It was election night in 1997. I’d spent the last six weeks working full time for Anne McGuire and the Labour Party in the Tory constituency of Stirling.
Alongside the other party workers in the Miners Welfare I was daring to believe that we’d really done it – not only won Stirling, but the whole country, and in a landslide.
Unlike the other party workers (as far as I know), something was holding me back from jumping out of my seat and bouncing around.
It was this: I was afraid that I’d wobble. I was scared of how the fat bits on my arms, legs and tummy would jiggle if I expressed how I felt. The first day of May 1997 was a really, really hot day and I was in a sleeveless top.
How did you feel about the 1997 Labour landslide, Elspeth?
Fat. I felt fat and ashamed.
Perhaps you’ve been at a beautiful sunset worrying about your cellulite. Or watching your loved one standing at the altar, with half a mind on your wobbly arms.
Maybe you look back at pregnant or new-mum photos and cringe because your body isn’t smooth or sleek.
Sad, isn’t it?
None of us are born feeling bad about our bodies. Toddlers don’t judge their chunky thighs (they’re too busy doing ass-to-grass squats and looking at beetles). It’s only as we start to notice The System that we begin to feel ashamed of our bodies.
There is a system that benefits from keeping women ashamed of their bodies.
The beauty industry: Women who believe themselves to be wonderful as they are right now aren’t going to spend thousands on tummy tucks or firming injections or even ‘miracle’ face creams. So the multi-million pound ‘beauty industry’ relies on women hating their bodies.
Fitness professionals are similar (although not all of us, obviously). They look for problems that can be fixed using their tools. If there’s no problem, create one.
That’s why you can find coaches offering to help you lose weight, build a better butt, flatten tummies. And that’s great as long as you love your body first.
If you’re trying to shrink a body you hate; or if you think your body will be more worthy when you have a bubble butt and a flat tummy; I’ve got news for you – you’re still going to hate your body.
Bullies. Yes, I’m looking at Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump and their ilk. Women who are afraid don’t speak out. Women who have been made to feel ashamed of what they look like – and by extension, ashamed of who they are – don’t call out bullies. Women are taught that if we’re not good enough, we won’t be believed: if we are not gorgeous, the world won’t hear our calls for help.
Feeling bad about your body is a distraction from the important stuff.
Like me in 1997, millions of us are distracted by our bodies. What else could we be doing when we are counting calories, selecting a pink lipstick from the five zillion shades available, or researching botox?
Even the ten minutes it takes to put on makeup – that’s at least an hour a week, two days per year. Who’d like two free days per year?
Naomi Wolf knew it in the 1970s.
“A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty but about female obedience. Dieting is one of the most potent political sedatives in history. A quietly mad population is a tractable one.” Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth
While we are preoccupied by trying to get rid of our back fat or find a clinical procedure to shrink our noses, who wins? What injustices in the world go unaddressed because women are too busy trying to look good enough to face the world? What friendships go unnurtured? What opportunities go unexplored?
What will be your epitaph? “She spent a lot of time dieting and she loved her anti-wrinkle cream”? Or “She was a generous soul who left everyone around her feeling loved”?
You are the only you that you have.
Ironically, regardless of the poor nutritional choices I’d made in the 1997 election campaign (takeaways every night and a Fry’s Cream for lunch – hey it’s dairy-free and I wasn’t doing dairy!), I look back on the photos of me then and think “wow, that woman was young and beautiful!” And I think of her motivation and dedication and she only seems more beautiful to me.
See the woman you are now? You’ll never be this woman again. So please love her and everything about her, before she goes away.
Artist Shelley Skail
I run my online Body Peace Body Love course occasionally when I’ve had enough interest to build a group. If you’d like to tell me you’re interested, please get in touch on email@example.com