Every year FHM readers apply their own opinions as to which lucky female deserves the title of the sexiest woman award by casting their vote in the renowned yearly poll.
Consequently a list of the top one hundred voted women is formed, ultimately establishing these lucky ladies as the most beautiful (or the most sexy) in the world. The list is forever circulating around the media in numerous forms such as magazines, websites and even television advertisements.
I haven’t been living in a cocoon and I know that sex sells (the format is a brainchild of the magazine which results in soaring sales figures each year). I don’t have a problem with the magazine itself or with this particular idea. My problem lies with the body insecurities that stem within people as a result of being presented with such lists (more so the ultimate image of what beauty is and how we should therefore aspire to look).
I have read the lists and I can honestly say that each woman is utterly beautiful and undeniably sexy in one way or another. But is it such a good idea to depict one particular frame (i.e thin or very slim) as ‘sexy’ and completely eradicate bigger frames? Think about it carefully. The list teaches us to perceive skinniness as sexy. Pop singer Adele is beautiful but there’s no sign of her in that list and that’s because it’s about body image, and more specifically, a ‘skinny’ image. Establishing this as the definition of beautiful or sexy pushes girls to want to become skinny (if they’re not already). Most girls want to be considered attractive but if they’re being taught that the only way to be attractive is to be skinny, then it can get dangerous.
I’m talking from experience here and an ongoing one at that. I’ve never been skinny – in fact I was never slim at all. I was a chubby baby who grew to be an overweight teen. At fourteen years old, I weighed thirteen stone. I knew I was fat, but in a sense my weight was a part of me and I grew up as a fun loving girl, who was funny and – let’s not beat around the bush here – a bit fat. That’s just the way it was and I was never bullied about it. My weight didn’t stop me having friends and later at fifteen, I had my first boyfriend, Darren. It was when I started college that everything changed and my weight suddenly became a harrowing issue. To say that I changed would be a huge understatement. I became absolutely and utterly obsessed with my weight. It’s a fixation that will probably never fully leave me.
It all started with one comment from a lad that didn’t even know I was in earshot. I had just come out of the girl’s toilets in my first week at college, which brought me into the foyer of the building. As I waited there to meet Darren, I noticed a guy and a girl from one of my new classes stood just around the corner. The guy said to the girl ‘Who’s the really fat girl that sits at the back with Mark?’ I knew he was talking about me – he’d just named the boy I sat with. My heart started to pound and I could feel tears pricking at my eyes. I’d never presented myself with the fact that I might be perceived as ‘really fat’ before. The girl confirmed my name and my blood ran cold. It was definitely me they were talking about. He went on to make a few more nasty comments about the size of my body before I pulled myself back into the toilets and wept. I cried and cried. And then I decided I was going to do something. Fast.
My weight had never bothered me too much before. My mum had taken me to a few Weight Watchers meetings when I was younger to try and sort out my eating, but to be honest food always won me over. I had loved it all my life. But that single comment changed everything. In a split second, I had come to hate college and to hate that class. I suddenly hated food but most of all, I hated my body. After years of being overweight and fairly content, I suddenly yearned for immediate change.
Because of one guy’s perception of me (that I knew about, anyway), I stopped eating. I started to notice women’s bodies being presented in the media – in magazines, on television, on billboards, everywhere. They were all slim and I told myself that’s what I needed to be. I suddenly felt repulsed by the thought of food lying in my stomach and adding to this ‘really fat’ image. And so I went on to lie to my family, my friends and my boyfriend. My mum dropped me off at college half an hour early every morning before she went to work herself. The first lie was to her. I said that I’d start eating breakfast at college to give me something to do. She believed me, but of course I never once ate breakfast there. College was the easiest part. I completely and silently refused to eat. I’d sit at the table with all of my friends. They’d eat burgers and chips and pizzas in front of me and I wasn’t tempted at all. The more I saw food, the more repulsed I felt by it, and the more determined I was to defeat it, the more the weight dropped off. On Wednesdays, I went to my Nanna’s house for dinner. Previously she’d made sandwiches for me but I started to lie to her too and tell her that I’d eaten a huge dinner at college. Avoiding eating at tea time proved more difficult. I tried ‘not feeling well’ a few times but that soon got old. Then, I decided to use visits to Darren’s house to my advantage. I’d go round after college and tell my mum I was having tea at his house, and tell Darren’s mum I was having tea at home. I lied to absolutely everybody that I loved. Of course, every now and again I had to endure a meal but the second I’d finished, I’d take a stupid amount of laxatives because the thought of it storing as fat in my body made me cry.
I weighed myself every single day and if I hadn’t lost any weight, I would take laxatives regardless of whether or not there was any food inside me to shift. I eventually lost four stone which brought me to a healthy nine stone. But the speed of my weight loss was anything but healthy. I felt extremely weak all the time. I fainted on numerous occasions, twice in college (one of which was in front of my entire English class). Yet again I lied to my teacher and to my classmates. It was almost too easy. I made a mess of myself. I abused my body because I didn’t think my frame was acceptable anymore, which brings me to my main point here.
Presenting people with visual archetypes (ie, this is how you should look and this is how you shouldn’t) can be so dangerous. Fair enough, I was overweight. But the harsh realisation that I was not visually acceptable because of that caused me to jeopardise my health. My realisation began with a comment but soon enough, everything else began to contribute – guides in the media as to what is ‘sexy’ such as the FHM list. But what if a person of a healthy weight feels compelled to starve themselves in order to be skinny, just because they want to mirror that stereotypical slim and sexy image that they’re being surrounded with? Look at the lists yourself – not a single woman on there is what I’d describe as ‘curvy’. They’re all thin.
Darren turned my life around. When we were both 18, we moved to university together and being together 24/7 made the concealing of my issue almost impossible. He soon learned how bad things were and he decided to help me change my life. He could have walked away. But he didn’t. He was amazing. He made sure I ate three meals a day and refused to allow weighing scales in our flat. It wasn’t easy. We argued most nights about food as he proceeded to make meals that I couldn’t bear to eat. I refused everything and he almost forced me to eat, most significantly, in the kitchen in front of our flatmates. I cried and begged him to let me eat in my room. But he forced me to get used to eating in front of other people, and to accept that it was right to eat and wrong not to. Thanks to Darren, I enjoy food again. I no longer feel the need to hop on the weighing scales directly after eating and I haven’t taken a laxative in a long time. It took years to accept my figure for what it is, but my issue still follows me and I don’t think I’ll ever be fully happy with my weight.
Just the other day I started rhyming off the things I hate about my body (funnily enough I had just read the FHM list). I’m a healthy weight now with an ideal BMI, and I know that, but being taught to perceive that skinny image as beautiful via the media still causes me to lose it sometimes. What worries me, is the girls that don’t have someone like Darren to pull them out of the dark hole and help them, the girls that manage to conceal the lies for longer than I did and jeopardise their health even further. They need to realise that they are beautiful without crash dieting and more importantly, just the way they are. They need to understand that it’s alright not to be stick thin. But if no one is there to tell them, and all they’re surrounded with is the epitome of beauty in the form of skinniness, then we best prepare to watch eating disorder statistics rise.