Tag Archives: Body Image
beautiful suicide

Because A Pretty Corpse Is No Use To Anyone

(Getty Images/Jose Juan Garcia)

“It’s not my responsibility to be beautiful. I’m not alive for that purpose. My existence is not about how desirable you find me.” ~ Warsan Shire

Like many other people I’ve put on quite a bit of weight since I started taking mirtazapine again. Unlike, seemingly, any other people I don’t particularly care.

There are mountains of terrifying reviews about mirtazapine, as there are about most mental health drugs, all over the internet where people go into horrifying detail about their awful experiences with some admittedly pretty awful side effects. With that in mind I think it’s perfectly understandable that a lot of people think twice, thrice, and even four times before deciding on whether or not to take to it, or any similar, medication.

There does seem to be a definite theme, however, when it comes to mirtazapine, of people warning that ‘this medication is bad because it will make you gain weight.’ I’ve lost count of the number of stories I’ve read written by clearly very sick people who have stopped taking it for just this reason.

My friend Ally’s been reading them as well. It’s why despite being almost actively suicidal she refuses to get the prescription her doctor gave her filled. She’s basically decided that she’d rather take the gamble on her life than on the possibility of getting fat.

The very avoidable possibility.

You see, the mirtazapine itself doesn’t actively make you gain weight; it just increases your appetite and makes you really, really hungry all the time.

And you can either respond to that the way I have and start eating enough food for three people, or, you can just not do that; carry on eating the same amount of food as you would normally and deal with the being hungry. Not a particularly unusual state of affairs for someone who’s perpetually dieting anyway.

I was discussing this with my social worker the other day and she spoke about Ally’s concerns like they were perfectly legitimate. As if the choice between taking medication for your life-threatening medical condition and staying thin was a genuine dilemma rather than an obvious no-brainer.  As though prioritising your appearance over your life were an understandable decision.

And, so now I’m wondering how as a society did we get here? How did we make conventional beauty vanity that much of a priority?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m well aware of what I chose to name this webspace. I own a shed load of make up, scores of designer shoes, and a wardrobe full of beautiful dresses. I spend a fortune on my hair. I like to feel pretty and attractive.

It’s just that before this past week of #nomakeupselfie (yes, I know it’s good that it’s raised lots of money for charity) I was blissfully unaware that it was obligatory. That trying my best to look nice was something I was required to do. And that to allow people to see me not ‘looking my best’ was something that should be worthy of note; and a charitable donation.

Sorting out my mental health is one of my main priorities.

Fashion and beauty products have helped to improve my mental health as hobbies.

While I’ve been sick I’ve lost all perspective to the point where I’ve thought that taking an overdose was a good idea. And enjoyed slicing up my own flesh with a razor blade. But never to the point where I believed that the value of my contribution to the world was in any way correlated to the amount of space I took up in it.

You’re supposed to improve the world, not just decorate it.

You’re supposed to be good, and kind, and diligent.

I try to be smart, and funny, and interesting. I aspire to be talented at something. I want to help people.

I like to think that, aside from the odd creepy stalker here and there, the people in my life are there because of my personality and character rather than my face. I hope that my career is based on the fact that I’m professional, hard-working, knowledgeable, and good at what I do. I’d hate to think that I have any of the things I’ve worked for only because of my honey-blonde hair and previously tiny waist.

Pretty, which is mostly about genetics, just doesn’t feel like much of an acheivement; because, well, for the most part – it isn’t.

Nor has it ever seemed like much of a compliment.

Pretty is like nice. It’s how you describe someone when you can’t think of anything more interesting to say about them.

Think about it.

When you’re talking to someone in a general way about a third person, unless that person is either really ridiculously attractive or someone you have a crush on, the way they look isn’t something you tend to mention. You talk about what they’re like, what they do, things they’ve said, the way they make you feel.

Unless they’re not very interesting. In which case you’d describe them as nice. And maybe pretty.

Now think about all the things about your best friend that make them your best friend. I bet ‘because they’re pretty’ doesn’t make the list, even if they are. I know I like my best friend because he’s smart, and funny, and interesting. I love that he’s kind, and thoughtful, and generous. I admire the fact that he’s talented, brave, ambitious, and hard-working. And I don’t know how to begin to thank him for saving my life; because he saved me from myself, from my depression.

He’s also very nice and incredibly pretty; but do you see how I mean about that seeming somewhat unimportant in comparison to all those other things that he became on purpose? They’re not things I’ve ever thought to say to anyone about him before today because they’re so relatively uninteresting.

Pretty is like a picture on a wall; nice to look at, nice to have, but neither essential to, nor the purpose of, the wall. (Unless it’s in an art gallery, which in this analogy would make a person a model; unless you’re a model you don’t need to be pretty.) 

So stop prioritising being slim or pretty.

First prioritise your health and well-being – because a beautiful corpse is no use to anybody.

Then focus on living an interesting life. On being successful; however you define it, on creating something, acheiving something, helping someone. Give people reasons to remember you and things say about you.

And then if you want to make yourself feel pretty – go ahead. But do it for yourself; because you want to, because you enjoy it; not because you think it’s something that you’re supposed to do, or are expected to be, or that it’s something that you actually need.

Audrey Hepburn as Sabrina

It Is, As It Ever Was

“I was so skinny, they gave me the nickname stechetto – the stick. I was tall, thin, ugly and dark like an Arab girl. I looked strange. All eyes. No flesh on my bones.” ~ Sophia Loren

One thing I have been doing a lot of lately is watching old movies. To take my mind off all the unsettled uncertainty that’s been going on in my life at the moment, the other day I decided on a classic movie marathon.

I watched Casablanca, Sabrina, To Catch a Thief, and The Philadelphia Story.

And I was struck by how waif-like the actresses were. And the thought that those who slate movie actresses for being unrealistically thin, and bemoan this as a phenomenon peculiar to the modern media, can’t possibly have watched a single one of them.

Katherine Hepburn was tall, and slim, and reed-like. Audrey Hepburn was a mere slip of a thing. And Brigitte Auber looked like she hadn’t eaten a square meal in her whole life.

Grace Kelly had a fuller figure, but with roughly the same proportions as a Barbie doll. And Ingrid Bergman was hardly what you’d call curvy.

Now I’m not saying any of these things to criticise. I happen to think that the women I’ve just mentioned were some of the most beautiful film actresses who’ve ever lived. What I do think it suggests is that the case for condemning the modern media for supposedly putting too much pressure on women to be thin is overstated.

It is as it ever was.

The media has always held up impossibly beautiful women, with practically unattainable looks, and posited them as some kind of ideal for all women. And on the whole those women have always been thin. They’ve certainly never been plus sized.

I mean, sure there was Marilyn Monroe. But if you compare her to the other stars of her time you’ll find that she was her generation’s Beyoncé. The exception, not the rule.

And she was glamourous. They all were. In a way that was completely beyond the reach of the average woman of their day.

Whereas most people now could adopt the image of their favourite reality TV star if they really wanted to.

And, of course, I’m aware that the consumption of media, and in particular media images has increased immeasurably since the golden age of cinema. But then so have women’s opportunities.

I find it a stretch to believe the suggestion that consumption of magazines such as Hello, OK!, and Closer today exert a greater amount of pressure on a person to look a certain way than did the societal expectation of the 1950s that one simply must find a husband.

The experience of pressure to conform is not the same when one has other tolerable options.

Even as recently as my childhood there was an expectation that people would marry, and they would have children, and they would do both of these things young. And in order to marry, and to have those children, one needed to be pretty. And pretty meant thin.

And the alternative, the only alternative that many could see, was to end up as a crazy, ugly, unwanted spinster.

Of course there are many people who still believe that today, but it just isn’t the same. There are other options, and a growing number of people choosing to pursue those options.

So, while I don’t think the obsession and dissatisfaction of some of our present generation with their body image is a positive thing, I don’t think this issue is really as new as it’s often made out to be.


Robyn Lawley for Ralph Lauren

Size Is Just A Number

“Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti.” ~ Sophia Loren

So I’ve been reading some of the publicity around Robyn Lawley (above) becoming the first ‘plus size’ face of Ralph Lauren. Plus size of course meaning bigger than sample size, not necessarily big. This in turn got me to thinking about the many conversations about weight and dieting that I’ve had with friends lately. These, along with pretty much every ‘women’s’ magazine I’ve ever read, tend to suggest that a significant proportion of women believe that they would be a lot more attractive if only they could either; lose weight if they perceive themselves to be too large, or gain it if they feel that they are too skinny.

And it has inspired me to share a couple of observations with you.

Due to the medication I’ve had to take for my C-PTSD and depression, and a succession of physical health problems, I’ve fluctuated between a UK size 4 and UK size 16 on a semi-regular basis ever since I was sixteen. So I’ve been pretty much every size that the average western woman is ever likely to either be, or aspire to. I’ve changed my hair colour even more frequently, every six months on average, and can no longer remember what it would be if I let it grow naturally.

Which means that unless people have known me for a really long time they tend not recognise me in all the pictures I have around my flat.

Now I’m telling you all this because it occurred to me that there’s been no discernible difference in the number of people I’ve met who’ve happened to find me attractive at any point in the last fifteen years.

Well, unless you count lewd comments shouted in the street by the kinds of sleazy, random men whose attention no self-respecting person would ever court. Those peaked dramatically when I was a size 12 blonde wearing a C-cup bra.

But the number of acceptably civil people who’ve approached me to flirt, chat me up, ask me on dates, or attempt to sleep with me has remained basically constant for the last fifteen years. As has the number of people I actually know who have expressed similar kinds of interest in me.

Which would tend to suggest that neither size, nor hair colour, are necessarily crucial factors in determining how attractive a person is.

Nor has my varying size apparently made any difference to anyone’s enthusiasm on seeing me naked. Now I suppose you could argue that this could be accounted for by politeness. However, as the only thing most of the people I’ve slept with have in common is the fact they couldn’t lie convincingly to save their lives, I think this is unlikely.

I think it has far more to do with how the vast majority of people rather like having sex, and are usually pretty happy to be getting some. Also that a similar proportion of people don’t tend to bother putting in the effort in the first place to get to be able to sleep with someone they don’t find attractive.

Now I’m not suggesting that I’ve been equally content with what I’ve seen in the mirror however large or small I’ve looked. I feel that I look best when I look healthiest. And when I’m healthy I’m usually somewhere around a UK size 12.

At my recent birthday party we had a slide show of old photographs, and I’m happy to admit that I felt disappointed seeing how much better I looked a few years ago, before the depression and then the medication to treat the depression, caused me to pile weight on.

What I am saying is that my experience has taught me that, at least for women, our body shape makes far less difference to how attractive others find us, or otherwise perceive us, than we often assume to be the case. My changing appearance seems to have made no greater difference to how successful I have been at work, or how many people like to socialise with me than it has to the amount of people who’ve considered me attractive.

In fact the only notably memorable differences that my shape has made to my life have been when I was a size 4-8 and autumn came; then the cold would somehow get into my bones and stay there all winter. A terribly unpleasant experience that I could not recommend to anybody. And that as a size 14-16 it is much harder to find clothes that suit, or in some stores even fit, my body shape.

So while I would never try to discourage anybody from striving to become a healthier shape, or trying to adopt an appearance that makes them feel more comfortable in their own skin. I would urge women to try to feel more confident about the attractiveness of the body that they’re already in.

After all, if most people were really as unattractive as they think they are, the human race would be teetering on the brink of extinction by now.


A Useless Object?

Why do so many people own bathroom scales? What is the point of them?

I mean, I know they tell you how much you weigh, but why do you need to know to the nearest kilogram?

Competitive fighters need to know, and jockeys. They have to weigh in before they can do their thing. But the rest of us surely don’t.

Your clothes either fit you or they don’t. And the best way to find that out is to put them on.

You either like the way you look, or you don’t. And you determine that by looking in the mirror.

Knowing how much more or less you weigh than you would like is surely just another stick to beat yourself with. And why would you want to do that? It’s not as if you’re going to be laying on your death bed thinking, ‘oh, I only wish I’d weighted myself more often’.

It can’t really be for dieting motivation, because if your diet’s really working your clothes, your mirror and your friends will tell you anyway. Besides which it can’t possibly be the case that nearly everybody is on a diet, all of the time.

So why not spend the time and the money on something you’d really regret not doing instead?





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