Saturday, 27 September 2014

Thoughts About Bodies A Year On

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This time last year I was frantically trying to learn my TEDx talk on changing the way young people think about their bodies. At the time I thought I had it all sussed: there is way too much pressure on young people to look a certain way, buy certain clothes, take up certain diets. One year on my thoughts are pretty much the same, nothing has changed there, however I have come to realise just how much I buy into these multi-million-pound industries. I feed the growth of the beauty industry on a daily basis and don't intend on stopping any time soon, does this mean I can't preach the fact that I think body talk needs to change? I don't think so. 

Providing I get up when my first alarm goes off my morning 'beauty' regimen goes like this:

Skin: Cleanse, tone, moisturise

Hair: Straighten, pin, hairspray

Face: Concealer, foundation, blusher

Eyes: Eye-liner, mascara, eyebrows

I use a mineral foundation to because it looks 'natural'. What part of the above is natural? Natural would be rolling out of bed, splashing my face with water and leaving the house. I feel myself stiffen up with when my friends tell me they use soap on their faces "but it's so bad for your skin" I lecture them but at the same time I am under the impression that all of these skin products exist on the premise that whilst they improve one aspect of your skin they make another aspect worse, thus you end up buying even more products. I dread to think how much I spend a year on beauty products, whatever it is is no doubt way to much just to look 'natural'.

Not long ago I invested in one of those razors that has the soap around it because my skin was getting dry and a bit prone to a rash. I bought a more expensive razor (it costs £6 for 3 razor heads) to limit the damage shaving causes me skin. Again, something that sounds ridiculous, why don't I just stop shaving. I do it elsewhere with heat-protection spray to prevent me burning my hair whilst straightening it. Damage limitation.

I haven't said all of this to paint myself as a complete hypocrite but more consider the decision process I went through when I decided I would buy beauty products, wear make-up and shave my legs. The point is I don't feel like I have to do it, I don't think that all beauty products need to come off the shelves, what I do think however, is that the way they are marketed needs reconsidering. I think it is essential that young girls feel like they have a choice whether or not they wear make-up or shave their legs or do whatever comes next in the beauty trends but society as it exists now takes that choice away. As highlighted by feminist and writer Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex women are not born, they are made - by the influence of society as we grow up. Which reminds me of that poignant line in Path's poem Mirror: 'in me she has drowned a young girl'. That there is the change from childhood to adulthood, we go from seeing our reflection to seeing our flaws as highlighted by a society focused on negatives.

A couple of months ago I went to see Gunther Von Hagen's Body World Vitals and was truly amazed by the sheer strength and brilliance of our bodies. I'm used to seeing bodies as dolls on a page as I flick through a magazine and here in front of me was a plastinated body showing off the muscles involved in playing tennis. I looked at a collection of cells grow to be a fully formed baby in a woman's uterus. It was like I went behind the scenes of the body to see just how much work goes on just to get out of bed in the morning. I spent months being unable to use my feet properly, I was in constant pain and unable to move my toes yet now, after medical treatment and gentle, persistent exercise I can tootle about as I please. Amazing. We greatly undervalue the resilience our bodies possess, no-one would compliment your ability to recover from injury yet complimenting someone on the hair and make-up seems like a no-brainer.

None of this is new, way back in 1855 suffraget Lucy Stone said 'It is very little to me, to have the right to vote, to own property, etcetera, if I may not keep my body, and its uses, in my absolute right.' 159 years on and we still haven't got there, we're still facing the same issues. Trends change but the feeling of needing to conform to societies body rules remain. And today's advances in technology feeds into these industries that demand our attention and desire.

A year on my message remains the same: talk healthy. Remind each other how brilliant one another's bodies are, praise aspects other than modification. If you remember how unique you are then you cannot possibly have faults. 

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