Women are taught to fear and love Christmas at the same time. It’s a very ‘womanly’ time of year – all the cooking and the feeding and the nurturing and the giving. Not that men can’t and shouldn’t be all of those things – but stereotypically, women more so. So we get to shop for our prezzies and wrap them lovingly, we pour energy into elaborate Christmas spreads, satisfied but perhaps a little exhausted as we watch everyone enjoy. And we eat. A lot. Chocolate, mince pies, turkey, rice and peas, plantain – whatever culture you come from, if you celebrate Christmas, food is plentiful.
Nowt wrong with food.
But most women have food complexes. Or apparently we’re supposed to. So in the run up to Christmas and the weeks after, there are mutterings of “Oh, I really shouldn’t”, and “Just one more, I’m supposed to be on a diet”, and “January.. everything’s going to change in January”.
Recently in the staff room at work there was a conversation about the amount of calories in the mince pie. Everyone was aghast – how could it be? 220 calories in one mince pie? Moment on the lips, lifetime on the hips!
I always feel slightly awkward in these conversations because honestly, I don’t care about calories and I never have.
I feel guilty that I don’t really have any ‘body image’ issues. I used to sort of be a bit self conscious about being slim, and then realised it was only because other people kept talking about it. I almost feel obliged in conversations where other women are critiquing their bodies to add in a little critique of my own. “Yeh…I really hate the stretch marks on my thighs..”. “There’s this one little bit of podge on my tummy” . It’s all a bit deceitful, because honestly… I genuinely like my body and have no problems with it. It’s not ‘perfect’ (whatever that is) – I do have stretch marks, and cellulite, and little podgy bits, but I quite like my stretch marks, and my podge is practically invisible. Cellulite is a fact of life – what’s there to hate? I’m just one of those women who is fortunate enough to like her figure. But I almost feel like I shouldn’t.
Society drowns women in an atmosphere of self deprecation and self loathing. The beauty and diet industries absolutely depend in part, on women not liking something about their body or their face. The tension between the constant quest to perfect ourselves and the actual practice of simply living life, is most obvious during the Christmas/ New Year period. That’s not to say I endorse the over indulgence that characterises the Christmas season. Essentially though, carefree healthy eating for most of the year allows for a few days of chocolate binging without too much consequence. The problem is a culture of unhealthy eating practices, dieting, denial and reward cycles, and a standard of beauty that is simply unattainable for a significant proportion of women.
It’s completely fine to look in the mirror and be entirely happy with the way you look, size 8 or size 14, as long as you are healthy. I tend to believe that it’s also completely fine to not like some aspects of your body and work to change them IF it’s in a healthy responsible way, and IF it’s a target that’s achievable. What’s not ok, is a culture which makes women feel that by virtue of their gender, there has to be something about their body they don’t like.
So this New Year, I’m worried less about calories and more about self love. Be healthy and happy because you are blessed enough to have been given a body with a responsibility to lovingly care for it, and enjoy it this year!