When I grew up, my friends and I had unrealistic ideas of how we should look, standing in front of the mirror together, poking and prodding ourselves, each insisting we were fatter than each other. Once 2 friends and I measured our thighs, all convinced that ours was the biggest, I was shocked to find mine was the smallest, and had a hard time believing the tape-measure. We were all fairly slim, but we never felt that we were slim “enough” – the women on TV and in magazines were tiny, and we weren’t much bigger, but to us the difference was enormous. We have such a critical eye on ourselves that one size difference will seem huge, but others don’t notice that difference, just like that tiny zit on your chin that no one else can see but looks enormous to you.
Then, as we grew older, we envied the bodies we had when we were young, wrinkle free and slim. You see we forget the pain we put ourselves through, the fear that we aren’t good enough, or ever could be. We forget the depression many of us went through because we never felt desirable, or the daily fight to stay tiny, running every day, or practically living in the gym, eating a limited diet. Who has time for that now, with families or work - or both? We forget that, back then, we didn’t see how lovely we looked, and that the fight for an unrealistic objective was consuming us.
As a society, we have gone beyond the idea that young women should be slim to be beautiful, now it’s an expectation of women and men through all stages to look fantastic, be fit, eat green, and so on. But this doesn’t allow for different shapes, metabolic systems, needing a break for pregnancy, or health issues. How often have you seen an article on social media or in a magazine "get back into your pre-pregnancy shape"? So many people I meet are somewhat "obsessed" with working out, "clean eating", without any understanding of nutrition, or what a healthy exercise regime is. The biggest issue though, is that we are impacting on our society’s mental health by imposing an ideal that is unrealistic for many, leaving new generations feeling inadequate, with a low self-esteem, depression and eating disorders. Sometimes I wonder when we will notice the emotional damage and demand change.
We need to learn to let go of the ideal and focus on how we want to feel about ourselves: I truly believe that I'm a much more beautiful person now because I love myself, I am passionate about my work, I eat food that’s good for me but doesn’t feel like a diet. That’s much better to me than when I was young and slim but not happy, constantly depriving myself of treats, jogging (I still don't like jogging), going to the gym. Perhaps you can't be a complete, beautiful person if you don't love who you are, inside as well as out.
A condensed version of this blog appeared here on December 11th 2017:
Linda is an art therapist and social worker in private practice in the Southern Highlands, NSW and may be contacted at
firstname.lastname@example.org or on
0438 400 446