A few weeks ago, the pop star, Lady Gaga appeared in concert in Amsterdam, to a frenzy of media interest. What controversial thing had she done this time? This is a woman who has consistently worn fur and paraded around in a dress and shoes made entirely of meat; simulated oral sex on stage followed by the simulated shooting of her male sexual partner, unzipped herself out of a giant vagina, and dressed up as Mary Magdalene riding pillion on a motorbike with Judas, whilst the other disciples pose as Hells Angels. In my personal opinion, it’s a good thing to stimulate debate in society about these things, but it’s hard to think what else she could do to push the boundaries…
But – no – wait, she has really done it this time! How? She has dared to gain weight – according to the press – she’s gained about 25 lbs.
And this heinous act appears to have attracted as much, if not more media interest than any of the other things she’s done. I spent a while looking at the reporting about her weight gain and was shocked and dismayed at some of the comments. It’s almost as if it’s now become acceptable in the media for her to push some new boundary around religion or sexuality or our attitude to animals and animal products– it’s what she does. But for her to be anything other than stick thin? How dare she? Yet, back in May there she was in a celebrity gossip magazine, looking stick thin and being criticized for being so. What is the woman to do?
Most of the female clients I see (if not all) have some sort of issue with their body. It’s generally that they feel they’re carrying too much weight, but can include such things as feeling like they’re too thin, too tall, their boobs are too big or not big enough, their bum is too big or not big enough, or their hair just “isn’t right”. And these two words seem to be the crux of the matter. They don’t feel “right” about themselves.
We live in a world where there are pages and pages in women’s magazines every month devoted to showing photographs of female celebrities, applauding those who “got it right” and chastising others who didn’t.
We live in a world where magazine covers have headlines promising that you can lose 10lbs by Christmas, you can have that flat tummy, you can look more beautiful/appear slimmer/have sex appeal “in an instant”.
We live in a world where both men and women utter the phrase “what does she think she looks like?” in response to a female presenters ‘dress or hair or make up, despite what wonderful things she may have done or be doing and the words that are coming out of her mouth.
In this world, then it’s not surprising that the women of our society for hanging their feelings of not being quite “right” or “good enough” on their external appearance.
In 2005, Jarry et al *conducted a piece of research involving female University students to find out if women with low self esteem use their appearance to feel better about themselves. Past research had shown that when people experience an attack on their self esteem, they compensate for this by investing in, and elevating another part of themselves. For example, if you’re told that you’re not very good at a particular thing, you may compensate for this by saying to yourself “Yes, but at least I’m slim, or popular”. But what if you don’t feel that you are? What then?
In the same way, if a teenage girl feels good about what she’s achieving academically, but thinks that she could do with losing a few pounds, if she receives enough good feelings about herself from school, or from other areas of her life, then her weight is unlikely to become a huge issue for her. However, if she’s struggling at school and feels that she’ll never achieve academically, plus there is little else in her life that enables her to feel good about who and what she is, she may turn to her appearance to bolster her self esteem.
Jarry et al asked the female University students to take part in some research to measure this connection. The students (who weren’t told what the research was about until after it was completed) were split into two groups. One group had to take a test with hard questions, another had to take a test with easy questions; both were told that this was measuring their intelligence and chance of professional success. The group with the hard questions were told they had failed afterwards, the group with the easy questions were told that they had succeeded. All the women were then split into another two groups – one group who watched a series of adverts with thin women in them; another group who watched adverts without any women in them. The feedback from the women after doing this indicated that the combination of their self esteem being dented, combined with being shown ’ ideal ‘thin images of women result in women using their appearance to help themselves feel better.
What do you think or feel after reading this? Does it surprise you? Is it entirely what you would expect?
If you are a woman now, reading this, how do you view your body? How do you talk to yourself about the different bits of your body? And does this change depending on what’s happening in other areas of your life and how good you feel about you?
If reading this, really hits a chord with you, please know that it doesn’t have to stay this way. There are lots and lots of things you can do to change the way you feel about yourself. You can work with a good therapist and/or take a look at some of the suggestions I’ve posted at the bottom of this blog that you may find useful.
And Lady Gaga? She responded to the press by posting a new section of her website called Body Revolution, posting photos of herself in her underwear with the caption “Bulimia and anorexia since I was 15”. [I felt so sad reading this and do hope that she has some good support around this.] She then encouraged followers of her Little Monsters site to post their own photos and experiences saying “be brave and celebrate with us your ‘perceived flaws, as society tells us. May we make our flaws famous, and thus redefine the heinous”
Now that is something to celebrate, or if I want to be totally cheesy – something to go Gaga about!
Bethan Stritton, Grow your own gorgeousness. Filament Publishing, 2011
A wonderful, very easy to read book about learning to love your body.
Suzie Orbach. Fat is a feminist issue. Arrow Publishing, 2006
Emma Wolf. An apple a day: A memoir of love and recovery from Anorexia. Summersdale Publishing, 2012.
An account of anorexia from a survivor of the eating disorder.
Information and help on all aspects of eating disorders. Provides helpines, online support and a network of self help groups.
*Josee L Jarry, Ph.D., Amy Kossert, Karen Ip., B.A. Do women with low self-esteem use appearance to feel better? National Eating Disorder Eating Centre, Toronto.