Tuesday 27 September 2016

Not feeling the Fat

When skinny was the ideal, you knew where you stood, says Ciara O'Connor, who hates the new body fascism

Published 22/08/2016 | 02:30

Victoria's Secret models (L-R) Lily Aldridge, Candice Swanepoel, Doutzen Kroes, Alessandra Ambrosio and Adriana Lima walks the runway during finale of the 2014 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show at Earl's Court exhibition centre on December 2, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Victoria's Secret)
Victoria's Secret models (L-R) Lily Aldridge, Candice Swanepoel, Doutzen Kroes, Alessandra Ambrosio and Adriana Lima walks the runway during finale of the 2014 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show at Earl's Court exhibition centre on December 2, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Victoria's Secret)
Ciara O'Connor

Once upon a time, it was easier for women. Self-hatred was par for the course. The rules were simple. You could go to Milano with your gal pals and insist that you really shouldn't, while eating two dough balls at a time. We were supposed to look in the mirror and hate what we saw - and that was fine.

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I'm very good at looking at the girls on the internet before looking down at the majestic gut-rolls on which my laptop is balanced and feeling sad. Sure, it was depressing, but it was do-able.

But one can only sustain self-hatred for limited stints at a time. "Feck it," I'd think, as I'd wake up, peel the Jaffa Cake I've slept on from my back and eat it. "I'm disgusting, but I'm OK with that."

And thus came self-acceptance: simultaneously repulsing yourself by eating Nutella with a spoon, while also sort of being at peace with it.

But then the self-lovers came along - and I'm not talking about scented candles, Enya and the folded-over pages of Fifty Shades of Grey here.

No, along came the insane notion that not only should we stop dieting, but we should eat whatever we want, slowly grow out of all our clothes, and enjoy it. 

There's a whole movement of women not only putting swimsuits on their dimpled arses, but putting pictures of the same on the internet, along with inspirational captions about how much they love each roll and curve.

Now, that's great for them. They actually look fantastic. I follow a swathe of them on Instagram, in an attempt to reverse the rot after 25 years of the Mail Online's 'sidebar of shame', with its parade of woman daring to 'flaunt their curves' while not being a Victoria's Secret model.

But in this brave new world, it's not enough to look and think 'good for them' anymore. The self-respecting modern woman is now supposed to feel the same.

Now, like any right-thinking feminist, I'm all for body acceptance; but ideology only goes so far. It's summer, and the sight of bikinis in the shops, no matter how high-waisted and strategically ruched they are, makes me want to vomit on the nearest mannequin.

I'm supposed to pull spandex over my slowly melting thighs and joyfully anticipate the chafing, because I Am Woman. It's just too much. This isn't progress; this is tyranny.

Happening alongside this is the 'strong not skinny' crew, and they're probably the worst. If you want a 'socially acceptable body', you can't just eat grapes and cabbage soup for a week or two. The 'right body' goalposts have changed, and I'm not happy.

You see, when skinny was enough, I always knew that, if I wanted to - if I really wanted to - I could attain it. The 'Kate Moss circa 1998' look was achievable: a cocktail of late nights, cigarettes, vodka limes and cocaine would do it. But not any more.

Crash dieting has been replaced with weightlifting and clean eating: ways of life that not only make you smaller, but also give you clear skin and shiny hair and prettily flushed cheeks. You can't fake that stuff. I'm exhausted just looking at them.

I know they think they're helping us - but give me a precarious crash diet with its adult acne and eye bags any day.

This new beauty paradigm, inclusive and healthy though it may seem, is the most depressing yet, because I know I can't do it. I know I can't give up sugar to 'get the glow'; I know I can't make healthy eating a lifestyle and not a fad; and I know I can't pose for cute holiday photos in my bikini.

I know they thought they were doing a good thing by improving minds and bodies in a healthy, sustainable way - but who's got time for that?

If you yearn for the days when beauty was just a vat of SlimFast and a hefty make-up bag away, you're not alone. We reject body fascism - but we're sure as hell not going to enjoy the pressures that have replaced it.

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