As a society, we are obsessed with how we look – but is it time to stop focusing on the external and start concentrating on what’s going on inside? Editor Lindsay Cochrane shares her view…
I’m so fat. I hate my hair. My nose is too big. I wish I had a better chin. My left arm is wobblier than my right. My skin is awful. I wish my bum was a bit higher. My calves are enormous! Have you SEEN the way my stomach wobbles?
These aren’t things that I’ve said for a long time. Not because I’m perfect – far from it – but because I. Am Over. It.
These are, however, things that people around us say every single day. Whether we’re spending hours staring at our faces in the mirror, criticising photos posted on Facebook or taking 47 attempts at the ultimate selfie for Instagram, we’re all turning into narcissists, obsessed with our appearance, what we’re wearing and how other people see us. And it’s bonkers.
In the media, we’re encouraged to tear apart the clothes, hair, makeup and bodies of celebrities, with super-size and super-skinny photo spreads dominating the weekly gossip mags. Celeb tweeters are promoting juice diets and personal trainers, posting gym selfies and the results of plastic surgery and ‘cosmetic enhancements’, encouraging us all to get in shape and be beautiful just like them. Between Alicia Douvall’s OTT surgery on Celeb BB and rumours of 17-year-old Kylie Jenner having lip fillers (yes! 17! She’s a kid!), the whole world has gone crackers in the pursuit of perfection.
When I was a teenager (which was MUCH longer ago than I even want to think about), I really hated the way I looked. Hated it. I had too much nose, I was too short, my top lip was non-existent, I was too skinny in some places and too fat in others – I hated the way I looked so much that I wouldn’t wear my hair back because I felt it showed off ‘too much face’. I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror, and I was really shy, had no confidence and withdrawn as a result. I wasn’t happy.
Then something happened. When I was 18, I got taken into hospital. I’d been having the most insane stomach pains for months, and eventually my mum had enough. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s is an inflammatory bowel disease or IBD – bowel disease! Just what every 18-year-old wants to hear! The autoimmune condition meant that my body was attacking itself and I was developing painful sores in my small intestine. There’s no known cause for it – it’s just your (bad) luck. And there’s also no cure. I was in agony, and eventually needed surgery to remove a chunk of my small intestine.
I’d spent years bemoaning my body, but suddenly, all the things I’d hated about myself felt insignificant. Because now? My body wasn’t working properly. I wasn’t able to have a sandwich without throwing it back up again. After I’d spent years attacking my appearance and telling myself I wasn’t good enough, my insides were attacking themselves too. And it was horrible. I basically had to take a year off from life. I wasn’t able to go to uni, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t drink, I couldn’t go out with friends – it was really lonely, really scary and I’d hate to go through it all again.
Luckily, slowly but surely, I got better. I still have bad days, and I’m always going to have spells when my tummy’s a bit grumbly or I’m mega tired and I still have to take nine tablets a day to keep my body going, but on the whole, I’m healthy. And I’m so, so grateful for it. Rather than wondering if life would be better if my nose was a shade less… well, like it is, I’m just chuffed to bits that my body lets me get out of bed every morning, go to work and do the job I’ve always wanted to do – be a magazine editor. I’m grateful when I’m able to go out with my friends and laugh until my stomach hurts. I’m grateful that I can go on holidays and adventures and see and experience weird and wonderful things. As long as I’m able to do all of that, I’m going to be the happiest person ever.
What goes on underneath your skin, you have very little control over – the human body is a weird and wonderful thing that way. Which is why I think we all have to stop focusing on the superficial – are my eyebrows Cara Delevingne enough? Does my bum look big in this? Can you get a face transplant? – and start celebrating what makes each and every one of us brilliant. The things we can do. The things we’re good at. Our talents, our skills, the things that our friends and family love about us.
And I know that sounds namby-pamby and the kind of thing your mum would tell you, but given the choice between hanging out with a funny guy with a monobrow and a model with zero personality, I know what I’d rather do. Besides – who really wants to spend time with someone who spends the whole time banging on about how unhappy they are with their appearance? It’s so boring. There are much more important things to be talking about. Like Evil Will returning in Hollyoaks.
I’m not saying I’m a mad bag lady who doesn’t shave her legs and wears weird clothes. I spend a fortune getting my hair coloured, my makeup drawer barely closes and more of my wages are spent in Topshop than I’d care to admit. Nor am I judging anyone who takes pride in their appearance or make certain choices about the way they look – if you want to go to the gym in the pursuit of the perfect bod, paint yourself orange like you’ve pent six months in Marbs or dress like the high street’s a night club, you go for it. But only if that’s what you want. What’s important is YOUR happiness, doing things that make you feel good about yourself and learning to love who you really are. Not what others think of you. Not what others expect of you. There’s no point in making yourself miserable so that others see you in a certain way. Besides – happy people, the sort who are comfortable in their own skin, are the best kind.
It’s about finding out what you like about yourself and going with it, and it doesn’t need to be a physical thing. Your body might not be perfect, but it can help you do some really cool stuff, achieve things and be memorable. That’s so much more impressive than having Kate Moss’s cheekbones. If someone doesn’t like you because of what you look like or who you are? They’re the one with the problem, not you, and they’re not worth your time.
So learn to love your body. After all, you don’t know when it might decide to turn against you. Hold your head up high, walk a little taller and embrace who you are. Because, honestly – you’re pretty awesome. We all are. And the sooner we realise it, the better.