that it's never cut and dried when it comes to bodies.

Funny though. I have spent years trying to become MORE aware of my body, after spending my youth wishing to be a brain in a jar. Yet I often feel most content when I can walk past a mirror and not register anything except, "acceptable."

jesse.anne.o said...

Gah! The concept of gastric bypass or bands instead of teaching people how to eat correctly *instead* just floors me. I know it's not that simple but for this to be done when there isn't a concerted effort to educate about things that matter to the general public's diets -- soda, nutritional quality and fiber. I don't know. It just seems backwards. I understand that these kids are literally "at risk" so something must be done but...the greater effort in society as a whole needs to be there, too.

Eyeliah said...

I'm not surprised you modeled, you have the height for it too wow! :) I always wanted to be 5 10 or 11, I tried my hand at modeling too, at the time I was a regular size so not thin enough or plus size. it didn't go far. And yes, we all have or had body issues!!

a cat of impossible colour said...

Wow. This was an amazing article. Thank you. I may be able to form a more coherent response later, but for now, thank you.

NYC Fashionista said...

Another body issue: It is sad how distorted our image is in relation to our real body. A while back there was a study that proved that when most normal weight women look at themselves in the mirror they see themselves about 10 pounds overweight..

K.Line said...

Beautiful post!