November 24, 2009

The Real Beauty Debate (Natasha)

The media have seemingly never been so keen to provoke a robust debate on the real beauty issue, which is fortunate for us here at Winning Minds and for Body Gossip. One would think it would be difficult to argue with the idea that we should all be happy in our own skins, but apparently there are people out there who oppose our real beauty message………

Body Gossip –v- Giles Coren – Radio 5 Live

On Saturday 21st November, 10.30pm, Ruth Rogers, founder of Body Gossip, went head to head with Giles Coren, debating the validity of Kate Moss’ recent statement – “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” (she has clearly never been to Nandos, then).

Coren is restaurant critic and columnist whose credentials to contribute on such an emotive topic are uncertain (and became increasing spurious as the debate unfolded). In essence, he suggested that the solution to this country’s obesity crisis is….ta da! Anorexia. Why didn’t we think of that? He asserted that he goes for 6 or 7 days without food, that as humans we are “designed to be skinny” and that Kate Moss represents the idealised body type. “We are all fat nowadays!” he ranted in a slightly maniacal fashion, not allowing Ruth, the presenter or indeed the torrent of callers who rang in to expose his argument as the utter tosh it was, to get a word in edgeways.

Whether or not he was deliberately playing devil’s advocate for publicity purposes (one cannot help but wonder whether this was the case with Ms Moss, also) or whether his mind was so addled with the effects of his self imposed starvation that he was unable to form a coherent argument is not clear. Ruth was admirably calm in her rebuttal and pointed out that body types and shapes vary wildly and that surely the most important thing is that we are all healthy and happy, eat well and exercise in moderation.

Ruth has trawled through thousands of first hand body testimonials for Body Gossip, so can really empathise with real people who struggle with negative body image. ………People for whom Kate Moss’ statement would have exacerbated their already fragile self esteem. Yes, it would be irresponsible and downright untrue to blame Ms Moss for eating disorders and body dysmorphia but, as someone in the public eye who is aspired to by millions of women everywhere, she should think more carefully before making potentially damaging statements.

The award for the point that made me whizz around in my swivel-ly chair whilst punching the air with my fists and shouting “Yes! Right on sister!” (yes, I really did this) went to a caller who had been in recovery from anorexia for 2 ½ years. Did Coren not recognise, she asked, that compulsive eating is the result of the same root causes and emotions as other eating disorders and that therefore the “massively obese” people Coren was determined to blame and shame should be treated with the same amount of sympathy and respect? Too right.

Winning Minds Body Confidence Campaign –v- An Old Lady – James O’Brien Show, LBC

(it’s not as bad as it sounds!)

On Monday 23rd November, I was invited by LBC to kick start a debate on body image, loosely based around the fact that Cheryl Cole has a very lucrative contract to advertise shampoo but spends more than most people earn in a year on hair extensions (ludicrous but, sadly, not shocking in the present climate).

My arguments, based on my own experience, speaking with clients at Winning Minds and going into schools to discuss body image, were threefold:

1. We live in a culture of celebrity worship. In an increasingly secular society, the words and actions of celebrities are taken as gospel and people attempt to emulate them in every sense, with no regard for the surgery they have had, the help they receive from their armies of stylists and makeup artists or the fact that they have usually been airbrushed to cartoon-like proportions. In trying to reach an impossible ideal, we berate ourselves when we fall short of our goal, resulting in negative body image.

2. The pendulum of feminism has swung to a massive extreme.  Whereas the original point of feminism was to ensure (quite rightly) that women could do or be whatever they wanted, based on their skills and talents and not on their gender, now women are expected to be everything to every one. We must smash the glass ceiling, be a domestic goddess, whilst always remaining glamorous and polished. We see other women who, by our own somewhat skewed criteria, look better than us and assume, wrongly, that they are automatically happier, more loved and more successful.

3. Men do not care in the slightest about the circumference of our thighs. I asked some of the 16 year old guys I teach what makes a girl attractive. They said “if she is smiling”. Never has the phrase “out of the mouths of babes” been more appropriate .

Ergo, women are their own worst enemies and of course our insecurities are perpetuated by the beauty and fashion industry to sell us things that we believe will bring us a step closer to our self-imposed ideal.

It was thrown open to the floor…..

Most callers broadly agreed with me, women phoned to speak about their own body anxieties and men called to say they wished their partners would stop moaning as it drives them bonkers and they think she is beautiful just the way she is. Some of the female callers blamed the derogatory comments of men for their self-loathing or said they dieted constantly out of fear that their husbands and boyfriends would look elsewhere.

However, one 70-something year old from Bedford really took umbrage with my opinions. She called to say she was quite convinced I must be really insecure in myself (even though I had quite categorically told James O’Brien, the presenter, that I think I’m fairly gorgeous on the whole, apparently that was bare faced lies) and that no woman could possibly be as confident as I was coming across. James very kindly pointed out on my behalf that I had admitted to having a significant, decade long battle with bulimia and that it had taken me a long time to reach such a balanced view.

It was announced “our next caller, Christine from Saffron Walden”:

“Hello James”, the caller distinctly and huskily purred ….. I recognised the voice immediately…. It was my Mum!

Concerned, as I am sure you can understand, that my Mum had called in to tell Mrs Non-Comprehending 70-something to “lay off her daughter” and “come and ave a go if she thinks she’s ard enough” I began teddy bear rolling on the floor with my hands pressed over my eyes repeatedly murmuring “Mum, it’s not weeeerf it!” (Mark was, fortunately, busy with a client and therefore not present to witness this spectacle).

It was a huge relief to all concerned that Mum was actually compelled to ring in for much more objective reasons – Working as a style consultant for a bridal boutique, the body hang ups of their clients quite often overshadow the joy and elation that should remain unadulterated (excuse the pun) on the happiest day of their lives.

The absolute truth behind my own opinions is that, were it not for Mark Newey and neural recoding, I would not be as self assured as I am today – My views on beauty would have been exactly the same, but I would not have been so able to “practice what I preach”. Of course I don’t think I am physically “perfect” in the traditional sense of the word but I’d rather devote my time to helping others to become happier and healthier than in the fruitless and hollow pursuit of a Barbie-like physique.

In summation I said that we should all try to make the best of ourselves and represent our own version of healthy, attainable beauty, without reference to Cheryl Cole or whoever happens to be the current media darling.

You can listen to Ruth’s debate with Giles Coren by clicking the following link and forwarding to 37 minutes (prepare to be infuriated, though!):

You can listen to my interview with James O’Brien by clicking the link below and downloading the podcast of his show on Monday 23rd November, I was on at approximately 12.15:

To read Ruth’s Blog, including her bid for Kate Moss to hop off the skinny bandwagon, click the link below:

You can email me – – and tell me your thoughts on The Real Beauty Debate. I’d love to hear from you.

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