Thursday, 30 October 2014

Why I think Rebecca Judd's piece on skinny shaming is brilliant

So I haven't written about social issues here before, primarily because my blog is an evolving thing and it hasn't previously felt like something I wanted to write about. Not to mention the fact that I'm nowhere near an expert on a lot of 'things in the media' so I generally thought it was just fine to let the rest of the world natter on at itself about various big 'issues' on the web - I save those discussions for real life as a rule :)

However, today there was a piece on about Rebecca Judd (wife of AFL-Carlton legend Chris Judd) that really piqued my interest. For the international readers, Bec Judd is one of Australia's top WAGs. She has a blog, RebeccaJuddLoves, and she wrote a thoughtful and articulate take-down of the media's obsession with body image and, in particular, the vicious skinny-shaming of people like herself.

Rebecca Judd plus fabulous dress plus slightly weird headpiece...

What I find refreshing about Judd's piece is the way she very reasonably and specifically attributes the realities of her physical appearance to her family/genetics, posting a photo of herself on a beach, well into third trimester pregnancy alongside her very slender, non-pregnant sister. This is something that I don't feel is connected often enough in popular culture: beauty, like brains, are often inherited. That's part of what makes 'physical beauty' as a concept so appealing to marketing professionals and so irritating to the rest of us: it's hard to define, it's elusive, and if we acknowledge the link to genetics, unlikely to be attainable by most of us.

Like peas in a  pod...except for lovely pregnancy tummy :) 
I don't mean that only certain people are physically beautiful: beauty, in addition to being hard to define and elusive, is also subjective. People find beauty in different ways and it is certainly not limited to only physical manifestation. However, general or commercialised physical beauty with it's stringent standards and marketable results, is often manifested by an extremely limited number of actual living human beings: models, pop stars, actresses, socialites. It is so important that we acknowledge that THEIR 'beauty' comes down first and foremost to luck-of-the-draw genetics ahead of every juice cleanse, reformer class and serum the snake-oil merchants are out there offering to the rest of us at exorbitant prices.

So physical beauty is largely attributable to genetics and slenderness is just one of many mainstream ideals of physical beauty. Then how does slenderness become something you can shame people for, when we generally don't shame people for their hair colour or their eye colour or for having even, white teeth?

I think in the 70s and 80s eating disorders were very much on the fringe of popular awareness, in that parents of young girls might have heard through the grapevine of a friend of a friend who's daughter had 'stopped eating'.  Awareness increased throughout the 90s and obviously in the post-millenium world, it would be hard to find someone who hasn't heard of anorexia or bulimia or have a passing understanding of what the conditions involve. However, somehow along the way eating disorders became conflated with the fact of physical slenderness to the point where today, thin people can find themselves fielding quite explicit suggestions of mental illness (this being after all, what anorexia and bulimia and other eating disorders are) simply by reason of their silhouette.

How much sense does that make, really?

Obviously on this blog, I share a lot of pics of myself. Not of my face - I prefer to maintain a sliver of anonymity at this stage in my life/career etc. But there are plenty of full-length shots of me and it is plain to see, I am no delicate ethereal slip of a lass.  You can't bounce a coin off my tummy (although you can hide a $2 coin in my belly button). And my thighs don't just share a delicate kiss at the top where they meet, it's a pretty much a full thigh-snog with tongue.

So I am no-one's version or ideal of skinny or even slender.  I was very athletic in my adolescence, up until I was 25 or so when full time work began to eat into my available time, and full time stress began to manifest in comfort-eating.

This is not a wah-fest or a 'boo, I hate my body' post. I am exceedingly fortunate in that I acknowledge the realities of my physical body shape, I can see how I got here and I know I have the ability to make some changes to it. I am both motivated and experienced in physical exercise, so I'm not starting from the challenging background of no physical activity.  I'm also what might be termed, nutritionally-competent: I know a lot about food, calories, nutrition so I am capable of producing a delicious meal that is also healthy. I have all the tools I need to pursue a healthier life for myself, with the side-effect of achieving a slimmer outline.

However, my genes are not those of Rebecca Judd. Or Miranda Kerr. My first order female relatives are all kind of like me: curvy, with breasts and bottoms and thighs that touch and we tend to carry subcutaneous fat on our tummies and hips depending on how much we're eating and exercising. I won't ever be the long lean bean of a girl who comes from a family of 5"9' women with minimal busts and slender hips.

Maybe the important thing for women is to acknowledge the different genetic gifts we all have.  Whenever I read beauty blogs people seem to be complaining about how awful it is to have oily/dry/sensitive skin, to have breakouts and scarring or to be exfoliating every second day, it's fascinating for me, because I wouldn't know the first thing about it - my skin is beautiful. Peaches and cream, clear and translucent.  Whenever I have a brow wax, therapists tell me how many of their clients would kill for my skin. It's a genetic gift, like my intelligence, that I am very grateful for, that makes me not mind that I'm short and have bad feet and a dodgy inner ear, get sick easily on planes and am squishy around the middle.

Rebecca Judd aims her criticism at media publications like the Daily Mail, however she acknowledges that their motives in publishing stories with headlines such as 'XYZ shows of healthy curves' and, a week later 'XYZ spotted looking dangerously thin' is fuelled entirely by their readership. It turns out that it is us, the people of the world who proclaim largely to be sick and tired of the media's overexcited emphasis of thinness vs fatness, who are perpetuating the problem.

If we take the focus off other people like Bec Judd and Miranda Kerr and start considering ourselves for a change, there's at least one thing about each and every one of us that others find beautiful, ideal and would pay money to obtain, if it were possible. We all have beautiful qualities and attributes and we would probably do well to acknowledge them, be grateful for them and then get on with our lives.

What is the physical genetic gift that you are grateful for? xo

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