Women, Weight and Body Issues

Many women have issues with how much they weigh or are unhappy with their body. Constant messages from advertising and the media give an “idealised” picture of how we should look or should aspire to which can lead to intolerable pressure to be perfect.

Research shows that many women have negative body images (the way they see or picture their body) and clearly the size of the diet industry shows the prevalence of dissatisfaction of women with our bodies.

Ideals of female beauty are liable to be unattainable for most women, by their very nature, leading to feelings of inadequacy for millions of women. What’s more, the worship of ‘thinness’ and images of waif-like, size zero, airbrushed or surgically enhanced celebrities creates distorted societal images and perceptions about a normal, healthy weight and body size/shape leading to a mindset where women in particular think they are fat or overweight when in reality they are a normal, healthy weight. In the last few years, the increasing emphasis on healthy eating and healthy weight in order to combat obesity is leading to distorted perceptions of weight by a normal weight population. In particular the ‘healthy eating’ lobby fuels the diet industry and promotes distorted thinking around food which labels food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and leads to women adopting life-long patterns of food restriction and denial and evaluating themselves as being ‘good’ or ‘bad’ according to what they allow themselves to eat.

In spite of the advances in equality of the sexes research shows inequalities still lie around social pressures on women’s appearance (particularly body size and shape). In fact, according to Susie Orbach, eating issues expert and author of the ground breaking book ‘Fat is a Feminist Issue’, “preoccupation with how the body appears has become a crucial aspect of female experience” .

This preoccupation is now coming at an even earlier age as girls as young as 8 or 9 show an awareness of body image and fears around ‘being fat’ as well as a desire or pressure to be thin. Startingly a recent TV documentary looking at a study of children’s attitudes to their bodies showed that being overweight was associated with unpopularity, isolation, and negative judgements around personality and likeability. In addition when asked to pick their preferred body shape/size out of a number of alternatives the majority of 7-9 year old girls picked the underweight, unhealthily thin body as being their preferred body shape – in part due to an expectation of popularity associated with this body shape. Consequently many young girls are ‘socialised’ into these unhealthy thinking and behaviour patterns around food at a young age – either by societal messages or often by their mothers who themselves have endured a life-long battle against weight and food. This sets them up for a love-hate relationship with food and their nutritional desires leading to a lifetime of painful feelings around eating, food and their body image.

This pressure to conform to society’s ideal leads many women to endure a life of constant battling against weight problems, hunger, deprivation and often binging as they swing from restricting food intake to loss of control followed by the inevitable feelings of shame, guilt, despair and self-loathing. Whether you have a problem with excess -or under- weight, it is likely to have affected your self-esteem: feelings of failure from an endless yo-yo dieting cycle, and embarrassment, shame or lack of confidence from negative social responses or “moral” judgements about weight are common.