It wasn’t quite Romi and Michelle, but it was pretty bad
There are many reasons why intelligent modern gals lapse into moments of insecurity about our bodies. Sometimes, and as much as I’m loath to admit it, it’s just down to that devious little sod PMS, which feels not unlike, as Jess from New Girl so eloquently put it “a fat man is sitting on my uterus”. Other times we can blame our anxiety on the constant bombardment of images from the fashion and beauty industries giving us another, more metaphorical kick to the baby-maker by showing us simultaneously what perfection is and how we’re more a Kermit than a Miranda Kerr.
But as I found recently, a dip in the old self-confidence levels can also originate from not so obvious places, too. Sometimes it can even come from your mates.
I realised this recently, when I met up with some old university friends for our annual get-together. Since going our separate ways two years ago, we had found it increasingly difficult to get us all together in the same place at the same time, somewhat like a mammoth game of ‘Hungry Hippos’. So this was a momentous occasion and I’d been looking forward to it for ages, as demonstrated by unusual decision to use curling tongs and dust off the fake eyelashes. We’d decided to relive the good old days by going back to our favourite student drinking haunts, savouring the student prices but still retaining a sense of smugness that we no longer dwelled in a house containing its own bacterial eco-system. The plan for the evening was unoriginal but foolproof: have a girly gossip at a few bars and then to the Union to show off our best lunging dance moves and to persistently harass the DJ for ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’. All in all, a fairly standard night out. Or so I thought.
But right from the first moment, I began to notice that pretty much eighty per cent of our conversation over gin-based cocktails focused on the fact that almost all of them had dropped at least one dress size since we had graduated (I should just mention here, none of them were anything like obese to begin with). During the allotted gossip time I got a step-by-step guide to exercise regimes, gym schedules, weight watchers points schemes, and even marveled at the idea of a ‘starving diet’ (WTF?). I found myself saying things like, “Well done!” “Congratulations!” “I’m so proud of you!” because, in our heads at least, all three of them had become successful since graduating from uni – but it wasn’t the kind of success that the Dean had spoken about at graduation. No, they were successful because they now had the ideal body shape and the confidence to match.
Don’t get me wrong, they did look amazing, and I was genuinely pleased for them (and their tastebuds) that they have moved on from the infamous sausage and pasta splurge of 2011. But since I have undoubtedly not changed my body shape or weight AT ALL in the last two years, I couldn’t help but feel somehow that I must be some kind of graduate failure in comparison (you know along with that debt stuff going on, obv). As much as I, to put it politely, don’t agree with Samantha Brick’s views, it seems I had fallen into the dastardly Daily Mail trap of thinking that slimming did indeed equal winning. It seems that so had they, despite the fact that they had all done tremendously well professionally since graduating from university: one is now doing a law conversion course, another a PGCE, and another has worked her way up the family business. It struck me as odd, after that occasion, that none of these achievements were obsessed over to the same degree that body shape was. Would men in our situation have prioritised the topics of conversation in the same way? When we had lived together, me and my uni friends had talked about our bodies a lot – I think it comes quite naturally after you’ve seen each other half naked and throwing up in a toilet basin due to an over-exuberant night out. But I couldn’t tell if this new fixation on body perfection was an extreme version of those nagging insecurities we used to moan about or perhaps they were just getting a bit more health-conscious in their old(er) age.
Furthermore, why was it that by dropping a couple of pounds, my relationship with my friends had now become some kind of bizarre competition? And perhaps even more disturbingly, although I was obviously out of the running, by comparing the amount of gym hours clocked and miles ran, they were implicitly competing with each other for the prizes of ‘biggest transformation’ and ‘most dedicated’. Obviously this isn’t just a girl thing; guys compare themselves to each other too. But it dawned on me how weird it is that people you are so close to can also make you feel incredibly jealous and horribly guilty. I realised for the first time what it must be like being Solange Knowles. I wanted to run home that very instant and throw out every carb-based product I owned whilst shouting “Screw you delicious snacks!”
Instead however, I went home the next day a little flustered and a little sad, and I thought about the day’s events. I concluded that:
1. Reunions are both wonderful and weirdly awkward. A bit like how I imagine it would feel to be stuck in a lift with Leonardo Dicaprio – something you dream about but find out you’re severely unprepared for. Though of course, I doubt Dicaprio would fat-shame me in quite the same way.
2. I do not, and will never, enjoy talking about ‘The Gym’.
3. We shouldn’t compare ourselves and our bodies to others, but inevitably we do. Without sounding too Gok Wan-esque about the whole thing – it is important to be healthy and body confident and we should be pleased for each other’s happiness and achievements. But it seems such a shame that our self-esteem is influenced so fundamentally by how we perceive our bodies. I can name over 200 Harry Potter characters, for chrissake – why the hell can’t my self-esteem be based on that instead?
4. And finally, I realised success after university isn’t concealed within my muffin top but in the photos I took while backpacking solo across Europe last year, and in the scholarship I was given to go back to uni to do a Masters degree.
This isn’t to say that I’ve finally conquered my insecurities, like the rest of you, I’m only human, and thanks to the media and my monthly cycle (those fuckers) I have no doubt the next lapse in body confidence is lurking just around the corner. Believe me, there is no lasting cure, but personally, I’ve found that whacking on a bit of Bob Marley and pretending I’m the greatest mover the world makes you feel a whole lot better. Even more so than Bonnie Tyler. Sometimes, you just have to go and have a dance by yourself.