The Vagenda

On Bikini Body Bullshit


I’ve been meaning to write about this issue for Now magazine for about two weeks, but I haven’t, because I have been on a diet, and have felt lightheaded most of the time. I realise that this is a rubbish thing for someone who writes frequently about body image to be admitting, but the truth is: this affects me too. To an alarming level.  Indeed, it’s probably why I feel so strongly about media body fascism in the first place. It’s probably why I co-authored a whole book about it. It’s probably why I am writing this now.

 I have been on some kind of diet for the last two years, on and off. The type of diet and how long I have been on it has varied, but it’s usually triggered by one, or a combination, of several factors:

- Not being able to fit into an item of clothing which, at a much younger age and possibly after a bout of stomach flu, I used to fit into comfortably

- Seeing a photograph of myself when I was twenty (or, most recently, a photograph of myself in The Times) and bursting into tears, before standing in front of the mirror naked pinching various bits of my body, for ages

- Reading something in the media, such as this Now magazine corker ‘WHAT THE STARS REALLY WEIGH’, and feeling so terrible about my body that I resign myself to a life of Ryvita and laxative tea

It’s the latter ‘trigger’ that I’m most put out about. I can rationalise to myself, just about, wanting to lose weight because your clothes no longer fit or because you felt you looked better at a lower weight, because at least there is something reflexive about that process. Yes, the weight anxiety may partly be created by outside influences. Nevertheless, the first two ‘triggers’ at least feature some element of self-improvement/money-saving motivation.

But going on a diet because of some bullshit article in a raggy magazine? That pisses me off.

And yet, it works. It’s a process that we jokingly refer to in our book, The Vagenda: A Zero Tolerance Guide to the Media, as an ‘insecurity bomb.’ One minute you’re fine, and the next, BAM, you’re putting in an order for £200 worth of raspberry ketones on Amazon and wrapping your body in clingfilm like Madonna does(n’t) every night.

A couple of weeks ago, when I opened that copy of Now magazine and came to the crushing realisation that I am not hovering around the 8 stone mark, like many of the celebrities that it featured, I experienced a feeling of failure that has become all too familiar to me. I felt as though, as a member of the female sex, I just wasn’t cutting the mustard. I felt as though I was taking up too much space. It felt as though I needed to be less.

In fact, such was the self-loathing reaction this magazine provoked in me that when my flatmate’s girlfriend picked it off the table and started flicking through it, I ran towards her yelling, ‘LEANDRA NO!!! DON’T DO IT!!’ as though it was a live hand grenade rather than a glossy magazine. I’d taken the bullet this time.

My feelings about dieting are hard to articulate, because, although as Emma VItz,  one of The Vagenda’s contributors recently pointed out on this blog, falling victim to body fascism is nothing to do with intelligence, and telling a woman that she is ‘too clever to fall for this shit’ is condescending crap. Because said shit is EVERYWHERE, we are still led to believe that this is true, that everything is unavoidable if you just use your brain. But is it true? I am fairly intelligent, but I also think juicing might have the potential to change my life.

Some of the criticism of the book we wrote has centred around the idea that, in pointing out how damaging women’s magazines are, we are patronising the readers, who are perfectly capable of making their own minds about this stuff. Much of this criticism (well, what which didn’t come from journalists who completely coincidentally ALSO WRITE FOR WOMEN’S MAGAZINES) came from middle class women in their late middle age who were lucky enough to have benefited from much feminist consciousness-raising when they were attending their progressive Russell Group Universities – talk to a state school educated girl who grew up in the feminist vacuum of the nineties (hiya!) and it is, of course, a different story. I know crazy numbers of young, intelligent women (many of whom write for The Vagenda) who spend much of their time worrying about their weight and the way they look. Yet they didn’t realise that magazines were part of the problem until they sat down, usually while drinking shit-tons of Pinot, and suddenly turned around Columbo-style and thought nay, slurred, ‘Holdonafuckingsecondtheremate. What fresh hell is this?’

It’s not patronising to present an alternative narrative to magazine bullshit. It’s fucking patronising to tell women to ‘take their butt to bootcamp’. But you get so used to this stuff that you stop noticing it happening, and even when you DO notice it, it still gets to you. Or at least, it gets to me.

Which brings me back to my diet. Never underestimate the effect that a feature entitled ‘THIS IS WHAT 9ST LOOKS LIKE’ can have on your rational brain. The diet I am on, because of Now magazine and its ruthless chronicling of celebrities weights, is utterly ridiculous. It is, supposedly, a diet invented by the British Heart Foundation to give to obese patients before surgery, although the British Heart Foundation deny all knowledge of it. Now, I am a logical, educated person; I know that there is no ‘magic combination’ of food chemicals that facilitates rapid weight loss, and yet I am living off a strange combination of cottage cheese, grapefruit, ritz crackers, frankfurters and beetroot, all because I think being 10lb lighter will make me a better person.

Here are the facts: I am 26 years old. I am a published author. I write columns for a national newspaper. My BMI is 21.7 (but according to an Independent article from 1998 that I read this morning during a bout of self-loathing, the optimum BMI for sexual attractiveness is between 18-20. This bothers me). For the last two years, I have been trying to survive on less than 1,200 calories a day. In the last six months, I have ignored all attempts to get me on television, including Newsnight, because I think I will look fat on screen, and that people on Twitter will tell me about it later. This is, in all honesty, the only reason. I would quite like to go on television. I do not worry that I will have nothing to say, that I will be stuttering or inarticulate, but worry that I will be called fat. Fear of being called fat is the reason why I will now never be interviewed by Jeremy Paxman, who in the meantime has retired.

Here are the facts: I am hungry all the time, unless I am bingeing (insecurity comes in waves. I’m not saying I’ve been miserable throughout my whole twenties). Yesterday I nearly fainted at the doctors’. I am frequently tearful for no apparent reason. I am so hungry all the time.

I do not have an eating disorder, although at times, when I was younger, I came close. I am a healthy weight and am fully aware that there are young women out there suffering more than the pain of being too scared to go on television. But also I am angry that I am hungry. Despite being clever, despite being a feminist, despite having achieved some of my dreams: I am still hungry.

Why I am writing this now? I suppose it is because I want to illustrate how body insecurity can, in making you want to be smaller, stifle your ambitions, make you scale yourself back, curl in on yourself, feel worthless despite all the other things that you think should make you worthy. I suppose I am writing this because, since publishing our book, Holly and I have felt rather alone in banging this drum, in being young women coming up against a powerful media establishment in which our generation is barely represented and coming away bruised and belittled (but not broken, fuckers!) I suppose I am writing this because I know that there are loads of you out there who are hungry too, and that some of you are my friends, and that, if we weren’t hungry, we’d be able to achieve so much more than we already have.

But I haven’t got a clue what to do about it, except set fire to Now magazine in the back garden, and use it to light a spliff, and go to bed until tomorrow.

121 thoughts on “On Bikini Body Bullshit

  1. I’m sorry, but if you’re hungry all the time and nearly fainted at the doctor’s, plus the insecurities you describe, then you may well have an eating disorder…while not actually anorexic.
    I know , I’ve been there. I had a BMI of 21, and felt exactly the same way.
    Perpetual hunger can only come from two sources, not eating enough, or some pathology. I’m betting the former, since you say you’re healthy.
    What you’re describing is the life of a huge proportion of women in the UK. It isn’t healthy, and the moment you stop, your body will fight back.
    If only the we could erase all this fat shaming body fascism I guarantee nobody would ever be fat, not particularly , nor would live be lost to disordered eating.
    Your piece resonates with so many.

    • Agreed. I have a BMI of 39.5 (wavering during my adult life between 25.5 and 42) and I have had an eating disorder through most of my life. When I was at school, I used to throw away my lunch. I was, and still am to a certain degree, horrified at the idea of eating in front of anyone else. I existed on 5 apples, one pack of savoury rice and 80 cigarettes a week when I was at university, during which time my periods stopped and my hair started falling out. I don’t know how much I weighed at that point, but I can be absolutely goddamned certain that it didn’t take me below the BMI of 18 that is the supposed diagnostic criteria for anorexia. I’ve hated my body all my life, including when I was at my “thinnest,” and until recently I have always striven to take up less room or beaten myself (sometimes physically) for taking up too much.

      As an intelligent, accomplished, polymathic woman, it’s frustrating that my physical and mental health and well-being has been compromised by the constant media diet and social body commentary that created my massively fucked-up relationship with food. I’ve only started to feel better about myself since I’ve stopped reading raggy magazines (and glossy ones) that feature constant scrutiny of women’s bodies and suggestions for how to make them “better” whilst simultaneously exposing myself to a regular stream of women whose body sizes and shapes fall way outside the upper end of the so-called norm. Oh, and extensive and expensive therapy. But no matter how critical I’m able to be intellectually about women’s magazines and their coverage of the female form, emotionally I react on a level that is far deeper and I can’t deal with that and continue to be healthy. Since I’ve done that, I’ve not binged half as much, find the food I actually crave most of the time constitutes a balanced diet and learned that I enjoy walking and running as a way to make myself feel strong and alive rather than using them as a form of self-punishment for being a failure as a human being – or even self-harm as I pushed myself to injury after injury and felt I deserved the pain for being a fat, useless fuck.

      tl;dr changing my visual diet has changed my body far more than changing what I eat, but it’s been a long, long time coming.

  2. Bravo.
    I’m fucking hungry, too.
    And it makes me angry, every time I am. I see men larger than myself who are not poked fun of or derided purely for being obese, but a woman who isn’t rail-thin is thought of poorly for as little as five random pounds of curve.
    The ugliness of fat-hate is everywhere, and it’s one more facet of misogyny in all its glory.
    You say ‘I don’t have an eating disorder’ but love, I’m afraid you just might. Less than 1200 a day, and you’re angry and hungry all the time? Just because your weight/BMI look reasonable doesn’t mean it isn’t a disorder. If it’s causing you distress and fainting, it’s a disorder. Your book, your blog, your tweets, they’re an inspiration to show the rest of the world to stop hating women for no good goddamned reason. Give yourself the same kindness, yeah? Go eat something if you’re hungry, while you watch the rag burn, and toast the hateful writers of Now while you do.

  3. My facts: I have a First class Law degree from Cambridge University and work in my dream job. I am a healthy weight.

    Today, all I can think about and see are my cellulitey thighs. This makes me so sad.

    • Quite the same for me. Great job, great house, great husband… A BMI of 19 but I’m obsessed by my cellulite. I even think my husband thinks, deep inside, I am too fat even though it is obvious that he truly think I am beautiful and slim enough.
      A few years ago I was 10 kilos less, my BMI was 17, and I thought I was too fat too…
      I am a clever woman, I know that I shouldn’t feel that way but I can’t help myself…

      (sorry for my english level, I’m French)

  4. We have got to shift the focus to HEALTH. Every person is different. Trying to force your body to look like someone else’s is facile. I’m a 36 year old woman, I get it, in my 20s I tried every diet under the sun, and then I just realised that my body is my body, I can’t change its natural shape, but what I can do is be healthy – eat well, exercise a bit and not deny myself the odd treat. What came with that realisation was peace of mind, calm and happiness. Magazines like this are toxic. I’m always shocked that they are allowed to get away with it, and more shocked that anyone would actually buy such crap.

    Be kind to yourself.

  5. My facts: I’m 31. I have a languages degree from a good university. I’ve lived abroad. I do public affairs work for a charity. I teach groups of people at weekends to do something I love. I’m in a stable loving relationship with someone who thinks I’m gorgeous. My BMI is healthy.

    Sometimes, when I see pictures of myself, I weep at how fat I think I look.This makes me sad. And also very, very angry.

  6. You and Holly are not alone! I work in an office full of strong, intelligent women, and although we deal with children’s rights rather than women, and the only men in the office are the admin assistants, we all debate over whether to have a biscuit. Even though we are frequently confronted by the sinister and violent side of sexism (rape and trafficking) as suffered by the young people we work with.

    Your blog is an inspiration; it’s good to know that you two are out there raising awareness of feminist issues at all levels, as while the media continues to devalue women, my office will never be out of work.

    (And on a personal note, this blog has helped me to work through my particular issues around sex, sexuality and feminism – so thanks!)

    Hope you are feeling better today. And next time you’re offered – go on TV!

  7. Oh man, so much sympathy for this. I’m finishing my phd at Cambridge University before the age of 25, I teach dance, I have a healthy BMI, and I have a job in a field that values brains over pretty much anything else (academic science)….but still I obsess over my appearance. The most stressful part of job interviews earlier this year wasn’t the interviews themselves or the pressure or the competitive environment: it was worrying about looking fat in a suit.

  8. I am 24, a successful(ish) journalist. I absolutely love food: reading about it, writing about it, cooking it, feeding it to people… yet for the last 5 years I have not been able to enjoy eating it without a constant overriding sense of guilt.

    I know exactly what you mean about not having an eating disorder. I too am a healthy weight, yet each meal I skip feels like more of an accomplishment than many other – more important – things in life.

    Many of my female friends feel the same way, and many of their male friends and boyfriends cannot understand what it’s all about. Why we don’t enjoy eating out with them? Why we try to work through lunch? Why we pick at pizzas like they’re the spawn of the devil? I think making men understand that this is not neurosis, it’s real and damaging, is as important as making women themselves realise the problem.

  9. My facts: I am 29, I have a PhD in archaeology, I work in my dream job at a University, speak three languages and play five musical instruments. I have a partner who adores my body. I’m underweight according to my BMI but that is my natural weight and my doctors are not worried.

    I still stand in front of the mirror poking and prodding my wobbly bottom, and wondering how I can get rid of the cellulite that has nothing to do with weight, but being a woman. I get angry that I’m upset about it, because that upset is caused by the media alone, and I am angry that I seriously consider huge lifestyle changes even though to do so would put my health at risk.

  10. I am an intelligent, witty journalist. I am a 5ft7 blonde bombshell with perky boobs and waist length blonde hair. i box twice a week, i play lacrosse, and i poledance for fun.

    last year i worked for a fashion magazine in the middle east who hired me because the place was full of models who couldn’t write for shit. after six months, i developed an anxiety disorder, having panic attacks every time i had to get ‘dressed up’ for an event, and was eventually fired by the editor for being ‘too fat’. they replaced me with a model.

    i am a size 12, and f*cking sick of feeling worthless because of it, and so irrepressibly angry that it is mainly WOMEN writing the shit that make the rest of us feel terrible about ourselves.


  11. Oh dear.

    My facts. I’m 30, in a loving relationship and a senior manager in a large firm.

    I like sewing and reading. I play video games and go swimming a couple of times a week.

    My weight? Who the hell cares! I never buy any “womens” magazines for the simple reason that they all hate women. If anyone called me fat (which hasn’t happened since senior school, despite me being “obese” btw), I’d roll my eyes and never have anything to do with that person again.

    How many of you people on a constant diet have EVER been called fat? You’re the only person who cares about your thighs, get over yourself!

    • You don’t get it, do you? It doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks, it’s about what one thinks about oneself.

      The lack of empathy you display here is nothing to be proud of, either.

      • Sorry I think you may have misunderstood me. I didn’t mean for this to not sound empathetic at all. It’s just what I tell myself whenever I worry that my bum is big! We are our own worst enemies.

        • And our second to worst enemies are magazines that are aimed at women that HATE women. The only solution to the poison they publish is for people to stop buying them.

          • I never buy these magazines but I can’t hide billboards, ads, hetc.
            This problem is something women have suffered from for decades, it puts its roots deep down our mind, since the day we wera born, from our mothers, grand-mothers etc.

    • I agree with you, CB. I don’t mean this to come across as insensitive to anyone, but life is short, and if you choose to spend it being hungry and miserable, that’s on you, not some magazine. And come on, there are far more important things going on than whether you’ve put on a few pounds or whether that skirt hides your cellulite. You’re the only one responsible for letting life pass you by!

      I don’t have a perfect body by any measure, but I’m ok with that. I’m taking steps to change it (healthy eating, NOT starving myself; and exercise) but I’m not going to put my life on hold in the meantime!

      • Amen
        I will tell you ladies, I was a slim, lovely teenager who constantly worried about getting fat.
        And I did get fat, starting around college. And I sweated it, until I didn’t.
        I made a ‘radical’ decision not to hate myself, no matter what. Not to punish myself with ugly clothes. Not to sweat every damn bite that goes into my mouth.
        I am a grown-ass woman; I pay my own bills; I get to eat what I like. And I never debate it with friends.
        Dear God, there’s nothing more boring than listening to other people endlessly discuss carbs, fat, amounts, how ‘bad’ they’ve been, etc – right?
        So let’s not be those people.
        Eat it, don’t eat it.
        Never complain; never explain.
        Really ladies, you’re worth it.
        And, really, REALLY, if you’re hungry all the time, you’re not eating right. Try some serious protein and a little fat for an early breakfast and see if you don’t feel better all day.
        Good luck; you can do it!

  12. I’m 26, have a BMI of 18.5 and have had cellulite since I was 14. My 33 year old boyfriend (who has never exercised in his life, eats KFC on a weekly basis, has 2 sugars in his tea and always has a supply of ice cream) recently made a sarky remark about my “bumpy bits”.
    Unfortunately we live together so there began the descending spiral of “I MUST DIET SO MY BOYFRIEND FINDS ME ATTRACTIVE AT ALL TIMES”.
    Now tired of being hangry all the time and have announced that I couldn’t care less about my bumpy bits.
    I do care. I care because of the fear of being looked at with distaste the moment any patch of leg is out and about.
    So, I’m killing myself (and my bank account) with dance classes 3 times a week.
    Perhaps it’ll work.
    Feeling your pain.

  13. My facts:

    I’m a 28 year old woman with three university degrees doing a creative job that I love. I have a boyfriend who loves my body and I am a healthy weight. My mum has cancer and MS which is a real problem that makes me feel helpless.

    Every day I try to convince myself to skip a meal or go for a long run or that I will avoid eating any sugar and when I fail, I feel pathetic and weak. Sometimes I will eat too much and throw up.

  14. I’m almost 28, have never been on a diet, I don’t know how much I weigh. Clothes-wise I’m borderline plus size. I’ve always avoided specific body-related numbers, like weight or measurements, because they’re such a trigger for me. Here in Norway it’s relatively easy to do (we don’t really have a Norwegian magazine that’s as obsessed with weight and bodies as Now, fortunately). I don’t read magazines except for a mostly fashion-related (not “women’s magazine”) one ever now and then. Yet despite all this effort to shield myself, for years I was still in a rage about the unfairness of it all, and how damaging it is. I just couldn’t comprehend how the world had ended up like this, and why it’s allowed to continue.

    I’m still angry, though lately I’ve been able to direct that anger outwards, towards the media (your book is awesome!) and blogs and ads and people who feed us this poison. Personally, though, my body and I are doing very well, finally. I blogged about it last night, actually (not meant as spam or to fish for hits, but just in case if anyone truly wants to read it: What you write about becoming LESS, it’s one of the things I find most disturbing. Why should it be positive to be LESS? It makes little sense to me, especially after I learned about the health at every size concept, and how the expression of a “healthy weight” just isn’t very reasonable (this blog post discusses it well, I think:

    I hope you’ll find a way to feel happy about your body, to genuinely like it and love it and enjoy it. It _is_ possible, I promise. *cheering you on*

  15. According to these comments none of you are actually overweight – not by the BMI definition or by your own.

    I, on the other hand, am overweight. I’m 5’9. I’m a size 16-18 and my BMI is just a smidge over 30 so in fact… I’m obese. Even at my lowest ever adult weight (about 12 stone 5 – achieved by way of an emotional breakdown during my second year at uni during which I didn’t eat for 3 weeks and then only ate one meal a day for the next few months) I was still in the overweight category. I will probably never not be overweight.

    But I can run 5k in under 18 minutes and lift over half my body weight with ease. I’m training for a marathon. I eat healthily. I have great skin and a bombshell hourglass shape. I love the way my body looks in the mirror (most of the time) and the fact it recently carried me valiantly through treatment for cervical cancer (when I was only 25, by the way). Magazines and celebrities don’t make me feel any shame about the way I look because I know that the women in their pages are literally getting paid to look like that.

    However, the second I stand next to or see a photo of myself with a slimmer friend, or talk to someone who’s probably half my weight, but is barely surviving on less than 1200 calories a day because they’re “sooooooo fat” compared to Cheryl Cole, I feel ashamed of myself. I think my body is amazing – it can do all these fantastic things and yet if my friends looked like me they’d probably hate themselves (more than they already seem to). That, more than my reflection, or Now magazine, or the fashion industry or a Weight Watchers advert is what has made me begrudgingly give in and go on my first controlled attempt to lose weight in my time on this planet.

    It’s going well – I’ve lost a stone in the first month and I’m not hungry. I’m not fainting in doctors offices. I’m not in a bad mood. I’m eating between 1400 and 1600 calories a day. But I’m more disappointed in myself to have succumbed to peer pressure from the people who are meant to be my friends than I ever was ashamed of my body.

    I don’t know what point I’m trying to make here but I feel like it’s a point that needed to be made.

    • This. Over the last two years I put on about 14 kilos. I think I look pretty good, and i’m ok with it but the only time I feel bad about myself is when my skinny friends start banging on about losing weight and being fat. They always say I look really good and compliment me on my figure, but it kind of means nothing when I know for a fact that if they came even close to my size they would freak out and stop eating. It would be the worse thing that ever happened to them.

    • Hey LBH,
      I hear ya, it’s called thin privilege. To be thin and hate on yourself is different to being fat, hating on yourself and have society hate on you too. You get an extra layer of hate if you’re fat*.

      What actually sucks is that when people are feeling something, they say they’re fat, so “fat” is like the bad thing. Like my thin friend who says she’s fat, she must weigh about the same as my left leg – and I’m a thin person, so to have her blanket all the shit things she going through in this world into one word: fat. Well its sucks to hear that. Why not say “I’m full” or “I’m uncomfortable” or “I am feeling down on myself”. Fat is a descriptor, like “brown” or “blue” or “thin” or “tall”. Fat is not a hold-all for everyone’s bad shit, but the word is used like that.

      When your thin friends are saying they’re “soooooooo fat” they’re not fat as you said, they’re just feeling something they haven’t really taken the time to articulate correctly. Not that you should feel shit because they can’t articulate themselves.

      Though I’ve got thin privilege, in that, on my bad days I just hate on myself (not society, society reserves a special kind of nastiness for fat women*), I really thought about this stuff because I got fat friends and family and it’s not cool for me, on my bad days, to say “I’m fat”. To say “I’m fat” is actually to take something that the people I know are: fat, and to turn it into something bad. It’s part of my thin privilege to be completely unaware of how a thin person like me (and perhaps your friends?) can take the word “fat”, pour all of my negative emotions into it and fail to acknowledge how that hurts another person with more fat than me and who does suffer social consequences for their fatness* (consequences I have never, ever faced, even on the days I’m physically bigger due to my period!).

      I’d like to add (off topic a bit I know…), yes I have problems with fat areas of my body at times, but I do acknowledge that I’ve been socialized to translate things like “low self esteem”, “feeling tired”, “aging”, “full”, “over-full” into fat. I don’t stand in the mirror looking at my low self esteem, I look in the mirror and look at my fat. Avoidance comes naturally to me and “feeling fat” gives me an easy escape: lose 5kgs and boom, this bad feeling will go (uh no, it won’t!). So these days I try to own what I am feeling to avoid use fat as my scapegoat – it’s not easy, but my words and actions do impact the fricken awesome fat women around me, so I’m trying my damnedest to be honest and to articulate myself clearly without indulging in fat-hate.

      I’d suggest reading the blog FatHeffaLump. Now that is one rocking fat woman.

      Not sure if it’ll work with your friends, but when my friend said she felt fat, I told her fat is not a feeling, it’s a physical thing. I told her my sister and friends are fat, and I’d really appreciate it if she could just take a minute to think about, and then articulate her negative emotions so as not to use the word “fat” as a garbage can, because when she misuses the word “fat” like that, it actually shames fat people. It worked. People don’t change overnight, but to make a commitment and to keep on trying does lead to improvements :)

      Peace out sista!

      * statement based on experiences shared with me by fat women and watching TV.

      • Dude, as an 8 stone, boy shaped, not-a-real-woman-according-to-pinterest girl, you have just made me understand thin privilege with one sentence. I guess I sort of understood before, but still felt a bit whiny about it, but seriously, that is a damn good description. Thanks.

      • Thanks for this comment. You’re so right that fat is used as a blanket description of feeling crap, and doing so makes it seem more negative than it already is portrayed as. Asking people (and yourself) to better articulate how they really feel is something I’ve never thought about, but is a great idea.
        Thanks again!

  16. This has brought me to tears, the piece and the comments. when that horrible feeling of shame about yourself overrides the rational, intelligent thoughts of it all being bullshit, that’s awful. I’m angry about it too, and sad and scared but mostly angry!

  17. Just exercise! Then you can eat as much as you like! Doing a half an hour bike ride burns 1200 calories for me. Go figure.

        • because it doesn’t matter how many calories they burn, they still won’t feel good about themselves. The standards that they are being held up to and holding themselves up to are impossible to reach for most people. And even if they do reach them, they will then be in constant worry about maintaining them. It’s kind of a lose/lose situation.

          But everyone should definitely exercise regardless of what size they are…

          • I agree with mamaXI that “just exercise” doesn’t fix self-hate.

            Disagree with the statement “everyone should definitely exercise”. Exploring reasons why people “should” exercise I assume is related to this idea that it’s healthy and good for you and therefore it’d be good if everyone did exercise. Therefore we all should exercise. Well putting aside personal (and societal) moral judgements on health and benefits we value personally (like subjective gains to the quality of life) – are people who don’t exercise worth less as human beings if they don’t? Is their health anyone’s business except their own? No.

          • I agree it doesn’t fix the problem of self-hate, and I should’ve made that clear. But if people can’t free themselves from wanting to be thinner, then the best solution is to do so by exercising and eating properly, rather than trying to eat very little and feeling faint.

          • I don’t think “then the best solution is to do so by exercising and eating properly, rather than trying to eat very little and feeling faint. ”

            First not everyone can just “eat properly” or “exercise” due to mental health concerns (e.g. eating disorders), poverty, a lack of time in their life, or a number of other reasons. If it were easy to “eat properly” just like that, then eating disorders would not exist.

            Implying all women have the easy and simple choice of “exercise” and “eating properly” is just blaming women who can’t just do those things because they have not made a choice you have assumed is easy. Maybe this choice is easy for you to make, but listening to the many voices here, this is not an easy choice for all women.

            I get that you’re saying logically it is better to eat well than to under eat and feel faint. But practically this is not how it works.

            Women not exercising their choice to just “eat well” and instead who areunder-eating and feeling faint is not the problem here. Under-eating and why it happens is due to a number of complex reasons. Minimizing the problem by making it about “simple” food choices doesn’t help.

            The best solution, to a problem about food, is not to make the answer about food too. The best solution is perhaps to explore why one is under-eating and look at why this is happening and get help to find self-acceptance.

          • I wrote both comments fairly quickly, forgetting that online it’s easy to be misinterpreted and if there’s a chance what you say can be misinterpreted, then it will be.
            To be clear: I’ve never said exercise and eating properly is a long-term solution to self-hate and I made it clear it wasn’t. Nor was I blaming people or minimising the problem. I meant that if people want to lose weight, exercise and the right amount of food are the best way to go about it, not eating so little food you feel faint as the author does. That is pure fact. It of course represents an ideal and doesn’t take everyone’s individual situations into account. But my comment was intended as a response to the author’s article and experience and therefore was related directly to her situation. As such it didn’t take eating disorders into account because the author doesn’t appear to have one (correct me if I’m wrong).
            By eating properly, I meant eating a healthy amount so the body can function (see above), not necessarily fresh veg every day. I would argue that poverty is exaggerated as a barrier to not eating properly (see Jack Monroe’s recipes for example). Most (I accept not all) people have a spare 20 mins in their day (or could get up 20 mins earlier), that is enough for exercise.
            I wasn’t making the solution about food, just recommending that in the author’s situation, exercising and eating properly would be better. I’m sorry I was not clear enough.

  18. I’m 32, I have a law degree and have had chronic fatigue syndrome for the last 5 years. This cost me my job, my hobbies and my social life, but gained me 12 kilos. I still have a healthy BMI (just) but have become sadder and sadder as I grow out of clothes, and for caring about something my rational brain knows doesn’t matter. However, food is one of my few pleasures so I keep eating. I wish the media didn’t create fake problems to add to the genuine ones in life!

    • I wanted to send you some solidarity as a fellow cfs/me spoonie. I’ve been in this same boat since I was 13 (I’m now 27) and one of the worst things about this illness is that it takes away those small pleasures. I am often too tired to read, to see friends, to talk to family for more than 5 minutes, to put on make up or pick a nice outfit. And food has gone from being something I enjoy to something I feel intensely guilty about – especially because I can’t really exercise! I honestly think that a lot of my own issues with how I look are to do with the fact that my body has failed me. I hate my legs because they look fat to me. I used to be a dancer – this used to be muscle. Now the walk home from work can seem impossible and those muscles just cause me pain. But reading your comment has made me resolve to try and see good food as a pleasure I deserve. Because life is tough for us and so many, but we don’t need to make it tougher – and nor should the media.

  19. I am 30, have two degrees and a wonderful husband and job. We have a beautiful daughter (almost 2) and we haven’t had family pictures made because I know I will hate them because I will look fat. I am desperate not to pass this insecurity on to her and feel like I am failing.

    • your daughter will certainly be happy later on to see photographs of you when she was a child, whatever your shape or size: you’re her mother, she loves you just the way you are (even if you don’t)

  20. Thank you for writing that article. I think I’m going to print it and keep it in my handbag (which is sadly too silly and dinky for your lovely chunky book!). Just this afternoon I felt that familiar sonic boom of an insecurity incendiary relating to my body and TBH I don’t even know where it came from. I haven’t even been on the Daily Fail website today…

    I am a size 8, 5’5″ blonde woman with a lovely little bum and perky C-cup breasts. I actually weigh 8 stone. I have ‘The Bikini Body’. I’m like a fucking unicorn for Christ’s sake! These bitches (by which I mean these magazines) shouldn’t have anything on me, and yet I CONSTANTLY feel I am too fat, too big, too flabby, too much. I don’t have an eating disorder (I think its really important not to blur the lines between insecurity borne of external stimuli such as this and mental illness, at least so as not to trivialise the latter) but I regularly skip meals because I don’t want to eat too much and throughout the day I find I count up everything I have eaten to reassure myself it wasn’t too much. Sometimes, if I feel I need to lose weight, I just cut the amount I eat in half. Yes. In HALF. Living on less that 1,500 calories a day feels for me like an achievement, and given the amount of thought and energy I put into it, it’s clearly an achievement that is more important to me than virtually anything else in my life. I too am hungry all the time. Which is (particularly to see this in writing) profoundly depressing.

    Furthermore, to hear you talk about your similar feelings is also depressing, but I do think it is very important. This is because what this kind of damaging media also does is set people with a profile (like you and Holly) up as being somehow infallible and ‘perfect’ and you become just another unachievable ‘thing’ for the rest of us to aspire to and feel bad about not being able to achieve. You become the Perfect Feminist and are therefore ‘not allowed’ to have any insecurities or doubts or, in fact, be human at all, and so you’re only going to disappoint us after which we’ll kick you off your pedestal and the Patriarchy can give us its big ‘I told you so’ finger, and we’ll all go back to looking at pictures of airbrushed celebrities on holiday in Dubai.

    I think by doing this what these magazines offer us is a dangerously ‘comfortable’ place of sorts – they reflect back our own deep held thoughts that we are not good enough, mainly in terms of how we look, but ultimately about the value we have in society, and reinforce them which somehow feels like the shadow of empowerment, or at least vindication or control. It is I think what Lupita Nyong’o described in her Black Women in Hollywood acceptance speech as ‘the seduction of inadequacy’. Its stifling, but it means we don’t ever have to deal with the discomfort of transgression and transcendence.

    So thank you for writing about your experience of it – it can feel like you are the only one and that gives these feelings even more power – we should talk about these things more. Furthermore thank you for this blog and the other advocacy work you do. What you and Holly are doing/have done is an amazing gift for women of our generation. Please don’t be disheartened. Be proud. Be bad-ass. (And bloody well get on TV!! You’ve seen the morons they’re trying to palm us off with – I mean, jeez! Your ladybros need you!)

  21. me too, 50, under, not overweight. Yet all I see is my lumpy thighs- I actually ( God forgive me) wrapped myself in elasticated bandages dipped in fairy glue yesterday just to see if my skin would go smooth. No one- or rather no one whose opinion I care about, ever sees my thighs- the dog just wonders at my lack of fur.

  22. The way I see it, everyone is too busy looking at themselves to look at my wobbly bits and I don’t really notice anyone else’s either. So I wear lycra and miniskirts.

  23. A male friend of mine recently tweeted this question:

    “Ladies, how can you go to the gym and work on looking fantastic and also date a guy who is fat? That doesn’t make sense to me. Enlighten me.”

    Instead of a reply tweet, he got a phone call in return. Turns out he’s making genuine efforts to understand all the bullcrap that is the patriarchy. I feel as though I’ve finally taught someone something useful.

  24. Fact: I am a 19 year old woman who has a BMI of 22. I am about to graduate this year with a bachelors in biology and chemistry because I graduated high school at 15. I have overcome self mutilation and disordered eating. I have survived things most people my age can’t even fathom: abject poverty, homelessness, sexual abuse, starvation because of poverty… I am a size 9 and a normal weight. I have a boyfriend who sometimes is accepting of the way I look but occasionally makes passive agressive remarks, despite him being 50 pounds overweight. My hipbones protrude slightly and my stomach is fairly flat, both facts that make me prouder than my 3.5 GPA. I do not live a super healthy lifestyle, but it is better than my peers who similarly go to school full time and work. I walk 3 miles every day, despite my arthritis and asthma.

    I still cry every day when I get dressed in my size 9 jeans because a year ago I was a size 3. I was 125 pounds and I ate a full meal about once every other day. And I cry because I have to look at my body that I hate while simultaneously convincing myself that I am doing the right thing. And I am angry because I know deep down that my self loathing is caused by the man-serving culture that I live in. I am not hungry anymore, I do not let myself be. But I am angry.

  25. I can pass in public as a reasonably attractive blonde. I never worry about my weight, which hovers about 9 stone (I’m 5’5”).
    I eat whatever I want, don’t worry about cellulite and nobody has ever criticised my weight.

    Sounds great, right? Except that the reason I don’t care about cellulite is because I also have serious psoriasis, sometimes even on my face. That joke about ‘Yeah, I’m single because under my clothes my entire body is covered in scales’ – well that’s me, except it’s not actually why I’m single, because there are awesome guys out there who don’t care. Sometimes I feel so awful I want to scratch my entire skin off. It’s a genetic autoimmune disease and every treatment I have been prescribed has made it worse.

    I know that this probably doesn’t help those of you who are feeling horrible about your bodies. I’m not criticising or one upping. I get that if I didn’t have this, I’d probably feel terrible about bumps or cellulite. But I want you guys to know that you’ve made me feel better – if loathing the way my body looks is normal, then it’s not something this condition has done to me. And I’m not alone. And it was inevitable anyway.

    How fucking sad is that. But thank you.

    • Thank you for writing this. You’re not alone when it comes to psoriasis. I’m another veteran of tar baths, phototherapy and steroid creams that don’t do anything useful. I hate it so much that part of me doesn’t want to have a child because I dread the thought they might develop it.

      Don’t underestimate that loathing though – my consultant told me that she pretty much assumes that all her psoriasis patients will have underlying depression and treats them accordingly until she has evidence that they don’t. That’s how big an impact it can have on self esteem. It’s not helped by the fact that many family doctors don’t take it seriously with their ‘oh it’s just a skin condition’ attitude.

      Unfortunately I’m 5’6″ and 11 stone (down from 13 thanks to running) so I’m afraid I also fret about my flab. How fucking sad is that!

  26. I can’t see my size eight feet standing up because my pot belly of a gut is in the way. I caught sight of my knees the other day, my KNEES, and was horrified at the chunkiness of them and then my tree trunk thighs above them. I struggle to avoid uber unhealthy foods because my boyfriend needs them to maintain a healthy weight – he has CF. I’m 66kg (I think but I haven’t weighed myself since I developed an extra roll) and now I still look chubby even when I suck in my stomach until I think my spine might snap. I hate my body and I hate how much I let it influence my self worth.

  27. I’m sat here today with a suspected shin fracture- frozen peas balanced in a tea towel on the coffee table. Am I training for a marathon? No. I just tried too hard, too fast to be slim. That’s not to mention the 10+ hours I’ve previously managed in hot yoga for that pursuit either..
    I know I’m being sold a lie, that all these shit mags that tell me to spend my money and time to be slim and pretty instead of doing something more constructive. But still.. Page 3 rejection was a start, let’s now focus on modern woman’s real enemy- the Now’s, Heat’s and Grazia’s of this world. They contribute nothing and they take away what it really is to be a woman- our sisterhood is obviously suffering in silence though we all support each other here. FUCK the media!! I wouldn’t want any daughter of mine or any of anyone I know to grow up with such illogical and overwhelming pressure to be something, anything, apart from their true selves

  28. Fact: I am a 27 years old and a size 8. I have a PhD in Astrophysics and have lived in 3 continents.

    Today I spent hours pouring over my recent holiday photos crying, deleting most because I look “fat”. Everyday is a battle to not make myself sick and one I don’t always win.

  29. Thank you so much for writing this. Just the other day I had a breakdown over the exact same topic. I am a smart intelligent recently graduated physics student who has scored her dream grad job for next year. I have a BMI of 20 and an constantly surrounded by loving family and friends. My mum and dad are both overweight and my sister is obease. I should not be worried about my weight – but I am. I am constantly thinking about what I am going to eat or how to eat less, constantly reading recipes on Instagram/pintrest/books that I will never eat, constantly hating my body for not being what it was when I was 18. It makes me angry that I can never get a break from myself and my own mind. So thank you for writing this and reminding me that I am not the only one and that there is support out there. You and Holly are an inspiration to me!

  30. I think its super important to point out at this point that BMI is a USELESS way of measuring health, weight or anything else. BMI is a made up thing and not actually based on any universal medical fact. It does not take into account muscle mass, bone density, or different bodies. It should not be used EVER.

    Fact: I’m 160cm and hover between 60-64kg depending on the exercise I do. I’m currently around the 64 mark. My BMI is 24 (based on one specific calculator, others have told me higher before).

    ‘Healthy’ BMI is 18.5 – 25. Now, you think I’d be panicked because it looks very much like I’m heading towards being overweight…but here is the kicker: I’m a size 8-10. I am a small person with lots of heavy muscle and probably very dense bones. My grandmother was the same growing up. I also have fat, my stomach wobbles and my thighs are far wider than I’d like them to be, so though I may have lots of muscle, it’s not got rid of my fat. I am below the national average size for women (in the UK and Aus). And yet this stupid arbitrary scale tells me that I might be close to being overweight.

    I am not overweight, my BMI means nothing, my weight means nothing, and though I don’t always like the way I look I know that to be an acceptable ‘weight’ or BMI I’d have to loose 10kg off my frame, which I simply would not be able to do healthily. I’ve been 56kg before and people would tell me I looked sick.

    And even though I know all this I am angry because every time I eat pasta I feel like I have to explain why. I have a bachelor degree, a Masters degree, a career in advertising, two cats and I pay for my own car and I still feel the need to explain why I’m eating pasta.

    • Nice one Emma- That is a point that really needs making. Even the chap who invented BMI said it should not be used as a health indicator! Not only is BMI 18.5 NOT healthy for the majority of people, but being ‘overweight’ (or even ‘obese’) by BMI scale is generally not anything to do with health. Many people are healthier at ‘overweight’ BMIs, and c.70% women fall between 23-31 as OPTIMAL weights.

      I recently recovered from 10 years f 1500kcal/day (thats right…does not sound like a ridiculously small amount, but if you eat anything under what your body needs for any significant length of time, >2500kcal/day for most young women, then you will suffer health problems). I was BMI 21, now BMI 26 (via BMI 29 during the recovery phase). That is a gain of about 20kg from 21-26. The funny thing is, I am only 1-2 dress sizes bigger. Bodies that are healthy, and densely muscled, will often be effing heavier than you look. Part of the reason so many of these celebs are so light is because of the years they have spent whittling down their bones and other structural tissues.

      Do I miss being ‘ideal’, yes, does it really make me less attractive, no. I am still me, look almost the same. I have much, much more libido, and the knowledge I am fertile and not destined for osteoporosis is pretty bloody fantastic. I also still have my triple 1st from Cambridge, my PhD and a wonderful boyfriend who loves me a great deal. I will be worth spending a life with now, not some increasingly neurotic shelly human being who cannot have children, which I know I would have been. All of that is worth a couple of numbers…..

      We have to make it well known that staying as thin as possible is a terribly damaging thing to do, that ’2000kcal’ a day is NOT an acceptable intake for most women, and that anything below that is semi-starvation, and that above all, forcing your body not to nourish itself properly is a sad sad way to live.

  31. This is my very first comment on the Internet ever (hi everyone! ) and reading the replies to this I just feel like I have to say something. You guys all sound wonderful. I cant believe some of the incredible things you are describing about jobs/talents/hobbies/relationships. You are more than the sum of your parts. I hope it helps you in a small way to know that I think you are awesome x

  32. The whole point, I thought of this article is that how you feel about your body has nothing to do with your academic credentials or status in life.
    I have no degree, no job and no baby (and no plans either on that one) at the age of 36, this means most things written about ‘womens’ lifestyle’ is quite likely to be slanted in some way that if I didn’t actually love myself for who I am, I’d never read anything again.
    I’ve done the whole anorexia, body dysmorphia, obesity thing, one day I decided to stop hating myself and dropped eight and a half stone. What I couldn’t take about it was the reactions of other people, not friends and family, but neighbours, strangers, random locals who all suddenly started to stop me in the street to ask me ‘what have you done?’. I always gave the same answer, the truth, “I ate less and moved more.” That’s it, that’s all there is to weightloss. Simple.
    After about 3-4 years of happily living in a size 8-10 body, which was radical for clothes shopping since I’d previously been a size 20-22, I made a fatal mistake oneday, I bought a copy of Womens Health. I became fascinated with the women in pants on the cover and all the articles on ‘do this, do that’. After a year of reading each issue with some strange compulsion, I realised, I’d become obsessed with being smaller. I moved so much and ate so little I became a UK size 4-6, ribs, hips that hurt when I lay down at night, and still was convinced, I ‘could do better’ with my body. My drs thought I was in great shape because BMI means bullshit and so even being tall, and still quite heavy at 9st 10lbs, I was a freaking skeleton, so it was only when my husband of 15yrs pointed out that maybe the new fuzzy hair on my arms and face and thinning hair on my head was a sign of anorexia, I threw my magazines and scrapbooks of mad exercises out!
    I am now a size 16, depending on where I shop, I think I have maybe put on a bit too much weight, I know what me being health and full of energy is and I miss it, it’s not about how I look anymore. So, I’m moving a bit more, eating a bit less again and I get up every day, stand naked in the mirror, look at the curves, the rolls, the extra me that maybe won’t always be there and I say to myself, ” I love you.”
    Fuck magazines, fuck skinny thighs, fuck diets ( I don’t think anyone should be on one, ever), fuck worrying that I can’t afford to eat chia seeds or pay for ballet core classes, fuck people who look at me and wonder why I have ‘got fat’ again, fuck my dr who once told me I was fat and didn’t notice when I had an eating disorder. I will never eat to fill a void of pain again, if I can help it, never starve myself, never hate myself for the way I look again.
    Oh, and by the way, having been big, medium and small, I can honestly say that the rate at which pervy/creepy men have tried to hit on me, in the street, in supermarkets, on public transport etc has NEVER changed depending on what size I am, just as my sweet man has also never, ever stopped telling me I am beautiful and my friends have always been there for me, as much or little of me has been there.
    Being smart isn’t about your wage earning power, your exams, any of that, it’s about being discerning and realising, people want to sell you shit to make money out of you and they don’t care about how you feel.
    If you can read stuff without getting upset or feeling insecure, great, but otherwise, why bother? Spend the money you’d've spent on magazines on great coffee, flowers, save it up, go have fun, go out walking, look at real people – that ones free.
    You are not so bad, really, no one is perfect, we have had years of circling the bits of beautiful people and going ‘Look! Freak!’, take a deep breath, go wash your hair and visualise the brainswashing being undone or something. Don’t be angry, don’t beat yourself up. Be you. Chances are, you’ll be a hell of a lot happier. I am.

  33. I appreciate what you saying but all these numbers and details are majorly triggering for someone who’s had an eating disorder. Yea its definitely tough, I’m still just trying to stop weighing myself everyday and reading magazines. So I’ve been reading sites like this instead.

    As an ex anorexic who’s gained a lot of weight (now at a good size for my body but getting way less compliments, hows that for stupid), I really appreciate the media-critical and body-positive comments on Vagenda. But the numbers need to stop. It just means we have something to compare ourselves too and that is just as bad as the magazine’s or even worse, because at least I can always say the magazines are just made up.

    So here are my facts: I am about to start a Masters and then hopefully a Phd. I am an artist, a singer and I love to teach. I have a boyfriend who is the most positive presence in my life and doesn’t care what I look like so long as I’m happy and healthy. I don’t really know what I weight, but I know that I can run and lift weights every day, and I try to fill my body with good foods so I think I’m doing well. Since recovering from anorexia I have muscles, energy, warmer hands, time to spend with my friends, and boobs (yep I was surprised).

  34. This really struck a nerve. I’m also 26, and had exactly the same symptoms as you. You might not feel as if you have an eating disorder, but if what you are/aren’t eating is making you feel physically uncomfortable you should seek help.

    I’ve always been naturally heavy set and kept a close eye on what I ate, but last year I finally achieved the holy grail of disciplined eating and energiser bunny levels of activity, reaching the never before ‘achieved’ adult weight of 8 stone 2 (BMI was still 21 because I’m short) – and you know what? I felt AWFUL. My concentration levels were shot, if I had any free time all I wanted to do was sleep, so my productivity levels nose-dived, I was horrible to be around, any amount of stress – emotional or physical – would bring me to tears/borderline nervous breakdown, my social presence sucked because I was cranky, never joined in with food/drink and kept falling asleep, and I almost wasted a crucial year of my life in this state. I was scared to eat beyond my idea of a ‘healthy’ intake because I ran the risk of losing this ‘special’ weight. Also, I still thought I looked a bit blobby and pudgy around the tummy, so if you’re already uncomfortable in your own skin, that doesn’t go away because a needle changes position on a scale. So when you’re making plans to drop those 10lbs, remember what’s possibly/probably waiting for you once you get there.

    I’m up to 9 stone now, and when I pull faces about how my jeans dig in to my waist or my belly sticks out more than I think it should, I figure what would I rather? To be heavier than some clueless media drivel/the nasty part of my brain says I should be, or to be able to get through a day being productive, energetic and happy?

    No brainer.

    Life is too short to be hungry all the time. Thank you for such an honest article – it’s not an easy thing to talk about.

  35. I loved your book and have recommended it vociferously to everyone I know since I finished it last week.

    I’m currently 38 weeks pregnant and read this article while eating buttered crumpets with cheese and marmite. Being pregnant has given me a freedom to eat and not weigh myself or judge my body which I’ve never had; but I know in about 3 months time I’m going to be back to casting self-loathing looks at myself in the mirror and wondering why I haven’t ‘pinged’ back into shape (there’ll no doubt be a celebrity article in a magazine to prompt this – I’m thinking Mila Kunis…)

    Thank you for your continued and refreshing honesty. Jeremy Paxman has missed out.

  36. Wow. This both depresses me immensely and also reassures me at the same time.

    ME: 33, healthy BMI (upper end of range, but still healthy), averagely fit and active (run a bit, hike, play netball, all limbs working and functional), attractive (objectively speaking, even if I don’t feel it all the time), not particularly successful & don’t love what I do career-wise but have a reasonably interesting job that pays ok-ish, and I’m smart and funny. The BEST thing about my life? I have amazing, interesting, passionate, fun friends & family who love me & don’t give a sh*t about what I look like.

    And yet … I am border-line obsessed with how I look. I don’t online date, despite not having had sex for AGES, because I don’t want to be judged on first appearances and I’ve put on about 10kg over the past few years so don’t feel slim anymore. I have three younger sisters who are my best friends and who are gorgeous and slim and who I compare myself to constantly.

    When I read this piece, a little voice at the back of my mind whispered “I wish I was disciplined enough to diet and be hungry and get back to BMI 21”.

    But I also think “WTF Kate?!! EVERYONE is ridiculously worried about this sh*t, so what’s the goddam point in you worrying about what YOU look like? Nobody cares! Nobody looks at you and notices the couple of extra inches your waist takes up, compared to the girl standing next to you. And if they do, they’re an arse-hat and who cares what they think?”.

    Also, it’s such a f*cking boring thing to be preoccupied about.

    I think we all need to go read/re-read the late great Maya Angelou’s poem Phenomenal Woman …

  37. I’m a Doctor and a feminist campaigner; I’m a ‘normal’ weight and I exercise and look after myself. Just like you guys I’m hyper-aware of the unrealistic representation of women in the media, and I know that I shouldn’t care about my weight (so long as I’m healthy), but I do. Of course I do! All we see are impossibly perfect women, or perfectly ‘normal’ women being publicly chastised for their perceived imperfections. It’s toxic, and it makes me feel like shit. I then beat myself up for being influenced by these images when I should know better, so punish myself twice over.

    You’ve created a space where we can all take stock of the messages we’re bombarded with, discuss them and support each other. There isn’t any magic solution to feeling better, but please be kind to yourself and know that you have a huge number of allies in this. Sending lots of love x

  38. I have not bought a women’s magazine for years (not even a ‘health and fitness’ one). That and not weighing myself have done wonders for my self esteem (plus running and lifting weights). At the age of 38 I finally feel comfortable in my own skin and I’m not letting any bs in any magazine tell me I need to look different to be happy.

  39. I have always been big. I’m about 13.5 stone, with big boobs (forget the pencil test, try the pencil CASE test), tremendous hips, and a butt which makes Beyonce’s look like that of a 13-year old boy. Thank you Eastern European ancestors for this overwhelming bounty.

    Now, according to these magazines, I am a mound of blubber which happens to have head and feet attached. People should run screaming from my approach as I lumber down the street, cracking pavements and treating trees like toothpicks for my overly-capacious mouth.

    But here’s what I’ve learned to do in the past six months:

    Hold a plank for 90 seconds.
    Do 100 sit-ups.
    Jog steadily for 20 minutes, with sprint intervals mixed in.
    Deadlifts, squats, and benchpresses.
    Boxing drills.

    So here’s what I say to all those magazines, the ones that made me feel like I was invisible and worthless for years because I wasn’t an American size 4:

    I am not pile of a blubber.I am a tank, so get out of my way before I mow you the fuck down!

  40. I stopped reading women’s magazines after a three year long eating disorder as a teenager. I, too, remember feeling irrational, tearful, faint (I passed out during my driving lesson) and dreading social events that would mean having to eat or pretend to push food around my plate.

    Since then, I began to run – not extreme running – but rather a light jog a couple of times a week. This helped me see food as fuel, rather than something ‘bad’ or ‘good’ or ‘naughty’ and other similar value judgements that we place on it.

    Now I try to see my body as something amazing – something strong that can run fast, stretch and be resilient. NOT something that should be deprived of food. I agree that emphasis should be placed on the body in terms of fitness, on health and vitality as a way of improving life and wellbeing…. NOT upon the body as a mannequin upon which to hang clothing.

    I would never EVER buy another glossy ‘women’s magazine’ for that reason.

  41. I lost a lot of weight after uni due to anxiety, most of it being muscle loss from excessive running trying to keep myself busy. Turns out I’m naturally skinny. My back bones stick out as do other bones in my body. Maybe some would think that was good? I think I look sick. I would love to put some muscle on but I have children and don’t have the time at the moment. I look at my small arms and think how can I protect myself if I was (God forbid) attacked by a 15 stone man? I just couldn’t and that really scares me. So yes I’m skinny but I feel weak and vulnerable.

    So there you go, that’s how I feel about the whole women being skinny thing. I’d rather look strong and I personally find a women’s “wobbly bits” quite attractive and feminine and I really wish I could transplant my brain into all of you because I guarentee despite what you see in the mirror, you’re beautiful.

  42. I am a 27 year old English graduate in a management position. I like books, 70′s psychedelic music and writing.

    I am in outpatient treatment for anorexia. At a BMI of 14.2, I wept in the mirror at the size of my thighs, during a hospital admission I sobbed as I was drip fed fluid because I feared it would make me look bloated.. At a BMI of 17.5, I hide my body under huge jumpers and cry in frustration because I feel enormous. At a BMI of 22.4 I would cry at night because my thighs touched when I lay on my side.

    My lesson, my BMI and self worth are not linked. A message I have been absorbing for years, from various outlets and emotional difficulties, is that my dress size as my dress size decreased, my self-esteem would grow. I call bullshit.

    I’m raising a glass of Merlot and a crunchie bar and hoping we can all eventually realise that fat is not a feeling.

    • “My lesson, my BMI and self worth are not linked. A message I have been absorbing for years, from various outlets and emotional difficulties, is that my dress size as my dress size decreased, my self-esteem would grow. I call bullshit.”

      This. SO much this. I was having a conversation with my best friend who lives on the other side of the world just last night, and I mentioned that having put on weight over the past year or so I didn’t feel slim or attractive enough to do online dating. Her response was “but I’ve lived with you when you were thin – too thin – and you felt exactly the same way then too”. And she’s right of course.

      The whole “oh I would be happy about my body if only I was smaller/bigger boobed/more toned” is (for most people) a pointless exercise in chasing an ever-moving goal-post.

  43. I’m 24 and around ‘the 8 stone mark’, and I have a good diet. The week before my holiday this went out the window and so did carbs! I know carbs are important, as are fats, but I lived off protein in one form or another. I know this is wrong, but we’re constantly bombarded with ‘ideals’ from magazines, which are impossible!

  44. I haven’t picked up a magazine other than the New Statesman or the Big Issue since Sugar in the mid-90s, for the simple reason that they are pure poison to women’s physical and mental health. I don’t watch much TV either so my exposure to the impossible womanly “ideal” is fairly limited. That’s the only explanation I can think of as to why most of the women on here seem to hate and starve themselves, and I don’t. Yes, of course there’s the wee voice at the back of your mind telling you that you don’t look good, that you’re ugly, that this bit or that bit is too big/small/wobbly/blotchy/dimpled/pale/dark/whatever. But I decided a long time ago that it was bullshit and had no place in my life. When I read Hélène Cixous, Susie Orbach, Judith Butler and other feminist writers as a student, it just reinforced it.

    It’s not helpful to say that the problem is women themselves, and not the media or magazines. The magazines are the problem, no doubt about it. I do think we need to take the decision to reject them and everything they represent before we can tear the whole thing down, though. We are strong enough to do that – to hell with what they want us to think.

  45. I am 32 years old, am in the process of getting a Masters degree, speak three languages and wear size 8-10, depending on the shop.
    I can’t bring myself to weigh myself as I know as soon as I have a number I will want it to be smaller or different and that it will be a slippery slope as I have had a bad relationship with food in the past.
    So rather than living in blissful ignorance I worry about my cellulite / flabby arms / stomach and then get angry with myself for caring about these things. Which makes me feel worse… Vicious circle.

  46. I’m 23, 5’8, and around 11 stone, am doing my PhD, have a house and a lovely boyfriend of 2.5 years.
    I too did the whole dieting and self loathing thing, and I think what finally helped me decide to stop (and it hasn’t been easy, I still have destructive thoughts about my weight and appearance) is treating them the same way as people with OCD are taught to. The first step is to simply recognise, and point it out, when you have an obsessive or destructive thought. Catch yourself wanting to measure your thighs? STOP! Go and do something else, anything you like! (I’ve taken up gardening and baking). Its a long, slow battle, but all of you like you have so much going for you, try to discipline your mind out of making yourself constantly feel guilty for eating!

  47. Well said.

    My facts: First class honours MA, speak 4 languages, living abroad.

    All my female colleagues and friends are on diets and watch what they eat. I am size 12 and feel fat in comparison to them (can’t give up the cheese and beer, just can’t).
    It seems a woman’s choice is either be as thin as society wants or actually be able to relax and enjoy life and food. It makes me so angry that no men have to make this choice; you never hear men opting for a salad at lunch because they ‘were bad’ the day before and ate a burger.

  48. My facts: I’m in my early twenties, I’m a literature graduated and a teacher. I recently became engaged.

    I never cared about what my bmi is or stood on the scales. I’m short and curvy, usually a size ten and I never used to be unhappy with that. Until I recently became exposed to something maybe worse than normal glossy magazines: bridal magazines!

    My fiance loves the way I look and tells me everyday and I can not wait to marry him. I should be enjoying planning our wedding but instead I’m worrying about wedding diets and the right bridal dress for my figure and being harrased by countless competitions for bridal fucking boot camps.

    The wonderful thing about the commenters here is that everyone is so accomplished and successful at what they do. I’m very good at my job and spend a lot of time each day encouraging my teenage students not to buy into this bullshit. Yet I am now struggling to do the same. Glossy magazines are a cancer on society and it breaks my heart that my wonderful, smart, ambitious students are inevitably going to feel like this most days as well.

  49. If you feel hungry all the time and are sad for no reason, I suggest you try a gluten free diet. I know a lot of people think it’s just a fad, but in fact it’s quite simple and really helps. It doesn’t have to be expensive, you just exchange wheat and barley for (brown) rice, corn, buckwheat, potatoes, millet, amaranth, quinoa… I tried it and the constant hunger stopped, as well as bloated stomach. I know another ‘diet’ is not the best thing to suggest here, but I think that if you are struggling with your eating habits, having a healthy digestion makes it easier, and gluten free food helps a lot with that.

  50. My question is, does anyone do anything to try to actively reduce buying into the idea thin is “it”?. For me just deciding not to buy into societal pressures to be thin was not enough. I needed to actively do something about it. What I hoped to achieve was to make my judgements on my body size take up less of my mental energy. I don’t think I can undo my own socialization, but I did manage to stop self hate taking center stage.

    So here’s some things of what I do, and it had a big impact on my life.
    1. I avoid all numbers where possible regarding my body. Weight and BMI, I just got no idea what they are. Unfortunately I do know my dress size, but manufactures don’t have consistent sizes so this works.

    2. I don’t engage with other’s self hate. If a friends says “oh god I ate half a pizza last night”, or “I haven’t been to the gym all week I’m getting fat”. I acknowledge what they’ve said (usualy an “ok” is enough) and I move the conversation away from fat-hate/self-hate onto some neutral topic: the weather, work etc. I don’t try to reassure or give any attention in any way, shape, or form, to self-hate.

    3. I don’t do gender-specific hate: e.g. “it’s WOMEN who hate other women”. Yeah well it’s strong women who have built up my self-esteem. If I get into women-hating conversations I disagree and say I know lots of ace women who don’t hate on other women, so actually some women buy into hating on others, but not all.

    4. My self-esteems comes from other women. Women who not only compliment me, but women who feel okay about themselves. I cultivate friendships with women who love themselves and minimize time with self-haters. Even as a grown adult, I think positive role models are so important.

    5. For every thing I don’t like about my body, I note something I like. Bad thoughts exist, but they don’t get all my thought-time.

    6. I see body surveillance as bad. If someone says to me “have you lost weight?”, I say “I don’t know, I don’t weight myself, so you’re going to have to compliment me on something I’ve done and not something I am”. Then I laugh or whatever to lighten up the situation.

    7. I limit my exposure to media which normalizes being thin as the only body type. So e.g. I don’t watch ads when watching TV (gets rid of slimming ads!) – luckily I’m not into music vids or fashion, so that helps.

    8. I do my best to check my thin privilege. Reading heaps of fat blogs has help, amen to my awesome fat sisters for taking the time to educate me. This has really helped put things into perspective; by buying into my own self hate (despite being thin), I’m buying into fat-hate. As I said in an earlier post – the word “fat” should not be used as a garbage can for all my negative emotions. These days I try to articulate how I feel (full? bloated? tired?) and not just say I “feel fat” whenever I’m feeling negative.

    9. I hoard my compliments and bring them up when I’m having a bad day. As I said before, I do judge myself badly at times, but those thoughts don’t get all the air time. I think about all the positive body comments (not body surveillance) I’ve had and remember them. Those are valid opinions too.

    Anyways, I hope to read what others do to reduce self-hate in their environment and has it helped to counteract your own self-hate? It sure has worked for me.

    • I totally agree with you on all of this. Number 2 is one of the most important things I did to try and make this change in my life. It has definitely changed the dynamic of a lot of my female friendships, some people even regard me with a bit of weird suspicion if I won’t join in the food guilt or the body bashing. Its like bitching in that it is a very common way for women to bond with each other. I decided to stop it. And a lot of other stuff you said too, well said. I agree.

  51. I have spent my lunch break reading through all these comments and I have tears in my eyes. I’m sad for you all and I am sad for myself because I feel exactly the same way. I worry about bringing a daughter into this world. I gave up reading the daily mail online and grazia a couple of years ago and I am constantly urging my friends to do the same. It helps if you don’t expose yourself. I promise it helps. Power to all you all xx

  52. We need to refuse to participate in the madness.

    Dieting obviously doesn’t work for two reasons – firstly because the moment you start dieting you become obsessed with what you can’t have. Secondly the body panics and after an initial couple of days you will stop losing any weight at all and need to eat even fewer calories to make any progress.

    In my opinion the best thing to do is not read these magazines, not weigh yourself and if you really feel too big after this then exercise. If you let yourself eat everything your body wants, all the time, you will start to eat more sensibly and lose the cravings. You will find it easy to maintain a good weight whilst eating a lot. Your body will adjust.

    NB you may not be a stick but who honestly cares apart from Now Magazine and competitive misguided females.

  53. Thank you so much for this brilliant article. I think this dialogue is exceptionally important and exceptionally hard to talk about, there is so much shame and stigma involved, but you are not alone. We’re all here with you, instagramming cakes we never ate or ate and then deeply loathed every inch of ourselves for.
    I am a recovered anorexic and bulimic and what strikes me as particularly worrying is that, with a bmi of 15, all my friends told me I looked fantastic. I’m a size 10 now and feel constantly ashamed that I’m recovered. I was deeply unhappy and unwell back then, yet seemed to hold such status, not just within my friendship group, but within society as a whole. People constantly told me they were jealous of me. This is the extent of the bullshit. That we are all made to feel like someone’s mental health problem is an aspiration. I think your comments about intelligence are vital and wonderfully eye opening and I really don’t know what the answer is but it has to start here, with your book and this discussion and with discussions like it. Thank you.

  54. I love your blog and have read it since 2012 but one thing that bugs me is how often you guys make jokes about using marijuana (to use the proper name and really make myself sound old and fusty. I’m not, I’m 23). Have you guys ever thought about looking into the links between the cannabis trade and human trafficking? The effect the industry has on vulnerable women and children in the places it is produced (both here and overseas) is the main reason I don’t use it and I’m surprised you guys seem to view it so flippantly. Not hatin’ though guys. The blog is fab.

    • Hi Maddie
      Without wanting to get myself in trouble here (you never know who is reading) it really does depend on where you get it, I think. But I take your point about the trafficking and agree with you 100% on that x

  55. While I sympathise with this article, it also makes me quite angry – and not just at the magazines.

    Yes the media and women’s magazines are a huge problem, yes we as women are subject to standards it would never occur anyone to subject men to. But we have a personal responsibility to ourselves as women, and as role models and mothers to younger girls not to allow these insecurities to mess with our health, and be perpetuated, and we can and must take active ownership of doing that. It might not be easy, but it is possible.

    I don’t mean to sound unsympathetic, or non-constructive. But unless you have a genuine mental health issue related to your weight, I don’t see why you can’t, over time, succeed in rising above these insecurities. Of course we all need to work on it hard. But it’s not that difficult to make that an active priority – even if success is a long road.

    Granted, I don’t come at this from the perspective of someone who has struggled with their weight hugely – I am conscious that I am lucky enough to be able to maintain a healthy weight without much effort. But I do come at it from the perspective of a woman, and if I let myself I can find a million things about my body that come up short. I just refuse to go there. I am good enough.

    I also come at it from the perspective of someone who has struggled significantly with negative thoughts in the past. I was treated for depression and social anxiety at university, and have self-harmed and battled with suicidal thoughts. And after years and years of struggling the only thing that has worked is painstakingly and consistently catching myself in each and every negative thought and forcing myself to address it for what it is – a negative thought with no bearing on my self-worth as a human being – and then move on. There are lots of lessons to be learnt from cognitive behavioural / mindfulness therapy, and plenty of resources online that I’m sure would be equally helpful for weight-based self-hate.

    One final thought – this might be a bit controversial, but rather than academic and career success being proof that even the most intelligent women are not immune to these thoughts, or that there is no correlation at all, I suspect that in some cases, academic success is a corollary to it.

    I went to Cambridge, and I have never come across so many dysfunctional people in my life. What made my fellow students academically successful – obsessive levels of dedication, constant drive to do better – also made them both competitive with others and terrified of not being quite good enough. Saddeningly often, among the girls, this manifested itself in poor body image and issues with eating. Like Sar above, I developed practical techniques to deal with resisting the pressure to go the same way, and her list is great.

    Please don’t feel helpless – you can take active steps!

  56. WTF Vagenda. Reading this article and then the comments section has left me feeling massively disappointed.
    Lets be real- we ALL feel like this sometimes…or lots of the time, its not nice but it is pretty normal. For me, if I avoid triggers like “Now” magazine or certain blogs/forums etc on the internet, I can largely avoid feeling like this. Its hard to avoid though- this sort of vile bilious crap designed to provoke self-loathing in women is everywhere unfortunately. BUT… it shouldn’t be here.
    This is the one little corner of the internet I come to to read fantastic words written by razor sharp, smart, spunky, dont-give-a-shit-what-you-think-of-me women. I read those words they write and guess what…I don’t even give a consideration to what they look like.
    Vagenda women are women how value themselves based on what the people they are not what they look like. Not self-pitying “oh i feel so fat today because my thighs touch in the middle and I ate half a packet of biscuits *sob sob sob*”
    Yes, we all feel like this sometimes, but we need to recognise the irrational madness in these feelings and not give them any weight whatsoever. By doing that, we’re as bad as Now magazine or whatever evil it is we were fighting against in the first place!
    This comments section has been a horrible trigger for me- frankly I wish I hadn’t come to the Vagenda today.
    Basically, what I’m saying is, come on girls- we’re better than this. I expect more from Vagenda. There are a million other sites I can go to on the internet to read perfectly normal, beautiful, healthy women bemoan, shame and demonise their perfectly normal, beautiful healthy bodies, THIS SHOULDN’T BE ONE OF THEM.

    • I don’t agree with all of your comment but I know what you mean about the trigger. I never read women’s magazines or anything else which sets up an ideal for women’s bodies (as far as that can be avoided). I’m confident with my body and don’t really think about how much I weigh etc. But when I read the Vagenda articles about such issues, I start thinking about it. For example, when I read the corset article and the author mentioned her waist measurement, I had a sudden irrational urge to go and find out what mine was, something I’ve never thought about in my life. I don’t blame the Vagenda for this and I think it’s helpful to call out all this bullshit, but I think it’s useful to be aware of the effect these articles can have.

    • Emily, I felt compelled to respond to this comment because it just felt so horrible to read.

      I’m sorry if you’re disappointed that this isn’t all ‘fuck the media, girls rule’ in the usual Vagenda style. But frankly I felt it was important to be honest about my own issues with dieting and body image. It seems to have resonated with a lot of people and some of the comments have been amazing, to the point where they have made me feel less alone in this, and have made me cry, and have opened up a discussion about what seems to be something of a MASSIVE PROBLEM AMONGST WOMEN OF OUR GENERATION PARTICULARLY.

      Your comment, however, took a big shit on what was actually quite a hard thing to write. Don’t talk crap about ‘Vagenda women’ and what they’re like. I AM a Vagenda woman, in that I made this fucking website, and if I don’t adhere to your conception of what a badass feminist should be then you can get lost.

      Get some fucking empathy.

      Ugh. Horrible, horrible, horrible.

      • Ok I feel this may have been misunderstood somewhat. It wasn’t meant to be a personal attack on you or your experience and I’m really sorry if I came off like that. I have TOTAL empathy for what you’ve written, clearly from reading the comments section…we all do- we all feel pretty much the same on this one. By suggesting that I need to “get some fucking empathy” you are suggesting that I am not in the same boat as you. I would argue I am and my own way of dealing with being in this weird, fucked up, leaky boat, is to as valiantly as possible stay away from triggers like the above mentioned NOW magazine, and perfectly normal girls viciously criticising their own normal bodies. This article and the comments were 100% triggers for me, but I appreciate thats not your fault.
        Basically, reading in this article and the associated flood of comments just left me feeling totally disheartened….AND pretty shit about my body to boot (you’re smaller than me yet you write about how intensely unhappy you are with your body image) So that leaves me starting to question my own body image. I’m sure that wasn’t the intention but that was the result of reading this article and the associated comments.
        For me, this is where I come for inspiration and strength and reading all this just dragged me down. I do honestly feel like being so vocal about this stuff perpetuates the problem. Hence I won’t participate in any sort of body/diet/weight chat with other women. Women thinking about how we look, talking about how we look and writing about how we look. Basically it just all boils down to “how women look”. I have personally found it really useful to just STOP TALKING ABOUT IT.
        I’d imagine you (contributors to the vagena) probably don’t realise how much weight your writing holds with a lot of us- we look up to you guys- we respect what you write. You are pretty influential to a lot of us. And of course you’re all still just normal people, not bad-ass feminist superheros, and still have normal people niggles and quirks like the rest of us, I acknowledge that that was what this article was going for. I totally respect the honesty and courage in what you have written but that aside, I guess I realised its just a bit disheartening when the people you look up reveal themselves to be just as broken as the rest of us. Makes me feel a bit “whats the point??” about the whole thing really. Thats all. I wasn’t meaning to cause offence in any way though, so I am sorry if that was the result of my comment.

        • I agree with Emface and Cathy and I am very disappointed by the way the Vagenda staff replied, I really think you should be more open to what your readers have to say! I agree that this debate is needed and it is very sad to see how much pressure is placed on how we look. I myself went through a lot of suffering because I felt I was less attractive than other girls. But you know what really helped me? It was in fact reading Simone De Beauvoir’s Second Sex that changed my life and my self-image. It helped me to start perceiving myself as a valuable human being, and to start focusing on my real interests. That’s why feminism is here for us, to remind us we do not deserve to be reduced to weight and looks! I think here on Vagenda we should search for solutions, try to be positive, not buy into the stereotypes. We are all human and vulnerable, but please take these comments into account, they are not insults, they are constructive criticisms.

          • Yes I actually think the article is great – it’s important to name these pressures and talk about how it makes us feel. BUT the talk about numbers: personal BMI, calorie intake etc – was absolutely a trigger for me as a recovered anorexic. Actually I know that this kind of talk is a very well known trigger broadly among the ED community and health. Before I saw these comments I made a constructive comment below (which included saying I thought the article was over all good) but it’s still ‘waiting moderation’ while other comments have since appeared days later. Also surprised by Vagendas response to em face and found that her comment was not at all horrible or ‘talking crap about Vagenda women’. It absolutely was constructive criticism.

          • Exactly. At the age of 37, I have a child to look after and a billion interests to pursue. I have left worries about my looks and weight far behind me. I am just over it. There is too much to learn, experience and achieve without being dragged down by the equaling your self worth to the sum of your looks. And dealing with some serious health issuea also gives perspective. Just stop talking about weight, women.

      • I just want to say that this article was incredibly powerful for me: to know that even smart, funny, awesome (book-writing!) women get bogged down in this stuff made me feel so much better about my own struggles!

        I thought I was totally past all the self-hate weight-based bullshit, and then last Summer, a woman in my yoga class commented on my ‘juicy thighs’. I absolutely panicked, and couldn’t get to a measuring tape fast enough! I wanted so badly to not care what that measurement was, but I did, and it took me months to work through the self-loathing that measurement generated, and feel confident enough to wear short shorts again…and, I probably still wouldn’t be wearing them if my thighs hadn’t dropped the extra size on their own (at least I think they did; I refuse to measure again. I realize that was a big mistake the first time, and I don’t want to repeat it!)

        I do think maybe a trigger warning should be added to this article, but you are so brave to speak out about this, and I believe it w will do a lot of good for a lot of women, as it has for me. Thank you so much!

  57. Interesting piece. Yes, mags talk a lot of shit. But weirdly it was working on one that cured me of my body hatred. Models used to come in for castings all the time and would look so freaking skinny and alien-like I realised I NEVER wanted to look that way. I guess it helped me to see behind the glossy facade. The women who work on these mags are rarely stick thin. Perhaps these features stem from their own insecurities. And so the wheel turns. I personally find diet features incredibly yawnsome. Not yours though. Thanks for raising what is obviously such a huge debate. Now go eat something!

    • Thank you for this great article! There is this one campaign going at the moment to ‘teach women to love their bodies’. F-ing hate this myth that the hate comes from within us and not the relentless scrutiny of our bodies everywhere we look.

      One thing though, I think it would have been more helpful for readers, especially readers with EDs, to leave out talking about numbers, as in exact personal bmi and calorie intake, weight etc (as far as possible without leaving out bits of info needed to make your point). I know that you were simply illustrating the situation as part of your discussion. But we could probably get the gist of it if you just say ‘Im in what’s considered the healthy BMI range’ or ‘I’ve been restricting my calorie intake’. I’ve recovered from anorexia and I appreciate to the fullest extent how these numbers can rule a person’s life. I think getting into the details of ‘our numbers’ is unhelpful and reinforces the way women are expected to forever count and weigh and measure our bodies and our nutrition. It’s especially difficult for ppl with ED to be confronted with it because it feeds into the constant comparing and measuring up against other women. More of a suggestion rather than a criticism :)

    • Darling woman, I empathise completely, but please please please for your sake and ours GO ON THE TELLYBOX. Don’t let your body-feels hold you back. And give yourself a ‘cheat day’ once a week so you feel happy and full and not deprived :-)

      • But why do we have to have “cheat” days?
        Why oh why do we have to use this bizarre terminology to describe our eating habits “bad” sins” “guilty” “naughty” its all so gross and self-flagellating!
        I’m not cheating on/at anything by eating a subway or a piece of cake. I’m just making a food choice and then eating it. And I don’t hear men talking about their food like this either- to them it seems to be… just food!

  58. “But I haven’t got a clue what to do about it, except set fire to Now magazine in the back garden, and use it to light a spliff, and go to bed until tomorrow.”

    exactly, choosing to go back to sleep, choosing to remain high… are the choices that make you unable to change. You will remain hungry unless you’re willing to give up your ‘coping’ mechanisms that only manage to stagnate you

  59. My mother was always curvy and under 5 feet tall and I have many memories of her being on various diets when I was growing up. At the age of 88, having lost a lot of weight throwing off a bout of pneumonia four years ago, and now housebound and diagnosed with vascular dementia following a broken hip last year, she has lost interest in food and eats very little. At a guess she is hovering around 6 stone and a recent GP home visit elucidated the reaction ‘you’re all skin and bone’. She will not look in a mirror and still believes she has plenty of surplus flesh. She is stick thin and probably eating less than she needs for her health.

  60. Firstly, a really well written and honest article, thank you so much for writing it.
    Just wanted to say, I used to hate my body on a daily basis and change my diet at least weekly over perceived flaws, the thing that has changed for me is my job. I now work as a nurse and it really put into perspective my feelings around my body and food, What my patients and their families go through every day makes (to me at least) all my body worries seem trivial, I have a body that is healthy enough to get me through a working day, to dance all night with my friends, to go for a long walk etc. No I don’t have a bikini body (not even close) but I have my health, an amazing fiancée and friends, a loving family and a job I love and making mental lists of the things I have has helped me come to terms with my own insecurities.
    This doesn’t mean I am immune to all this and don’t have stressing over my body moments (there is nothing more depressing than looking at bridal magazines and blogs for your self esteem) but I try and remind myself that actually I am very lucky and try and appreciate my body for what it can do.

    (NB facts- 5ft 11, don’t know my weight, dress size 14, pear shaped so can’t do skinny jeans)

  61. Oh dear! So many sad stories.

    Um, I don’t dislike my figure. I don’t have scales in the house. I don’t read these horrible magazines. I moved to a place which is 40 minutes walk from my place of work, so I walk (at a comfortable pace) about a marathon a week. I garden and climb regularly. I’ve become a big believer in making sure you have enough exercise, rather than worrying about food, although I always try to stick to the five a day.

    So that works for me. But ladies, please throw these magazines away! Stare straight ahead at the check out! Throw away the scales! :(

  62. Oh, back pedal, I hadn’t read all of the comments, and now I’ve read some more I’m worried this will be taken as not empathetic.

    My mum has a lot of these thoughts all the time, and it’s heartbreaking watching her hate herself when in fact she looks totally hot in that dress. I feel terrible that there are so many women out there suffering with this “man”-made burden. (Yes I realise that women do this to us too)

    At an earlier time in my life when I was sad and down for other reasons, I decided to fixate on my weight just for something to do or to have control over. Nothing bad happened, but remembering how I felt furious with myself for eating one 50p sized pret’s chocolate brownie helps me to see how one can begin down this path.

    Obviously being told ‘throw the scales away’ as though you’d never thought of that isn’t too damn helpful. I do believe that healthy exercise and diet are important. But mostly I really am just sad for all these women who are suffering under this burden. I wish we COULD say something that would make it go away. Everyone’s ‘Facts’ demonstrate their health, and their usual good sense. It makes me sad, and angry

  63. I’m 5’4″, 80-something kilos last time I weighed myself ages ago, and 51 years old. I don’t think I’ve ever bought a women’s magazine, not only because of the misogyny but because the ones I’ve flicked through (gah, doctors’ waiting rooms and hairdressing salons) are So. Bloody. Boring. They have nothing in them I want to read, and I’ve never heard of a lot of the celebrities they’re on about.

    I’ve never wondered “Is my bum big in this?” or any of that shit. Closest I come to it is not wanting clothes that cling to my belly: I have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and the droopy front that goes with it. Only time I’ve tried to change my diet was when that was diagnosed, and guess what: the weight loss was minimal, maybe a kilo or two. I really don’t care to live on food I don’t even like, and little enough of it, for the sake of extending my lifespan. (Before anyone says “Exercise!” I have fractured knee cartilage and can’t, so don’t bother typing advice.)

    I don’t give a shit what randoms think of my weight, or what the media thinks. My rational brain has long since stopped being susceptible to that. I absorbed plenty of you’re-ugly messages at high school, not weight related (I was on the thin side then), but they evaporated when my beloved came into my life a mere seven years ago. Being told, and shown, I am beautiful and desirable exactly as I am and will be did the trick.

    I’ve been lucky.

    Would I get into a bikini? Nope. I don’t swim, hate summer and would never go to the beach then, and thighs rubbing each other = incredibly painful chafing really fast. Bikinis and swimwear in general have no place in my wardrobe.

  64. I’m 26 and a trainee women’s health doctor. I am married to a wonderful man who always compliments me and has never made any disparaging remarks about my weight. I exercise about three times a week but I have a BMI of 25.5. I would say on an hourly basis I worry about my weight. Sometimes I can’t even look in the mirror. I feel guilty for every ‘bad’ thing I eat, and I won’t go shopping as I constantly tell myself soon I’ll be thin enough to fit into nicer clothes. I starved myself before my wedding to reach a BMI of 23 (I am very short) and was happier when people told me how skinny I looked than when people congratulated me on my wedding day! This article and comments section has reminded me that I am not alone as an intelligent, educated woman who isn’t obsessed with celebrity culture but still finds societal pressure to be THIN (= BEAUTIFUL) strongly impacting on my daily life. I just hope that if I have daughters, I can somehow help them to see things differently to me and to be happy with whoever they are.

  65. I hate the self-therapeutic nature of this article, also it is extremely triggering. You say you hate how the magazine shows celebrities having a weight of around 8st, yet you are about 9st yourself, which is hardly a massive difference. I appreciate that you personally feel this is a big deal, but when you are writing for an audience encompassing women who also are affected by these issues, its really triggering. I understand you’re trying to express your opinion, but please omit actual figures next time.

    • I didn’t say anywhere that I was nine stone?

      Understand that figures can be triggering, and will be more careful next time, but I thought the title might give a reasonable indication to the subject matter too. It’s hard to walk the tightrope sometimes.

  66. I’ll tell you what to do about it: EAT.

    As you stated, this mindset is holding you and many others back; stifling your ambitions and maybe even slowing your careers.

    So stop letting it. Because you’re never going to conquer the media machine on an empty stomach.

  67. Whilst I have experienced (and still do) that which has been written and empathise with all you ladies, some part of me wants to rail at this angst and suggest that we all need perspective on this matter.

    And before it is counter suggested I have missed the points being made (oh believe me, I wish I did) lets think for a moment about issues that are real for many (including many of us here on this comments page), ie chronic disease, cancer, job loss, daily abuse.

    Perhaps it’s time we called time on what can arguably be seen as one big pity party and tried to reconnect with ourselves/others for better outcomes than 99% self hatred and 1% delight when we reach our (unrealistic) goals for the tiniest time before we can no longer sustain them.

  68. I can’t tell you how hard this piece hit me, and then all the comments… I had a baby about a year ago, and I just can’t seem to lose all of the weight. I’m hungry all the time, and then, I also hate myself, for being so vain about it, especially when I’ve seen how my body can produce the miracle of life, blah, blah. I also gave up an opportunity to appear on an national news network show, because I was still 20 lbs. overweight at the time, and I was terrified what people would say about me. I did do a promo for an NYC film fest while still carrying most of the baby weight and when the actual festival came around, people (mostly women actually) came up to me and told me how much better I looked then than on the screen. I was a mixture of crushed/ annoyed/ and a little sad for the women who said it.

    I do know that many, many women in New York openly scoff at women’s magazines. You see such a variety in the streets that it helps to make the fascism obvious. (You can wear this, you can’t wear that at your weight. It’s like, fuck you! I’ll wear what I want!) I don’t know if that has to be our mission: be our own odd, unique selves wherever we are, whoever we are! (And don’t buy women’s magazines!). It’s the mission I set myself, now that I’m living in Connecticut just outside the city, where body dysmorphia reigns supreme and everyone dresses exactly like everyone else to a terrifying degree. The women are all stick-thin, over-worked out, and look the worse for it (and also fake blonde). Healthy and whatever size you are is what you should be. I KNOW this, and yet…. I count calories. I eat smaller portions. I’m hungry. Almost all the time.

    Anyway, I could go on and on about this topic. It’s good to know there are others out there who care. Thank you so much for sharing this, and found you through your fantastic interview on Roz’s blog.

  69. I have to say that with the thoughts you have about your body, the horrendously low amount of calories that you are “living” off, and the fact that you are light-headed and at the point of fainting sometimes, points a MASSIVE red arrow at an eating disorder. Please don’t undermine your own suffering. Under 1200 is a ridiculously small amount to live off. I have a friend who never ate below 1200 and became severely anorexic, and became hospitalised. I am a recovering anorexic. You don’t have to be six stone to have anorexia, nor do you have to be at any weight criteria to have an eating disorder. Your pain is valid. Please seek help.

    And stop buying those magazines. They are such crap.

  70. I am 5 foot 6, 15 and weigh 50kg, but still feel fat all the time. Even though I logically know that I’m not, I cry in the shower after eating and feeling bloated, and I feel terrible when I eat bread/chocolate. Once I didn’t go to a friend’s house because there was going to be loads of junk food there. The reason I’m like this is thanks to the media.

  71. I am a 19 year old law student in New Zealand. At high school, I did really well. Like, Head Girl, won national awards for music, debating etc…but at the same time, was living off very very little food. I felt almost always cold, hungry, got really angry at home if someone else was cooking as they would put “too much butter in the vegies” or cooked pasta for dinner. For me, a splurge lunch was 4 pieces of sushi. In fact, if I ever had any carbs, I would feel incredibly guilty. I purposefully made myself busy during breaks in the school day so that my friends would not have to see me not eat and ask questions.

    I was happy then, though. Never underweight but I looked great, and I have never been told I look as good as I did then.

    Now at university, I am still a slim size 6 but have gained weight. I am a bit too scared to check on the scales, but I can’t fit all my size 4 dresses, feel like my face looks fat, tummy has some bumps, and don’t really like photos.

    I resent myself for feeling this way, but I am determined to not get any bigger, and in fact, would like to drop a couple of kgs before summer (I am on the other side of the world in Australia!). My boyfriend doesn’t know this, but tells me anyway that I have an amazing body and that I look beautiful, but I don’t buy it. I am scared of getting over controlling again, and hate how I even think this.

    Nevertheless, seemingly like most of you, I do. First world problems huh?
    All I want to do is be healthy- mentally, not just physically, but also go a full day without thinking about ‘right or wrong food choices’, my body or my weight. It shouldn’t be so difficult, surely.

  72. I’ve been reading Vagenda for a few weeks now – and boy did the heavens open up when I first stumbled upon it! – and this is my first comment.

    I am in awe of the strong, courageous women who have shared their stories above, and of the author whose own story has opened up this refreshing dialogue.

    28, female, Australia, 2 degrees (advanced science majoring in neuroscience, and medicine, which makes me “Dr Teresa” technically), but decided to depart from the medical career and start my own graphic & web design business – both longstanding passions of mine.

    I first recall “feeling fat” when I was 11. Which is actually pretty old now compared to the reported ages of this phenomenon today. Which in and of itself is absolute insanity.

    I trundled along through high school, giving away my packed lunches, constantly comparing myself to others physically, and never feeling good enough (despite achieving top grades).

    The feeling persisted throughout university. I was diagnosed with endometriosis in 2010 and as a result was put on the oral contraceptive pill to help control the disease – this, along with a change in lifestyle (my stressful, constantly-studying medical student life wasn’t exactly conducive to looking after myself) and some toxic friendships – led to slow weight gain (that has since levelled off).

    The tipping point came when my mother and grandmother commented on how I’d put on weight after I got back from a month-long rural medical rotation. Instant hate spiral. In a matter of minutes I went from being happily oblivious to the fact, to being at the bottom of a deep pit of self-loathing out of which I am still in the process of climbing.

    But I am getting there.

    Getting acquainted with feminism, and becoming cognizant of the assault on the female body in the media, has taught me several valuable lessons.

    1. I deserve to take up space.

    2. My body is a beautiful thing. It is unique. It has been doing yoga for 10 years (and can do some pretty neat tricks if I do say so myself!). It is strong – stronger than it looks. It gives me a voice, a platform, takes me to where I need to be, turns into action the electrical signals that spark from within my brain. It deserves fuel and nourishment.

    3. My body is not a number. I have not weighed myself in years because a number does not and should not represent how I feel. I used to do so every day – often multiple times- and the anxiety related to stepping on the scale, knowing that my entire day’s mood could depend on the numbers that appeared there… and for what?

    4. Bodies should be celebrated, not shamed. The sheer biology and mechanics of the human body make it a feat of nature that our own human technology is nowhere near approximating.

    5. If I stop body-shaming, others can too. (a) I make the conscious effort to notice when I think body-shaming thoughts – both towards myself and others – and direct the thought instead to something positive (and it is working; my negative thoughts are decreasing daily). And (b) I call out others when they body-shame (or simply don’t respond/feed their comments if I don’t know them that well).

    6. I deserve to look and feel good. I stopped clinging onto those old skinny jeans because “one day I’ll fit back into them”. Throw them out, donate them to charity, and move on with your life.

    7. My body is not an apology. I think this, most of all, has helped me in this process.

    Much love. :)

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