Rosanna Davison shares her Real Life Reflection: 'I was so unaware of my body before modelling'
Are you happy with the way you look? Emily Hourican looks at the misery and self-doubt the beauty myth can cause, and talks to a selection of men and women, from a wide range of age groups, prepared to tell the truth about what they see when they confront themselves. Photography by Kip Carroll
Do you hate your feet? Actually, it's probably your bum. Or your tummy. Maybe both, but its bound to be something. Even those who are generally happy with the way they look can always, if pushed, isolate a couple of areas that could do with improvement. The stretch-marks from the second child, the beer belly, the receding hairline or wobbly thighs.
As an attitude, it is both reassuringly and worryingly common. Apparently almost one-third of Irish women are unhappy with the way they look, with those aged 25-34 the most unhappy of the lot. OK, that's better than the States, where 80pc of women are dissatisfied with their bodies, and the UK, where 90pc of women are depressed about the way they look - but still a very gloomy outlook.
Far too many of us believe that our lives, sex lives, job prospects would be better if we were our 'ideal' body weight and shape; a nation of Georgia Salpas or Andrea Corrs, going about our daily business, shopping in Tesco, collecting the kids, filling the washing machine, putting in a day's work.
And it's not just about being thin, there are plenty of women who would like bigger boobs or a bigger bum; whatever is being served up to them as most desirable that day.
The thing is, the statistics are all very well - there are a ton of them, they can't really be argued with - but they also do what statistics, no matter how shocking, do. They obscure the reality by distancing it. They hide misery behind a neat set of figures.
What the figures actually mean is that too many women (plenty of men too) are locked into a battle with themselves. There are the extreme manifestations of course - life-threatening anorexia or obesity, full-blown body dysmorphia - but there is plenty of middle ground too. Enough to fold us all in. So many of us apparently hate ourselves, at least a little bit. We see our bodies as enemies, aliens, the things that let us down and stop us being who we want to be. And so, to varying degrees, we starve our bodies, stuff them, cut them, over-exercise them.
We also indulge them, pamper them, cosset them and feed them. What we don't do, nearly enough, is make friends with them. We are slow to see them for what they are - the physical tools of our survival, highly complex biological organisms with a difficult job to do - and judge them on that basis, instead of how much like Scarlett Johansson they look.
We know where this stuff comes from - at least we think we do. From the celebrities snapped in red carpets in Oscar de la Renta gowns, their shoulder blades protruding at sharp angles. Or on the beach in a teeny-tiny bikinis, thigh gap prominently displayed. From models on the covers of magazines, airbrushed beyond recognition and beyond all hope for the rest of us, and lad-mag polls on the World's Sexiest Women.
But is there more to it than that? Yes, maybe we hate the way we look because we don't look like Kim Kardashian, or Gwyneth Paltrow, or Jane Fonda, depending on our particular role model. But maybe also because we are focusing our general unhappiness with society and our own place in it, on to our bodies.
In an Age of Acceptance ('don't fight the system, work on yourself'), where mindfulness is the go-to solution for pretty much all that ails us, it is much easier to blame the roll of fat around your stomach or the eight extra pounds you're carrying, than confront the fact that social and economic inequality are approaching medieval proportions and it's going to take something extraordinary to change it.
But what about the next generation? Children now grow up with a hyper-awareness around the way they look -say hello to the selfie generation - and according to a 2012 Dail na nOg report, based on responses from over 2000 teens in this country, 43pc of them will be dissatisfied with their appearance by the age of 15. Over 50pc will find that their body image interferes with them doing things like swimming, dating and putting photographs on Facebook. Girls will be more unhappy than boys, and more inclined to compare themselves to celebrity role models, and those comparisons will invariably lead to negative thinking.
Again, what those rather dry statistics actually mean is that our kids are going to grow up hating themselves a little bit too. Unless we can stop them.
And the good fight is in full swing. Unislim has just published a charming hardback book, Miss Feelgood, aimed at teenage girls and encouraging them to live a happier, healthier life. Apart from Karl Lagerfeld, who reckons, "Unreachable beauty is a reminder to make an effort. But if you see something, and you can reach what you see, then you do not have to make an effort any more," the fashion industry is trying - slowly, sometimes reluctantly, and at the end of a sharp stick - to acknowledge greater diversity of appearance.
But in the end, just populating the catwalks and magazine covers with larger women isn't going to do it. After all, a plus-size model, despite having hips and boobs, is probably still an unattainable manifestation of physical appearance. Candice Huffine, Robyn Lawley and Ashley Graham may be larger than the usual size-zero girls, but they don't exactly look like the rest of us either.
The real trick is take the focus away from appearance. To rediscover the fact that intelligence, charm, a sense of humour, the ability to mediate a commercial row or score a hockey hat-trick are just as important as smooth skin, long legs or great hair. There actually are more important things than looks, and we all know it secretly. We just need to start acting like we do. We need to stop admiring and celebrating people for youth and physical appearance above all else, otherwise none of us is ever going to stop that anxious itch around not being thinner, prettier, younger.
We can begin by reading the impressions and confessions of the people interviewed here; a fairly broad selection of ages and body types, men and women, some with histories of body issues behind them, some without. All are very different, but certain things came across clearly: The way we feel and the way we look are closely connected, and the influence works both ways.
You have to put the effort in, and, if you do, the psychological rewards are great. Growing up and older provide a new perspective, because self-esteem increases with age (this is borne out by lots of credible studies, showing that it is lowest among young adults, and peaks at the age of 60). Strength, endurance and good health are more important than the ability to squeeze into size eight, and intelligence, kindness and charm are more important than either.
These people spoke frankly, in the interest of honesty and because we all believe that the truth will set us free. A little bit free, anyway. Free to acknowledge that none of us is alone in feeling dissatisfaction with our bodies, that we all have good days and bad days, and that ultimately, change - the way we look and the way we think - is in our own hands.
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ROSANNA DAVISON, NUTRITIONIST AND MODEL
When I look in the mirror, I do see the areas of me that I would like to improve on but I really try not to zone in on flaws. I also see a person trying her best to make the most of her life and doing what makes her most happy.
My weight fluctuates just like everybody else's, depending on the time of the month, whether I've been travelling a lot and if I have had less time to exercise. So there are definitely days when I like my body less than others. But I am always appreciative of my health and all that my body does for me. It works hard and is rarely sick, so I try to keep it all in perspective.
If there is a part of my body that I like less than others, I just work harder on it in the gym. I am always trying to perk up my bum, so that means plenty of squats and lunges. There are also times when I suffer from cellulite, so I work to reduce that. It's an ongoing process.
It can be easy to let your mind believe that you're physically imperfect, and media, advertising, and the internet can profoundly affect how we feel about our bodies. I try to avoid being sucked in as much as possible. Once I put effort into my health and fitness, I will always feel happy with my body and appearance. It's very much psychological, in my case anyway.
I understand my body a lot better than I used to, and what makes it feel better or worse. I'm also so much more relaxed about my health because I know that I'm in charge of it. I don't hand over my power to doctors any more. The vast majority of modern diseases are a direct result of our lifestyle and food choices.
The modelling industry can be tough on your self-confidence and I was so unaware of my body and appearance before I began modelling, but content in it. The industry can make you extremely self-critical and low in self-esteem if you let it - but I always try to remind myself that these are other people's perceptions and opinions and do they really matter in the grand scheme of things?
Doing Playboy was so empowering, because I felt happy in my own skin, and baring my body like that forced me to face my own insecurities. I loved being naked for it! I also worked hard to get in shape for it, so I felt confident. The vast majority of women were extremely positive and supportive. At least, they certainly didn't say it to my face if they weren't!
I think that we are forced into believing that there is a level of perfection that we all need to achieve to be happy, successful, human beings, but the truth is, 'perfection' doesn't exist. We need to get back in touch with our bodies, stop counting calories and start counting the chemicals in our food.
If you don't like your body, then I think you start working towards changing that by eating a natural, unprocessed diet of whole plant foods and getting regular weight-bearing and cardio-based exercise.
I don't feel 'guilty' about the way I look, because I know that I work hard to stay healthy and in shape, and I make sacrifices for it too. It's never effortless. I have the utmost respect for my body and above all, I appreciate my health.
Rosanna wears clothes by Penneys
Photography by Kip Carroll
Styling by Nikki Cummins
Assisted by Emily O'Connor
Hair by John Cheese; make-up by Dearbhla Keenan, both Brown Sugar, 50 Sth William St, D2, tel: (01) 616-9967, or see brownsugar.ie
Photographed at The Morrison Hotel, Ormond Quay, D1. The Morrison Hotel is an exclusive and unique venue for your city wedding. With two very distinctive and flexible venues, we can accommodate small intimate dinners and larger parties. Wedding packages start at €68 per person. To book, tel: (01) 887-2400, or see morrisonhotel.ie
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