So, unbeknownst to anyone, even my husband, I’ve been conducting a little experiment on myself. For the last three months, I have avoided all media that might make me think pessimistically about my body image. It’s been quite a revelatory experience.
This experiment was to see just how much the media played a role in my own self-image. I really didn’t think it did, thinking that I was fairly self-aware and also conscious of marketing and advertising schemes, campaigns, gimmicks, etc. What I found out was that no one is immune. Least of all myself.
I don’t buy fashion magazines, but I did buy Shape, a women’s fitness magazine for a while, and stopped for this experiment. At offices I avoided flipping through any magazines in order to maintain the integrity of the experiment. I have not watched television adverts – I’ve been sticking to BBC mostly, and all my television is recorded anyway, for the two or three programs that we do watch, so any adverts can be fast-forwarded. I don’t watch television shows that have actors “made up”. It’s a good thing I don’t watch much television anyway – my shows have pretty much been Escape to the Country and The Hairy Bikers cooking shows. I haven’t gone to the movies, and have avoided adverts there as well. I haven’t been in big cities with billboards. I avoid looking at the right hand side of social media sites. I know there are probably hundreds of other ways that advertising may have snuck in, but I think I’ve been pretty vigilant.
I’ve never really had a poor self-image, especially when it came to my own body, but I’m not as confident as I was when I was younger. With the years a couple of pounds have come on, a few wrinkles have appeared. It’s inevitable. But what made me lose that confidence? People still tell me I’m attractive – but I didn’t believe them. I thought a) they were just being nice, or b) they just wanted to get in my pants, nevermind the mind/soul that came with it, or c) they were my husband, who would tell me that I’m beautiful if I was dragged through a hedge backwards wearing a potato sack and not having washed for weeks on end.
Well, dear readers, this has all changed.
I don’t know if it is because I know that I haven’t been exposed to the media, or whether it is a direct result of not being exposed, but at any rate I feel more beautiful and confident in my appearance than I have for many, many years. I noticed a month ago that I was starting to dress differently – wearing things that reflected my own inner self (whatever the heck that is, if there is even an inner self). Take today, for instance. I work in an office environment a couple days a week for a music company, and so “office attire” is never all that strict. Today, I am wearing ¾ length purple Aladdin trousers, knee length boots, and a crochet top, with leaf earrings and necklace in honour of autumn. I’m wearing jewellery again, I am accessorising, I am thinking about what expresses my mood as a whole, which is something that I haven’t done for years. You would have thought that being exposed to magazines would make you want to accessorise more, but no. I was stuck in a rut. The way I am presenting myself lately is different. I feel prettier, therefore I am dressing prettier. Or at least in a way that I think is pretty!
When people pay me a compliment, I thank them, sincerely, instead of thanking them and not believing it. When my husband tells me I’m sexy, I know it. When people tell me they love my clothes, I know they do, and I tell them which charity shops or fair trade places they came from. I’m walking a little taller. I’m wearing my hair differently, trying out new things. It’s been quite an eye opener. I even got a compliment on my purple Aladdin pants.
So, why has this all happened? I think it must have to do with people not telling me how I should look, dress or feel about myself. As a teenager I didn’t have the financial means to buy the magazines, so I didn’t care and dressed how I wanted to dress. I turned down a modelling agency who, at the time, wanted me to sign on with them if I lost weight (I was just over 5ft 8, and weighed 120 lbs). I didn’t watch much television, preferring to hang out and talk with friends, or hike in the words. I stuck up two fingers to anyone who tried to tell me what to wear, what to think about myself and revelled in exploring these things for myself. I’ve come full circle.
A friend of mine has a great story about one of the most beautiful people I know, on what she was wearing when they first met. She says that E was wearing a tutu on a night out – no reason, she just wanted to wear a tutu. Not for a hen night, not for any other reason than wanting to wear a tutu. Like young children in supermarkets, wearing fairy wings or Spiderman outfits, she was going to wear what she wanted to wear. Her free spirit is infectious, and inspiring, and she is a joy to be around. She is completely guileless, unashamed and free.
More and more I am feeling that way too. I would encourage you all to take up the challenge. Avoid all media adverts, particularly those that have anything to do with how you look. Take a long look at yourself, and at how you express yourself physically. Go through your wardrobe – does your clothing reflect your joy in the world, your true self? If you want to wear a tutu, what is stopping you? You might be amazed at how insidious the beauty and fashion industry is.
Set your self free. I’m not waiting until I am old to wear purple.
“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practise a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.”
~ Jenny Joseph ~
I see adverts for al manner of things online and at the cinema, just occasonally, or on other people’s TVs. They represent a world I find alien and surreal. Tht must be having an effect on people. I suppose we can see that effect out in the world… apathy, weird priorities, lack of self esteem etc. Great post.
I know – it feels odd now, when I DO see them. I think – what on earth? x
I think the more Venusian a woman is in her youth, the harder it is to accept the changes of time. It’s not been easy for me either, but I’ve found a balance between acceptance and fighting – it’s been a “Serenity Prayer” for me all the way! I’m taking up belly dancing at 55, I work out, I love clothes and accessories…. but it’s not the focus of my life, and my self esteem certainly does not depend on it.
I did watch a tv series last month – like you, Joanna, I don’t have cable and only watch what I order on DVD – this series was fun, but the Dean of Medicine came to work in 6 inch heels and cleavage, there were strippers and hookers in every other episode, and every woman doctor was impossibly perfect looking, while the men were of all shapes and sizes. I found myself spiraling into that comparison/depression thing that characterized much of my youth – it took some focused introspection to move past it. We are beautiful at all stages of life, and in old age, what we have done with our souls and mind is what will shine through; no one escapes the physical changes of time.
Thank you for an eloquent reminder of what beauty really is, and how to celebrate it!
Hear hear! x