Only skin deep?

Image has been on my mind a lot lately.

If I’m honest, image is on my mind a lot, full stop. If I’m not fretting that my straighteners don’t work in humid weather (grrrrr), I’m probably staring agonisingly at my wardrobe / make-up bag, wondering why nothing I own makes me look how I want to.

Actually, I’m even multi-tasking whilst I write this – touching up my roots with my favourite Superdrug blonde – the one that looks like banana-flavour penicillin when you mix it.

I was watching the lovely Ms. Cherry Healey on BBC3 the other day; Cherry’s Body Dilemmas (and doesn’t she look good in a corset?). I was fascinated by it. I don’t suppose this is the place to go into my own particular quirks and insecurities, but I’m a mess of them. For all that the UK media is obsessed with our bodies and how we use and see them, it’s actually quite unusual to see this level of frankness and diversity on mainstream telly.

The way we talk about our bodies is warped. It’s all extremes and almost never rational. From the HateMail’s Liz Jones and her anorexic obsessions to the constant railing against celebrities’ wobbly bits and how fatties are eating the NHS out of house and home. The sad truth is that we just can’t bear the sight of ourselves.

But what is most refreshing is to see someone who is thin, successful, beautiful, etc., facing up to her own self-consciousness with others without judgement. I admit it challenged my assumption that gorgeous people both know how they look and judge others harshly. I was particularly inspired by the beautiful, and stunningly dressed, Kirsty Lou and her blog. Whilst I cower in high street changing rooms sobbing over size labels, she makes her own clothes and refuses be conformed into someone else’s body.

I was struck by her admission that she’s suffered because of how she looks. It resonated with me. I’ve had people cross the street in London to tell me I should diet; they’ve taunted me from cars in Oxford at 7am and in the back streets of Edinburgh late at night. Friends have called me fat in public and looked astonished when I was upset by it. I even find myself justifying my weight to doctors who don’t believe I exercise. I desperately want to take my feminista deconstruction kit to conformist body-shape standards but the truth is that all this just really bloody well hurts and it’s too personal to try.

But in the mean time, brava Cherry, Kirsty et. al. for honesty without sentimentality or falsehoods. If telly makes a difference, this is what it looks like. And an honourable mention to Hadley Freeman of the Guardian for this piece which I heartily “hear, hear”-ed earlier this month.

It happens that today is also the fourth anniversary of the death of Sophie Lancaster, a young woman who was killed for her looks. I remember being devastated by the story when I first heard it, as I am by any form of hate crime. The senselessness of the loss of life – not just hers, but also the life her boyfriend and family had known with her in it. S.O.P.H.I.E. (Stamp Out Prejudice, Hatred and Intolerance Everywhere), the foundation her mother founded, is doing great things to teach children that image isn’t everything. I wanted to share the video they released today, as further food for thought. We all judge people harshly for how they look; this is a stark reminder of what that culture of judgement does to the world we live in.

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