mothers & daughters and body image
Linda C. Okachi
mothers & daughters and body image Linda C. Okachi
PEBGUIN BOOKS Published by Penguin Group Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England Penguin Group (USA) INC., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014 USA Penguin Group ( Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4p 2YR ( a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland ( a division of Penguin Books Ltd) Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia ( a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd) Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchssheel Park, New Delhi - 110 017, India Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand ( a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd) Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg, 2196, South Africa Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand LondonWC2R OR, England www.penguin.com Published in Penguin Books 2015 Copyright Linda C. Okachi, 2015 All rights reserved
Being the fat daughter on pp 40-44 is featured by kind permission of Luanne D’souza from www.iamweesha.com (2012)
The moral right of the author has been asserted. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser ISBN: 978-0-142-03002-2 www.greenpenguin.co.uk
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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I would like to thank my mum for driving me crazy during my teenage years and for being the inspiration for this book, but most importantly for loving, believing and sticking by me no matter the circumstance.
INTRODUCTION 7 CHILDHOOD MEMORIES (ITALY/ NIGERIA) 16 MARIA & SARA ( SPAIN) 22 Aleruchi & charity (Nigeria) 28 Antonia & Florence (Congo) 34 Being the fat daughter (India) 40 NANA & RHODA ( GHANA) 48 ANNETTE & TANISHA (JAMAICA) 52 ANNE & LIZZY ( ENGLAND) 62 Cecilia & Chantelle ( France) 70 TOO TALL... SO WHAT? ( ENGLAND) 76 tania & valentina (ITALY) 82 RUBBER LIPS (JAMAICA/ ENGLAND) 88 NAJMA, HANIFA & AISHA (PAKISTAN / ENGLAND) 94 KUAI- PENG & CHI ( CHINA) 100 Special thanks
INTRODUCTION Relationships between mothers and daughters have always been very tricky to explain. In my case, “Mummy” was one of the first words that came out of my mouth as a baby. Mummy then became one of the first people that I aspired and looked up to, mainly because she was the one in control of the house as well as being the one that fed me most of the times. When I was little, for example, I imitated everything about my mum, from the way she did her hair to the way she laughed; At one point, I even, remember attempting to shave my legs at the age of 7 just because I saw mummy doing it - That didn’t work out very well and the scars on my legs can tell you that-. Through my teenage years, however, things had changed and from needing and wanting mummy’s attention, I was now doing anything to AVOID conversation because I believed that I was a grown woman and that I could make my own choices and have my own opinion, without asking for her views on things. At this point, I did not want to have anything to do with her, she was not cool and certainly her opinion did not matter anymore, if anything, I was trying to be the opposite of what she wanted me to be. I remember spending a great amount of time talking to my friends about how annoying our mothers were and, in a way, I was comforted by the fact that I was not the only one who had those thoughts. Sociologists have forever emphasised on the way the lack of a male figure in the family could have a negative effect on male children, similarly, it has been found that the lack of a relationship between mothers and daughters could have an impact on females causing them to have low self-esteem, which could then result into the development of feeling worthless. Prior to the creation of this book, 35 out 50 women that were interviewed claimed that they wished that they could have a better relationship with their mothers, interestingly all 35 stated that they were not happy with the way they looked, which of course had made me think that, perhaps, there is a link between the way women see themselves and the lack of that precious bond that connects mothers and daughters. When talking about body image we secretly love blaming the media for bombarding us with images of “perfect people”. It is no secret that the majority of us are not 100% satisfied with the way we look and that if we could, we would, perhaps, undertake surgery or work towards achieving that perfect body that we aspire to have. How many times have you asked someone, who was most likely to be your friend, to have a look at a picture of a celebrity and to acknowledge how perfect their body looked. I know you are guilty for saying that, but if you are thinking that you have never said it before, you are probably lying or you have just never come across a nice picture of a celebrity, which is also close to impossible. Now that you are already in that thinking mode, think about the last time that you recall having a conversation about body image with your mother. I know, I know, that’s a hard one isn’t it ? No matter how close the two of you might be, talking to a friend may seem the 11
easiest option. But why is it the easiest option? Are we afraid that we can’t openly express our views or is it just because we can’t be bothered to do so? My mother and I, for example, rarely talk about body image. That doesn’t mean that we don’t discuss it, we just cannot talk about it because we don’t agree on the same things and we end up arguing. While, I interestingly get excited when someone mentions that I have lost weight and excessively wave my hands in different directions depending on the number that pops up on the little screen of the scale, my mother would probably have a heart attack - Well not a real one, God forbid! But you know what I mean-. For some reason one day I got brave and I decided to express my happiness in regards to my weight loss, it didn’t go too well and in fact, it led to a series of what I refer to as ‘parents’ lectures’ in which you may think that you have achieved something but, instead you are going to get bombarded by an unlimited amount of negative comments that will make you re-evaluate your whole life. Now, I don’t know whether our views are different because we are not really close to each other or whether there is more to it, but I know for a fact that my excitement in relation to my weight loss will never be praised in my house because in my culture being slim has not a positive connotation. Apparently “all that dieting and going to the gym business is for oyinbo people (white people)” but at the same time, if you are slightly chubby, your weight will be casually discussed at every family gathering that you attend. You can never please anyone among Africans! NEVER! When you live in get about your you reside to a what the media
the UK or in Europe for so long like I have, you tend to forculture and you start adapting to the culture of where certain extent. As much as you are going to deny this, tells you to do quickly becomes what you MUST do. Not quite: Mothers & daughter and body image, is not another one of those boring and serious books that discusses how evil the media is and how influential it is in our everyday life, instead you will be exposed to a series of stories and interviews of mothers and daughters talking about body image and giving an insight into their cultures as well as indicating the factors that have an effect on the way they see themselves. Hopefully this will encourage you to sit down with your mother to have a chat. Not just about the way you look but also about what is going on in your life . You’ll never know she might give you some precious advise!
AS MUCH AS I LOVE HER I WOULDN'T NECESSARILY WANT TO BE EXACTLY LIKE
I was brought up in a Nigerian family where parents have power over everything. It is normal for them to come into the sitting room and change channel on the tv, completely ignoring the fact that you had been in the room for the past two hours forcing yourself from not going to the toilet so that nobody could take charge of the remote. If you think that you can argue with your parents like in an episode of an afternoon talk show, keep on dreaming! No matter how old you are and where you are, Nigerian parents still have the power to shout at you as if you are a child.
CHILDHOOD MEMORIES Written by Linda C. Okachi
Relatives and family friends have repeatedly mentioned, over the years, that I look and in many ways act like my mother, which has always left me wondering. In my head, in fact, my mother and I have always been two different people who barely get along. We see life totally differently from each other and have opposing views on education, fashion style, food, health and body image. In regards to body image, the first signs of contrasting views started from the age of eleven when I was taken to, what was referred to as a “ special hospital” for children that had weight issues. Here, I was diagnosed with obesity and left with a diet plan that would help me to lose the extra twenty kilos that were apparently restricting me to run as fast as the rest of the kids in the playground. I remember having an argument with Margherita, around these years, after claiming in the school canteen : “Che sedere enorme che hai!” (“Your bum is huge!”) In Italy, where I grew up, bodies that do not fall into the mainstream category are extremely stigmatised. The mainstream consists of being slim, tall and having a toned but small derriere and because my physical description does not include any of the above words, it highlighted the fact that I was part of an ethnic minority and that I was different from the majority of the people that I was surrounded by. Following a one year period of attending meetings at the “special hospital”, while no progress was being made, I was told to come back when serious about losing weight. It was possibly the first time that I felt a sense of relief because at last, I was let off to enjoy fizzy drinks and all those foods that were marked as ‘AVOID’ on the diet plan. At this point I was trying to convince myself that I loved how I looked and that I was comfortable in my own skin but in reality, at the back of my mind I still did not think that I was beautiful and envied my friends because they could flaunt their flat stomachs while I couldn’t. People kept on mentioning that if I’d lost weight, I’d look prettier. Well, I do not know if those words were supposed to motivate me to start exercising or restart my diet but I know for sure that those words triggered ‘my body image paranoia’, as they suggested that I was not pretty enough. Moving to New cross, South East London at the age of fifteen, exposed me to a different perception of beauty as, here there were more people that looked like me and had a similar body type to mine. While I started embracing my ethnicity and my perception of beauty changed completely, in order to fit in with what I believed that a black woman, like myself, should look like, I started focusing on my butt.
This led to setting myself a ridiculous amount of squats to do on a daily basis to achieve that roundness that is always praised among the black community. Few years down the line at the age of twenty-one something clicked in and with the realisation that my body type did not fit in with the stereotypical black female body or with the Italian stereotypical body, I decided to get rid of the extra weight in order to achieve my ‘ perfect body’. To be honest, by losing weight I, also, saw the end of contrasting views with my mother, instead the focus of our arguments have taken a new direction which have highlighted that she has also changed her views in relation to body image. The same person that initiated my weight loss in the previous years, was so eager to gain weight in preparation to her yearly trip to Nigeria. I mean really? How contradicting can you be? Despite only visiting Nigeria twice and at a very young age, I have recently found out that in my country of origin being overweight is a connotation of happiness and beauty and that in the African continent as a whole, for many years, being plump has been strongly associated with with being wealthy as it suggests that the person is able to afford as much food as they want. Although, I currently go to the gym three times a week for toning and maintaining purposes, according to my mother I have become so obsessed with losing weight, neglecting the fact that I need to get married soon. Apparently no man of African heritage will marry me if I keep on losing weight and accordingly I should eat more and gain weight to maximise my appeal to men because, as she reminds me on a daily basis: “ Men are looking for beautiful and curvy women” and “I should aspire to look pretty and not like a cray fish” Although our relationship has improved and we are now able to talk without shouting at each other, unlike a few years ago, I have come to the conclusion that my mother and I will possibly never agree on this topic, predominately because our thoughts on body image are way too different. As she is getting older and we are now settled in London, she hangs around with more Nigerian people and together they eat a crazy amount of food and share stories about their upbringing in their country of birth; Her new friends have reconnected her to Nigeria in all ways, which could explain why she now sees being overweight as ideal and something to aspire to. On the other hand, I am still battling to lose the last few kilos and to achieve that Beyonce booty that I have always aspired to have. Hopefully I will get there soon and to celebrate I’ll probably have a Big Mac!
WE CAN BE BEST FRIENDS BUT AT TIMES WE ARE LIKE CATS AND DOGS. K.
MARIA, 50 SARA, 24 Spain
Place of birth: M: Barcelona, Spain. S: London, England. Ethnicity: S: White. M:Caucasian. How close do you think that you are to each other? S: When I was a teenager it was a nightmare because we would argue over anything, literally everything about her used to annoy me. But now it’s great, our relationship is so different, if I am not around I would call her 10 times a day. M: We are very close now but it’s taken us a very long time to get to this stage. Do you think that you look alike? M: A little bit. We have the same hair, skin tone and nose. I would have got really offended if she didn’t look like me, as she is my only daughter. S: I don’t really see it but a lot of people tell me that I am just a younger version of my mum. I guess we do have the same hair colour and the same big nose. M: You need to blame granddad for the nose! S: I have always had! (laughs) Are you similar in any way? S: I think we are! We both are stubborn and don’t like admitting when we are wrong but, I guess, that is what makes our relationship strong. We just know what we can’t stand and we won’t do it to each other. M: I am surprised that she said that, I thought that she would deny it. We are similar indeed. Even the way we like our tea is the same. How would you describe yourself ? M: Physically I would say short, average size and curvy. In terms of character I am kind, loving and stubborn. S: I am short, I have big breasts and curves. How would you describe each other? S: She is a MILF (laughs) honestly I would want to look like her when I get to her age, she looks amazing! Nice long and healthy brown hair, beautiful olive skin and amazing curves. M: Sara is a beautiful girl, She is slim and curvy at the same time. She has the right proportions. Have you ever had a conversation about body image? M: Hmmm. Well we do talk about celebrities bodies and we do discuss about our own bodies. Therefore I guess, yes we have had conversations about body image. S: Yeah we do but we don’t make it a fuss. Because I have never had any problems or felt any negative way about my body we discuss it indirectly if you know what I mean. Do you think that it is important to discuss body image with your mum/daughter? M: I think that it is important, if she ever had a problem or an insecurity I would want her to come to me first. S: I definitely think that it is important to talk with your mum about any issue not necessarily just regarding body image. As a mother, she is the one that would probably understand you the most. Who do you usually discuss body image issues with? 23
M: My husband or my friends S: My friends but I don’t really have any issues so maybe I should say that I discuss other people’s body image issues. Do you feel that you have a different perception of beauty? S: Not really, I think we are quite similar in that sense. M: We both think that Marylyn Monroe was a beautiful woman and we always refer back to her when we are talking about beauty. But in general we do have the same perception, I think we are really into the mediterranean look. Dark hair and olive skin. S: (laughs) You basically described us! What is your idea of the perfect body? M: The perfect body is the body that you are most comfortable in. There is all this fuss about the perfect body being the slim body, but is it really that? There are people out there that are skinny but still not happy about the way they look and that should make you ask yourself some questions, if that’s your ideal body. S: The perfect body for me is my body. I have always been taught to look at myself and be happy with what I have. Do mothers influence the way daughters think about themselves? S: I think so! If my mum wasn’t as confident as she is in her skin, I don’t think that I would be. Mama knows best! M: Yes, that’s why it is important to talk about everything especially during their teenage years, you never know what is in their mind. What characteristics, do you think, are seen as beautiful in your culture? M: Probably slim figures, long hair and tanned skin. I can’t really think of anything different from what is stereotypically seen as beautiful in the UK. S: Tanned skin, overy time I go to Spain people want to be tanned. We are lucky though, thanks to our olive skin we never have to go too crazy and spray ourselves with spray tan ten times a day. Do you associate yourself with what is seen as beautiful in England or in your country of origin? S: I don’t really know if my ideals are associated with one specific country. I have always liked having curves. It’s only recently that people are embracing curves only because they’ve just realised that curves make a women beautiful. A woman needs to have curves no matter what, not because the Kardashians has them. M: Probably Spain, just because it sounds good to put it that way, but if I had to answer this question honestly, I wouldn’t know. It is quite similar. Due to the media that we are exposed to we are all so similar now. How important is your appearance to you? M: Very important I like looking nice at all times, people do judge you on the way you look so it’s important to make that effort before leaving your house. By that, I don’t mean that you should look as if you are going to a wedding every time you leave your house. And hmm...make up has certainly nothing to do with looking nice. S: I think it’s important to look presentable. I think that my appearance is important otherwise why would I get my eyebrows threaded every two weeks, sometimes I wish that I didn’t care as much but nobody wants to see bears on my face. I don’t like seeing it myself why would I do it to others? It’s not nice.
Do you feel pretty? M: Si (yes) S: Hell yeah! Are you satisfied by the way you look? S: Yeah as I said earlier, I was taught to be happy and embrace what I have. If you don’t like what I look like, that’s your problem because I am definitely happy with myself and in my family good genes have always been about. M: I am healthy and still standing, even if I am currently sitting down you know what I mean. Yes I am happy with what I look like. What do you like the most about your body? M: I have a list! Where should I start from? I am only joking! I like my hair, actually I love my hair and my legs, for a short girl I think that I have nice legs. S: I like my face, the colour of my hair, my skin tone, the size of my breasts and my booty. What do you think is your biggest cause of your body image concerns? S: Concerns? Sorry I don’t have any! Next question please! M: I don’t have concerns either, I am way too busy to sit down and be depressed about something that I was born with. What do you think are the factors that may result to having low self esteem in relation to body image? S: Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, Tumblr are literally the devil. Social media is the devil. It’s understandable that people feel like s*it after seeing some of the things that people post. Guys will be like “this is what I want my girl to look like” and they’ll post a picture of a girl with perfect make up and a perfect body. See that stuff right there, will leave you there looking at yourself thinking that you need to look that way to be attractive. M: I wouldn’t know about social media but I think magazines and the media in general would make you doubt yourself and would lead into making comparisons. What would you tell girls that have low self-esteem in regards to body image? M: A beber y a tragar, que el mundo se va a acabar. ( drink, eat and be happy! S: Be grateful girls, YOLO! Even Drake said it and it’s true you do only live once, enjoy life!
MAMA KNOWS BEST.
CHARITY, 48 ALERUCHI, 20 Nigeria
Place of birth: C: Nigeria. A: Cardiff, Wales. Ethnicity: C: Black African. A: Black. How close do you think that you are to each other? C: I’d like to think that we are pretty close. A: Yeah we are close but not VERY close. C: I am definitely close to her than I am with her siblings. Do you think that you look alike? A: No C: No, she looks like her dad. Are you similar in any way? A: No, I don’t think we are. We are just different people but at the same time we click! We understand each other most of the times. C: I disagree. I think that we are similar, you are just in denial. You are probably saying that, because the truth is that nobody wants to look or be like their mothers. We click, as you said, because we think similarly and we are both caring and loving. How would you describe yourself ? C: I am medium height and medium sized. I have lovely dark skin and small eyes. A: Hmmm I do not know really. Not necessarily slim, slightly overweight. C: You are not overweight! A: Well maybe not overweight but my BMI is 22 and the healthy BMI is between 18 and 25 and I am right in the middle. How would you describe each other? A: Well she is a babe! (laughs). She is slightly overweight. I am slightly concerned about her as she is reaching that menopause stage and she has gained a lot of weight. She goes to WW (weight watchers) meetings but doesn’t even follow the plan that they gave her. Every time I say something she claims that she needs to eat because she is an African woman. C: I am an African woman and Africans love food. We enjoy life unlike you people over here that are always dieting. Aleruchi is tall like her dad and very slim. She has long legs and could be a model, her shape is enviable! Have you ever had a conversation about body image? C: I think we have. Nigerians discuss body opinions very freely, nobody would ever be scared to tell you if you have gained weight. It’s just normal for us to point it out. A: Yes we have. Every time we see each other and she says that I am getting too skinny and that I need to eat to have the energy to study. Do you think that it is important to discuss body image with your mum / daughter? C: Yeah I think so. I have always wanted my daughters to feel free to talk to me about anything. A: Yes but that won’t change my ideals in regards to body image, I am not really 29
influenced by what she says to me. I understand her opinion and I listen to it but I don’t necessarily follow her advise in regards to body image. Who do you usually discuss body image issues with? A: My older sister usually, who is also my best friend. I tell her everything! C: Not so much with her but I have with my other daughter, we talked about dieting when she was young. At the time I did not explain to her why I took her to see a dietician and I feel like I should have then. She was sick and I was told that being overweight would bring her heart problems. Prevention is better than care. It was not because she was fat, it was because of health. Do you feel that you have a different perception of beauty? A: Most definitely. First of all we come from different generations, we hang around different people and what she thinks is beautiful would just shock me if I knew the full details. For us is mainly about weight though, that’s all we ever discuss. C: Of course, it’s normal to have different views. I am not young like her anymore, we are exposed to different things on a daily basis because of our age difference. What is your idea of the perfect body? C: Healthy, no sickness, Not too big, not too slim. Medium. I don’t like tiny nor too big. A: Flat stomach and skinny legs. Do mothers influence the way daughters think about themselves? A: No, it would have been different if it was the other way around. For example, if I was overweight as she is and she was skinny, I would probably be like HOLD ON A MINUTE maybe she can help me to lose weight. C: Yes and no. As a mother you have to try your best to have a positive mind and to pass that onto your children but at the same time you don’t control their minds, so you can’t fully influence them. What characteristics, do you think, are seen as beautiful in your culture? C: In Nigeria, people do not appreciate skinny people. Probably only 5% of the population sees that as ideal. They tend to like big people. A: I can’t really say much about what is seen as beautiful In Nigeria because I have only been there once in my whole life but I guess that having a big bum and having curves are possibly seen as good things. Do you associate yourself with what is seen as beautiful in England or in your country of origin? A: That’s a hard one. I think that I don’t have a specific culture that I follow or go by. C: What do you mean? You are Nigerian! A: I didn’t say that I don’t acknowledge that, I am just saying that I mix cultures depending on what I agree on. For example here in England being slim and having a thigh gap is seen as ideal. I agree on that because that is what I aspire to be and have. However, that doesn’t stop me from appreciating a good voluptuous body. I like curvy bodies, I just wouldn’t want to look like that, I’d rather be slim. C: I am influenced by both in a way. In Nigeria they teach you that food is not the enemy but I also like England’s perception of beauty even though I do not want to be skinny. How important is your appearance to you? C: Very important, it is the frame of your personality.
A: It’s very important. I like looking and feeling glamorous. I only leave my house without make up when I am going to the gym, other than that I like looking presentable at all times. Do you feel pretty? A: No! C: Really? A: Yeah I just don’t! I wish I could change so many things about my body. C: This is what I mean! It makes me sad that she feels that way and this shows how mothers are not always responsible for the way their children feel. Are you satisfied by the way you look? C: Of course I am! Why should I not be? I look at myself in the mirror and I know that I am healthy. I am grateful for that. A: Not 100 %. What do you like the most about your body? C: My face because I am proud of what I look like and happy about what God gave me. A: That’s a nice question. Nothing,I sound like I hate myself but I don’t. Hmmm! Probably my nails. I used to like my legs when I didn’t think about losing weight and people used to call me Naomi Campbell in primary school. Well that’s changed! What do you think is your biggest cause of your body image concerns? A: I get paranoid about my thighs. I feel like they are so chunky. Every time I look at them I just get upset, all the fat that I have within me piles up on my thighs. C: I don’t have any concerns regarding my body but I could do with losing some weight but I don’t see it as a problem. What do you think are the factors that may result to having low self esteem in relation to body image? C: It all starts from within, if you are not happy with your personality, it will be shown through your body. People want to be like other people, they are missing the point. They should be content with the way God created them. They need to be happy. Michael Jackson was a pure example. Instead of being happy he decided to go to bleach his skin. A: So what would happen if I decided to bleach my skin? C: That would make me really upset because it means that you are not confident in your own body. I would advise you not to do it. I would explain why you shouldn’t and stress on the consequences. I will always give my advise, however, you are all grown therefore you can make your own choices. What would you tell girls that have low self-esteem in regards to body image? A: Seek out for help and I am sure that one day we will all get to that stage where we all love the way we look. Hopefully it’s soon. C: Be happy! God made you this way for a reason.
I CAN’T COMPLAIN WE CAN TALK BUT IT’S NOTHING SPECIAL. S.
ANTONIA, 45 FLORENCE, 19 Congo
Place of birth: A: Inongo, Congo. F: Camberwell, London. Ethnicity: A: Congolese. F: Black British. How close do you think you are to each other? F: Hmmm. Not so much we could do better. A: Just normal, we talk to each other but I wouldn’t say that we have a strong bond. Do you think you look alike? A: Yes, she’s just a mini me. F: Yeah, we get told all the time. Do you think you are similar in any way? A: The only similar thing between the two of us is our laugh. Other than that we have different personalities and like different things. F: Sometimes I get confused and feel like I am not her daughter. We look the same but we are totally different. She’s just boring and likes reading books at home in her gown while I like having fun and going out. How would you describe yourself ? F: I am dark skin, I am actually darker than all my friends and I used to get bullied about it at school. I have very curly hair, a small nose and I am overweight but I do have a nice bum. A: I am dark skin, I am fairly short and have a normal body shape, I would say? F: How does that even make sense? What’s normal? A: Alright, normal for a black person. I am curvy. How would you describe each other? A: She needs to lose some weight but other than that she is a pretty girl. F: How rude! This is exactly why I don’t like talking to her, can you hear what is coming out of her mouth? Anyway, she is short and has a typical Congolese hourglass shape. Have you ever had a conversation about body image? F: Well, every time she tells me to lose weight. It’s not really a conversation as I never reply, she basically talks to herself. A: I make sure I remind her that if she keeps on gaining weight she will face health problems, I don’t mean it in a rude way, it’s just because I care. That’s all. Do you think that it is important to discuss body image with your mum / daughter? A: Very important, they need to know if something is wrong with the way they look from the person that cares about them the most. F: I don’t see it as essential. I don’t like talking about it because it makes me uncomfortable and embarrassed. Who do you usually discuss body image issues with? A: My kids. Well maybe not so much with Florence, but with her siblings and also my sisters and my friends. F: With my friends but it’s not one of my favorite topics. Do you feel that you have a different perception of beauty? F: Hmmm (nods) 35
A: Yeah it’s normal. What is your idea of the perfect body? A: Not big but not too slim. A normal, healthy size with a bit of curves. F: Probably Kim Kardashian’s body. I think that she is stunning. A: She does have a good body but her bum cannot be real! Or is it? F: She said that it is, apparently. Do mothers influence the way daughters think about themselves? A: It should be that way. Daughters should look up to their mothers and take example from them. F: Well, I feel uncomfortable at times because my mum is always pointing out that I need to lose weight. I have learnt to live with it but you know if she stopped, I think that I would be happier. So I don’t think she really influences me. What characteristics, do you think, are seen as beautiful in your culture? A: Fair skin. Most of us Congolose people have very dark skin and you know what they say “ If you have something, you want the opposite” and that is the reason why so many bleach their skin. F: People from Congo like light skin, it’s actually ridiculous! We have family members that bleach their skin. There’s a way to spot out a bleacher, just look at their knuckles. If the knuckles are extremely dark then, there you go someone is guilty for doing something naughty. It’s so gross. Do you associate yourself with what is seen as beautiful in England or in your country of origin? F: UK all day every day A: Probably England’s. How important is your appearance to you? A: It’s a very important aspect of life. F: Not so much, depends on the day. Do you feel pretty? F: Occasionally A: Yes Are you satisfied by the way you look? F: No A: Yeah What do you like the most about your body? F: My skin tone. Do you know what? I got to a point when I was younger that I used to cry about it all the time, I wished to go to bed and wake up lighter, but now I wish I was darker. I love my skin and others are starting to like it too. Lupita changed people’s minds. A: I like my skin too, I take pride in being black and looking like the stereotypical African woman. What do you think is your biggest cause of your body image concerns? A: I am quite hairy. I am not exactly like a monkey but the hairs on my arms are a bit of an issue. F: My weight What do you think are the factors that may result to having low self esteem in relation to body image? F: Her! If she stopped talking about my weight we could perhaps have a better 36
relationship. I am trying to lose weight, it just takes time A: The media and being sorrounded by people that don’t have your best intentions.. What would you tell girls that have low self-esteem in regards to body image? A: If you can make a change and it would make you feel happy, go for it. F: Just don’t think too much about it, there are more serious things out there to worry about.
OUR RELATIONSHIP IS LIKE A RAINBOW, FULL OF LIFE BUT IT DOES HAVE AN ENDING. EACH COLOUR REPRESENTS AN EMOTION OR FEELING THAT WE HAVE EXPERIENCED TOGETHER. F.
I don’t think I have the best relationship with my parents and I mostly blame my inability to talk or confront people with my feelings. I know this now at 25 because I see how it affects my current relationships and how it ended previous relationships, all through out my life. I would always choose to ignore, or so I thought because honestly, I just bottled it up until I couldn’t take it anymore and walk away. Without explanations. It’s not healthy but I’m working on it, promise.
BEING THE FAT DAUGHTER
written by LUanne D’souza
I grew up with my size and weight always being a constant topic in our circle of family and friends. People were always talking about how ‘big’ I was and it wasn’t just me. My mom is fat and I’ve always heard my dad say things like, “look at your size!” or ” you’re like a sumo wrestler” My dad prides himself on his appearance and his ability to stay thin and is definetely anti- fat. I’ve heard them and many of their friends (and mine) talk about other people’s weight, calling plus size women at the beach “piglet” or making jokes about the size of a woman’s ass. I’ve seen my mom try to justify her figure, “I’m not fat, I only have a tummy” and as puberty hit, I’ve seen her pass on this line to me, along with “You’re not fat, you’re just big” or “You’re tall so you don’t look fat”. Haha, it’s almost funny because she’d also say things like “people must think you eat so much”. In short, I’ve grown up with fat = bad, ugly, to be made fun of and to make excuses for when picked on for it. I’ve always been subjected to fat hate from my parents, friends, etc knowingly or unknowingly. And I’m grateful for it because it’s made me the self acceptance blogger I am today. Now, I know my fear of bare arms is rooted to a nine year old me wearing a sleeveless pajama top and my dad saying I have such big arms, it looks so bad. I know I have my mom’s figure, especially our big tummies, and at twelve, she looked at me and said, “Don’t you think you have a big stomach for some one your age? You should really do something about it”. She passed on her secret of wearing corsets to me when I was 13. Do you know, I wore a corset everyday to school, from the 8th grade onwards right until college and work. There’s a long list of things which, as I grew older, I would think “what is wrong with my parents? You don’t do that to your kid” but now, NOW after one of the most epic moments in my life, I know it ultimately comes from a place of love and protection. They might not handle it in the best way but they were taught a different mentality about weight and thankfully, I am teaching myself to know better. As the date of my cousin’s wedding got closer, my parents put more and more pressure on me to lose weight. My dad even bought me a gym membership. It’s 41
always been a topic but I inherited both their stubborn genes and they mostly give up on me listening to them. However, with the wedding announcement, it was an even bigger and more urgent deal for me to become thin and “look my best”. We’re part of a culture that is heavily influenced by what will people think. I really wanted to be bridesmaid, it meant a lot to me but I was terrified of being the only fat bridesmaid and having to wear a strapless dress. I kept building myself up for it but having my parents encourage me not to do it because ‘it would look so odd’ and ‘you’re too fat for the dress’ was kind of the final straw. I just couldn’t do it. I wasn’t ready to risk becoming an emotional wreck and have all my insecurities come back just because of comments I expected other people to make on the FAT bridesmaid. I backed out thinking my parents would lay off the pressure and I would be able to look forward to the wedding and enjoy it without being overly stressed out. I backed out probably two weeks before the wedding even though my beautiful cousin was so supportive and encouraging after having explained my feelings to her. My self esteem had hit rock bottom. I was consciously skipping meals and obsessing about the wedding, my weight and everything my parents said to me. I’m so sorry to say this, but I even had a relapse. I’m tearing up as I write this here because I am so ashamed to admit this- I started purging my meals. I am sorry, words can’t express the sadness and shame I felt at those moments, I am supposed to inspire other women to love themselves but there I was on my bathroom floor, a hypocrite. I was miserable and back to feeling like my teenage self, crying on a bathroom floor, once again. I hope I don’t get corrected on this next line- I think I hid it well from everyone- the boy, my friends and even my family. I don’t like sharing the true extent of my weight issues with the people in my real life because it’s all too easy to be branded as crazy and hear “yuck” in response. Not everyone gets it, maybe you are unlucky enough to. After another visit where the topic revolved around my mom saying things like: “look at what you were and what you’ve become” and “ You’re just too fat” and receiving phone calls from my dad just to talk about my weight because I’ve got so much weight to lose (just in time for the wedding of course), I had had it. I stopped visiting and calling them. When they called, I kept it to monosyllables or sometimes, I didn’t even answer the phone. Bottled it up and walked away. Finally, my mom had enough of the silent treatment and called me to let me know she was deeply hurt by my recent behavior. That was my breaking point, I was angry, hurt, at rock bottom and in tears ( I really hate that I cry when I’m angry, it makes it so much harder to not feel weak or get my point across) and I reminded her of every single incident or remark from her that has hurt me with regards to my weight, all their words and the relentless nagging and pressure. Why would I want to visit my parents if it just leaves me fake smiling until I’m driving back to my house in tears? I told her about Weesha’s World ( my blog) and that while I get messages from strangers across the world on a daily basis, telling me I’m beauti 42
ful and that I inspire them, none of that matters when your own parents don’t think you’re good enough, you’re ugly and don’t seem to believe in you. I let it all out, the things I’ve been through, the issues I face, the things I’ve done to my body and how much I worked and currently work to move past all of it, to try my best to love myself. After initially denying words, to justifying them, and then tears with her bringing up ALL she’s done to raise me (lord, every confrontation with my mother results in a long list of sacrifices and no. of hours in labour) I calmed down and explained that this wasn’t me saying she does not love me. I explained that it is hard enough being fat, I’m reminded of it everyday when I’m in a mall, or look at family pictures, watch TV or even hang out with friends. But I need the two people, who I love the most in the world, to love and support me no matter what, if you’re concerned- don’t attack my looks or tell me what other people are saying about my weight. I explained my blog’s purpose, my purpose and how easily I can be destroyed with her unknowing remarks. I explained how I pride myself on being so much more than just fat or pretty but her words make it almost impossible for me to feel that way. It was a really long conversation and this post feels too long already, so in short- we were both in tears and my mom apologized to me. All she said was, “I’m sorry LuAnne, I never meant to hurt you and I love you”. I felt lighter after that conversation because I never ever thought I would have that conversation with my mom. Never. I always thought it would be too hard, too emotional and it would not change a thing. My mom still talks about my weight, she still wanted to know if I ever heard of something miraculous called Spanx or if my doctor’s visit resulted in him giving me a miracle weight loss drug. But now, she attempts to carefully frame her sentences or hilariously tries to correct herself when she thinks she has said something harsh. But it is a lot less, we can even have a conversation now without ever mentioning my weight (it’s a Christmas miracle!). I put up my brave face at the wedding, though I was always self conscious, I tried to focus on being who I wanted to be- Weesha. I wore my favourite outFits during the entire trip in India, I forced myself to pose for pictures and act like I wasn’t nervous about being the only fat one, I even stepped out of my comfort zone and wore a saree for one of the events. On the day of the wedding, I wore my amazing Monif C gown, I felt beautiful and I danced, laughed, posed for pictures and sometimes glanced wistfully at the bridesmaids. Yes, I received a lot of compliments in my saree and gown, I suppose it helped my case that a random family friend told my folks they had a beautiful daughter who looked like Kate Winslet lol ( it was an open bar, y’all. I laughed my ass off when I heard the Kate Winslet line, especially when this same friend later told me I look like Cate Blanchett ). But during this time, my mom was on my side and we were cheering each other on (against my dad’s negative comments sometimes) and I felt proud of myself. An uncle told me I’ve put on a lot of weight and I should go jogging or take walks, and usually I would let it hurt me and not respond. Instead, I said, “ my weight is none of your business, you’re bald but do I point it out and tell you to grow hair?”. 43
He shut up and my mom giggled about the whole thing. I haven’t been able to talk to my dad, I’m only just beginning to understand why he constantly picks on other people’s weight or why he makes fun of our weight in front of other people, it’s not bitchiness or spite like I thought it was. I really think it’s insecurity, maybe his slim Figure and looks are what make him feel better or maybe he thinks it’s all he has from his youth? I love my dad but I don’t think we’re ready for an epic moment similar to what my mom and I shared. I love that I feel closer to my mom, our relationship is a little more open and understanding on both sides. . I really hope my super long story makes you feel that maybe you too can have that talk with the people in your life. You’re going to have to use your own words, your own breaking point or your own moment of courage. And if you’you’ve already had this moment, please do tell. You can inspire me and others to have ‘The talk’ more often. Maybe I shouldn’t care so much about my parents approval or support. Maybe I’ll never reach that point of complete confidence & self acceptance. At the end of the day, especially since I’m an only child, I think people will be in and out of my life but nobody will love me as much as my parents and they’re an important part of my roller-coaster. I’m only just realizing that I can choose to make them a part of my ups or downs I know how fragile I can be. And now you know that my confidence isn’t always genuine, but we all know I am never giving up.
NO MATTER HOW ANGRY I AM AT HER, I COULD NEVER HATE HER. V.
NANA 48 RHODA, 19 Ghana
Place of birth: N: Accra, Ghana R: London, England Ethnicity: N: Ghanaian R: Black African How close do you think you are to each other? R: We are not close at all. We are too different, it’s like she doesn’t get me. N: Rhoda is very much of a rebel. She doesn’t like talking to me without having that teenager attitude of hers. It will go away soon, I am just waiting for her to be mature. R: Mature? Oh really? You always talk to me as if I am a child. Do you think you look alike? R: I look like dad. So, no! N: No we don’t look alike at all but I think she’s got the same body shape as me when I was younger. Do you think you are similar in any way? N: Not at all. R: Thank God we are not. How would you describe yourself ? N: I am strict but easy going at the same time. I allow my kids to be themselves. Physically wise, I am quite short and my body size is medium. I have full lips and hips. R: I like having fun and I am easy going. How about physically? R: I am slim but I have been told that I have a hourglass figure and quite a large bum. How would you describe each other? R: My mum is very strict, I usually go to my dad when I have to ask for permission about something. She’s short and has a nice body shape N: Rhoda is the baby of the family, so she gets away with lots of things. She has a great body shape and nice facial features. Have you ever had a conversation about body image? N: We’ve never sat down to talk about it. I do tell her to eat more so she won’t become too skinny. She’s always on the go and sometimes I am not too sure about whether she eats or not. R: Not really. We talk about being healthy and she tells me not to eat too many sweets and all of that. Do you think that it is important to discuss body image with your mum-daughter? N: I believe so. R: Not really, as long as you talk about it with somebody. Who do you usually discuss body image issues with? R: My friends most of the times N: My friends and my colleagues at work. We always say that we shouldn’t eat biscuits at the office but always scoff our faces and complain a few hours later about 49
gaining weight. Do you feel that you have a different perception of beauty? R: Yeah. N: There is a possibility that we might have. What is your idea of the perfect body? R: Big bum, flat stomach and accentuated hips. N: Just a healthy looking body, I suppose. Do mothers influence the way daughters think about themselves? N: Maybe when they are young but as soon as they start going out with friends, they will be influenced by other things. R: No. What characteristics, do you think, are seen as beautiful in your culture N: In the Ghanaian culture men like Bebia sosos ( large women) or just big behinds. R: I would say big bums too, I feel like all Ghanaians have big bums, it’s our signature body feature. Do you associate yourself with what is seen as beautiful in England or in your country of origin? R: It’s a bit mixed. In terms of body shape I definitely prefer what is seen as beautiful in Ghana minus having a big belly. However, in terms of hair and make up I am more influenced by the Western culture. N: Ghanaian. Our culture allows us to feel relaxed about out body. No pressures! How important is your appearance to you? N: I would say out of 10, probably 8. I don’t go to out of my way. R: Very. I think people judge you on what you look like. I have heard girls talking about other girl’s hair extensions, saying stuff like “ Have you seen the state of her hair?” and judging her because of what her hair looks like. Everyone looks at each other that’s why we have eyes, so making an effort is important, not just for others but for yourself too. Do you feel pretty? R: Sometimes, it depends on the day, what I am wearing, what my make up looks like and my mood. N: Yes. Are you satisfied by the way you look? R: I am 95 % happy about how I look N: Yes, I am. What do you like the most about your body? R: I love my bum, I get a lot of attention from it. N: Oh I see! R: Not just from guys, girls ask me for workout routines. I don’t even exercise. N: I like my arms, I think they are just right. I have no bingo wings and I feel like all women of my age have them. I am blessed in that sense. What do you think is your biggest cause of your body image concerns? R: I could do with a flatter stomach but no biggie! I don’t mind it that much. I also wished my hair was not as picky and more manageable. What do you think are the factors that may result to having low self esteem in relation to body image? R: Instagram is the new one. Everyone is on it and whoever gets the most likes is
also the prettiest. It’s become like a competition. N: It may sound silly but fashion is very dangerous. The way designers make their clothes make you think that you have to be very skinny to look nice. They will make you forget that there are other options on the high street for people that don’t look like sticks. What would you tell girls that have low self-esteem in regards to body image? N: There is so much help out there for young people with any type of problem, just reach out to the right people. R: If you have good friends talk to them. They will help you out! If not talk to someone who could give you advise.
ANNETTE, 45 TANISHA, 21 Jamaica
Place of birth: T: London. A: Kingston, Jamaica. Ethnicity: T: I am black. A: Black by race. How close do you think you are to each other? T: I think we are quite close. We can discuss almost anything, all issues really. We work as a team! My mum is not easy because she is Jamaican. A: What do you mean? T: All Jamaicans are hard work. A: Mothers in general are not easy. Hmmm how close are we? I don’t know, I hardly see her nowadays. We are quite close though . Do you think you look alike? T: Funny how my friend told me that we look so much alike. My friend told me that we just sound alike. To be honest, I am your daughter who else am I supposed to sound like? Lately as I have had Tyler everyone says that we look like. It has to be a mother thing. A: I don’ t know if I should be flattered or not. I don’t see it but maybe we do.There’s a slight resemblance but not quite. T: Yeah but do you remember the pictures from the 90s that you showed me? You had the same haircut and you even posed like I do now. Do you think you are similar in any way? T: Well you raised me so I would say yes! Even the way I talk, I have learnt it from you. A: Yeah, our tone of voice and the way we put our words together are very similar T: Even the body shape is similar. It’s only that you are short and I am not A: Your limbs are longer. T: Yeah obviously, that’s because I am taller. You also have no breasts and I don’t either. A: Don’t blame that on me. That comes from nanny, it’s a generation thing. T: Actually we are similar, we have similar hobbies and enjoy doing similar things like dancing and partying. How would you describe yourself ? T: I would say that I am beautiful, actually let me not exaggerate. I am of average height. I am more than average in terms of looks, but comparing to what is out there I don’t think I am the best. A: Don’t be silly! T: It’s true! I also have broad shoulders, saggy skin. I have a lot of skin from when Tayler was born. A: You have nice skin and nice hair! T: My hair is not nice. A: Your hair is nice and so long. T: It’s not anymore, I regret cutting my hair. My hair is growing again so I can’t talk. A: She looks slightly more European than anyone else in the family. 53
If she goes to a job interview she will get the job just because she doesn’t look black and employers can relate to mix race people more than they can to black people. T: Speaking of that there was a survey about the chances of a white person getting a job and they were definitely higher than a black person. That’s scary and also the reason why I never tick black on application forms. Always go for ‘Other’. A: Do you really? T: Yes, one time I told them that I was half Chinese and guess what I got the job. A: Anyway back to the question...I am a very happy person, I can be a talker and I can be laid back and humble at times. I am quite polite but I can get upset. I have patience, after having 7 kids you have to have patience. I know how to control myself. What about physically? A: A little overweight, once my tummy is flat and my arms and legs are toned, I’ll be fine. However, I quite like having that extra bit of fat. How would you describe each other? T: She’s powerful, strong will and quite determined. She has nice bum, nice thighs, nice skin but she has no breasts (laughs). A: She is a bit determined. If she believes in something she will easily get it. She’s very caring minded but she can get a bit miserable at times. T: Miserable? A: She is not a morning person. She is a sleeper! T: So are you, though. A: I am a morning person though, I get what I need to get done and then sleep. You are just the opposite. However, lately because she’s had a child she’s got it together. What about physically? A: She’s tall, slender and very pretty Have you ever had a conversation about body image? T: We do it all the time actually. A: All the time! We talk about being fat, having a big bum, a big nose. T: We talk about everything. A: We do it as fun. We don’t take it too seriously. We talk about toes all the time. T: She has very big toes! Do you think that it is important to discuss body image with your mum/ daughter? A: Yes, it is important because when you discuss these things at home you tend to accept yourself more. If someone teases you it doesn’t affect you as much because you are used to it and you can laugh about it. I get teased about my feet in this house and I have learnt to accept it. I know that I have big feet so I just go out and look for big shoes. T: Yeah, I mean your first place of learning is at home. If you are not taught about it in your house where else would you learn it from? A: In Jamaica we say “Dance at yard before you dance abroad” which I interpret it as “You learn at home before you go out there”, It’s like before you go to a party when you practice in front of the mirror so you won’t be an embarrassment in front of everybody when you are there.
T: I mean your mum is your role model and she wants the best for you, even if you think about going to your first rave it’s your mum that tells you that your skirt is too short. She is the one that makes you think that maybe your skirt IS too short and that whole argument before you get changed teaches you a little something, even if you don’t realise immediately. Who do you usually discuss body image issues with? T: Mainly my friends but secondly my mum. You can’t compare the two, my mum is from a different generation and I seek approval from her, while when I talk about body image with my friends I am probably seeking acceptance. A: I talk with my friends but it’s important that I talk with my family about it. They are the only ones who will accept me in whatever condition I am in, they will give advice if something needs to change. I have some friends that would tell me anything that they think is acceptable to say but my daughters will always tell me the truth. T: Like that time you wore that hideous skirt. (laughs). Do you feel that you have a different perception of beauty? T: I don’t think so. A: I think we do. T: Well for me, first of all I don’t think that beauty is make up related or even face or body related. I appreciate someone who has nice skin and hair or even dresses nicely but I look at the whole package before I say “ Oh! She is beautiful.” A: My turn? I accept everyone. If I see someone beautiful it doesn’t matter what colour they are, I will comment on it. T: Beauty is definitely not a colour. A:That’s right! It’s about the way people put themselves together. I don’t really know how to explain it. What is your idea of the perfect body? T: 5ft9 - 5ft8. C cup breast, flat stomach, hips, size 8/ 10, high bum and juicy thighs. A: That’s very specific, Tanisha! T: I know but oh well! Teyana Taylor, she has abs and not much of a bum but her body is phenomenal. A: There are plenty of nice bodies out there but none are perfect. My idea of the perfect body is a body that is toned. We are all different shapes and sizes, it’s about how we look after ourselves. It’s hard to get there, especially if you think about all the food that is available for us. I wouldn’t put height into this topic at all. Do mothers influence the way daughters think about themselves? T: Yeah, because the first things you learn about life are learnt at home. I think that if a girl hates herself because she is fat it’s the mum’s fault! Think about it! Your mum is the one that feeds you what you eat and she has a lot to do with how you gain weight. A: Not necessary. Your sister, for example, eats whenever she wants. I am not always there to feed her, I would not take the blame for her weight gain.
T: But you are the one that buys food in the house, she eats what’s available to her. A: How about when she is at school? She picks whatever she wants, I am not there at all times. I encourage all of you to eat properly as a parent but you all have your own ideas about what is good and what is not. At the same time I don’t want any of you to think that you should feel insecure if you have extra meat around your body. What characteristics, do you think, are seen as beautiful in your culture? A: In Jamaica they see voluptuousness as ideal and being slim is seen as negative. They think that if you are slim you are most probably ill too, secondly they focus on the skin tone a lot. T: Jamaicans have really good skin, blacks in general do. There are girls in Jamaica that look so ghetto but they have the most beautiful skin ever. They would have blemishes but they are not as visible as ours and they don’t even wear foundation like we do, here. A: They do have beautiful skin but most of them, lighten their skin and mess it up. T: I was talking about those who don’t. The ones that have that amazing chocolate skin. A: Although the ‘ lighter the better’ culture is slightly dying out in Jamaica and the educated ones don’t care about skin anymore, however, being called a ‘brownin’ (Light skin person) is still taken as a compliment. T: I just don’t understand why you would want to be light skin. I am light skin and I am not saying that I don’t like my skin colour but I am always patchy and I hate it, it wouldn’t happen to someone who has that lovely velvety smooth dark skin. A: People should just be happy with what they have. It’s black by race and not by shade. Can you associate yourself with what is seen as beautiful in England or in your country of origin? T: Both. I think it depends on what the media feeds us. For example the media in England glorifies straight hair and guess what? I have relaxed hair because I want my hair to be straight. A: You would fit in with the Jamaican culture too, for your complexion and shape, as well as your features. I used to relax my hair too and I got tired of looking European. A lot of people respect me more now that I have natural hair. I spent a lot of money on products that damaged my scalp and my hair, all for trying to look white?Really? Why do girls do it? A: On the other hand, I associate myself with the world. I see myself as nice because I like myself. I don’t get influenced by what other people want me to look like anymore. T: So eccentric! How important is your appearance to you? T: Well it is, I don’t wanna sell nobody dreams ( I don’t look perfect at all times) but I can go outside without make up, just never without eyebrows drawn on. A: It’s important to put yourself together as long as you are happy! T: Eccentricity at its best!
A: What? I don’t have to get approval from anyone. Do you feel pretty? T: I look good when I look in the mirror. Yes, of course why not? A: Yes I feel pretty. Beauty is the eyes of the beholder, as long as you feel good with yourself, as far as I am concerned you are pretty. I went to the market the other day and I was wearing my pink see-through top T: Oh Lord! Really? A: Yeah and my black jacket, I looked good I must say. But anyway there was a man that was standing there just looking at me, he came up to me and he said that I looked beautiful, I said thank you and left. Now! There was nothing special about what I was wearing, I just looked comfortable and I guess he saw that and decided to come to tell me. If you feel pretty you’ll look pretty ! The majority of the women out there have something nice about them, they are just insecure or they just don’t know that they have it. We are all attractive in a way. We need to embrace who we are and realise that the way they were made is whatever sets them apart from other people. T: There’s a difference between pretty and attractive, though! Princess Diana, for example. I don’t think she was attractive, her features weren’t that great and easy in the eyes but if you look at her pictures, there is something about her that draws you in. She was pretty ! Are you satisfied by the way you look? T: I would say that I am 90% satisfied. The last 10% is half for my hair and the other half for my belly. If I could change those things I would be 100% satisfied. I can live with the rest of my imperfections but those two things really annoy me about my body. A: I am not happy with my weight, if I’d lost weight I would be 100% happy. I don’t wanna change myself, this is the way I was born. Would you have surgery If you could? T: No, I wouldn’t, I don’t have the guts to do it A: If I has surgery that would mean that I am trying to change myself. So no, I wouldn’t. I would go down that way only for medical reasons. What do you like the most about your body? T: I can’t pick out one. I do like my skin but it is oily at times. A: Oily skin is what keeps you looking young, when you get to my age you’ll know what I am talking about. T: I, also, like the bone structure of my face and my cheekbones. I like the way it’s set. My face is not too long and not too round A: I love everything, I like me. I have lots of nice stuff and if people can’t see them, well it’s their problem! What do you think are the factors that may result to having low self esteem in relation to body image? T: Definitely the media and if your peers and family are not supportive. We are constantly fed information and images of celebrities’ bodies in magazines and we can’t help to compare ourselves. Oh! also the new one is Instagram, everybody on there seems to have nice flat stomachs and big bums. Everyone is perfect on there, apparently. I read a story a while back about Kate Winslet who was complimented by every
one on the red carpet for looking great a few weeks after she had given birth. She told people that it was not normal to look that way and that she felt pressurised to lose the weight. Isn’t that crazy? A: Social media, I guess. I was dragged into Facebook, I still have it but I don’t check it. There have been a lot of youngsters that have killed themselves for the nasty comments that they receive on social media. It’s scary that they can be affected by people who hide behind a keyboard but I guess this is today’s society. What would you tell girls that have low self-esteem in regards to body image? T: I would say that you need to speak to your mums, peers etc. turn off the tv, delete your instagram and start loving yourself . You are healthy, you need to start living your life and enjoy your teen years. Learn to love yourself, I, myself, felt like I was too slim and that my head was too big when I was at school but I have started accepting myself and look at me! I am still happy! A: Speak to your family first, look after yourself. You can’t please everyone. Who cares about what others think? They are not you.
WE ARE CLOSE AND UNDER� STANDING.
ANNE, 51 LIZZY, 23 England
Place of birth: A:Oxford, UK. L: Lewisham, UK. Ethnicity: A: Caucasian. L: White. How close do you think you are to each other? A: Too close! We both have similar temperaments. L: We are very close and it has always been like that. I think it‘s because we don’t really stay angry at each other or even at people in general. Do you think you look alike? A: No. L: No (laughs) I look more like dad. A: Yes, possibly. Do you think you are similar in any way? L: I think we are, but she’s more sensible. A: We have similar personalities. We are both quite easy-going and have a similar sense of humor. Lizzy is more up front than I am. L: What do you mean by more upfront? A: You confront people more than I do. You are more head-on than I would be. I wouldn’t say that we are similar in all ways. I see certain aspects of me in Lizzy but different ones in my son, Rory. How would you describe yourself ? L:Tall, Blonde and white. A: I am of small build. I don’t know why people tell me that I am tiny but I am not. L: Ermm. Yes you are. A: Am I ? Oh well! I have quite a boyish figure. When I was younger people always thought that I was a boy but it didn’t offend me. Physically I look younger than I am but I don’t think I look young in the face anymore. How would you describe each other? L: Short with brown hair, blue eyes and rabbit teeth. A: Lizzy is tall,. she is a beautiful daughter and has good shape. Her proportions are just right. However, she wears way too much foundation. I don’t understand this foundation thing that girls wear. It’s meant to make you look flawless but I think that foundation takes away your character. Have you ever had a conversation about body image? L: After I had a child my mum told me that I had back rolls and that it was not a good look. She said something like “ Your fat hangs down your bra straps.” I wasn’t bothered by what she says because I knew I was fat. I mean I had just had a child! A: Oh! ops did I say that? L: Yes, you did! A: But, I don’t usually comment on your weight. L: Yeah, that’s true! She usually says that something is too tight instead of saying 63
that I am fat. Do you think that it is important to discuss body image? A: It is not important to talk about it just between mothers and daughters. I think people should discuss it with friends and family. L: Yeah, why not? Do you feel that you have a different perception of beauty? L: I think it’s very similar. A: We dislike and pretty much like the obvious. What is your idea of the perfect body? L: I like athletic bodies, toned and fit but not like muscle women. Oh and big bums! A: There is no perfect body but our perception changes with age. When people get older they look better with more flesh. There are these women that go to Selfridges and have no flesh on them and their faces are just tight. They just look horrible. If I had to define my idea of the perfect body I would probably say athletic but still feminine. Perfection is when people look healthy. L: There is this girl that comes to the gym where I work that has a stunning body. Everyone just looks at her when she works out. She looks toned and tight and that is what I like. Nobody likes being skinny anymore. Do mothers influence the way daughters think about themselves? L: Yes, because of you. I can laugh at myself. A: Yes, that’s because I taught you how to be confident, strong and independent. To be honest there are a lot of independent women in our family. L: That’s true! A: I have always been very conscious. I have been trying to get this balance between being able to enjoy food and not having a complex in the house. We all enjoy food and we have a good relationship with food. L: Yeah, we enjoy it and know when to stop. We don’t over eat!. A: I have never made a big fuss about food even when you were little. I always say, If you want to eat just eat, if you don’t just don’t! We have a good relationship with food. We like eating good food. L : When Rory and I were growing up, we only got taken to McDonalds once or twice and we were only allowed to have Coca cola when we went out for a meal. A: I have always been trying to get everyone to eat well. L: I have a bottle of Diet coke in my bag (laughs) A: Oh God! You know I don’t like when you drink that filthy drink! L: Relax! I haven’t opened it yet ( laughs) What characteristics, do you think, are seen as beautiful in your culture? A: There seems to be a lot of younger women that think that being thin connotes to being beautiful. When you live in a multicultural community you are more likely to see different aspects and perhaps think that being thin is not everything. However, from what I hear at work the second generation of immigrants are now more influenced by England’s culture and by living here they have changed their perception and sometimes aspire to be skinny which could be so different to what people aspire to in their country of origin. L: Recently there is an obsession with the bum. I mean everyone squats now. I
think it’s more related to living in London and being exposed to American people and the HipHop culture, though. How important is your appearance to you? L: It is not as important now that I’ve had a child. Mainly because I don’t have the time. A: I have never wore make up. I like the idea of looking good but it’s more about the practicality. I wouldn’t even wear make up if I had somebody to put it on for me every day. The women’s in my husbands family they are all about appearance. God! They must think that I make no effort at all. It really doesn’t bother me. (shrugs) Do you feel pretty? L:Yes A:Yes Are you satisfied by the way you look? L: On a scale from 1 to 10, I would say 8/ 9. A: 8. Actually, I am getting older now so, let me scroll down a bit. So it’s a 7 for me. What do you like the most about your body? L: I like my butt and my eyes.Actually I love my butt. A: my shoulders, I have quite broad shoulders I don’t like having broad shoulders, you can’t wear nice dresses Yes but you can wear other things like strapless shirts. What do you think is your biggest cause of your body image concerns? A: I never used to like my lower part of my body but I wouldn’t change it. L: I don’t like my boobs to be fair. One is bigger than the other. Do you remember when I told you that I wanted to get a boob job, mum? A: Yes, I remember that L: I wasn’t really gonna get my breasts done, I was just trying to wind you up. What do you think are the factors that may result to having low self esteem in relation to body image? L: The media doesn’t affect me at all. I think the main cause of insecurities are created by partners. Having someone that you thought liked you for who you are and after a while claims that you need to change. See that would make you hate myself. A: It’s probably things like magazines. L: Girls want bodies that are not physically possible. A: Magazines show you how great or how awful celebrities look. There is never an in-between stage. L: Women don’t realize is that you don’t have the time and money to get to that celebrity stage. A: Models on the catwalk, could also be something that women aspire to look like. If you are naturally skinny, it’s fine but some people would actually starve themselves. L: Most men don’t even like skinny women. A: Models have no shape and their legs just look like sticks. L: (They are) Just clothes’ hangers. They look abnormal. A: Shops and fashion labels could also influence the way girls seem themselves.
Some of the stores don’t store bigger than a size 14 for other people. L: Do you remember when we went to Belstaff. Now that was an issue. A lot of designers don’t go up to big sizes. They’ve started to realise that the most important thing is to be active. you can be thin and unhealthy. if you are healthy you get all the good factors. The emphasis should be on being healthy rather than the size. What would you tell girls that have low self-esteem in regards to body image? L: The problem is not people. You need to find a way of trying to change the way you feel about your body instead of changing your body. A: I heard this woman, she was probably in her 40s and she suddenly realised how much time she wasted saying I can’t wear that until I am thin or blah blah. So, think you don’t want to be like her, just focus on the positive things in your life.
I DON’T KNOW WHAT I WOULD DO WITHOUT HER. G.
CECILIA, 41 CHANTELLE, 17 FRANCE
Place of birth: C: Grasse, South of France. C: Surrey, England. Ethnicity: C: Caucasian French. C: I just usually say White European. How close do you think you are to each other? C: We are pretty close. C: We are very close, I love our relationship. When people say that they hate their mums I never understand why. Do you think you look alike? C: We have the same eyes, hair and we are the same height. C: I’m glad that I look like her because I’ve always thought that she is hot. Do you think you are similar in any way? C: Yeah we are both relaxed and enjoy having a laugh. C: Of course our names start with the same letter, how could we not be similar? How would you describe yourself ? C: I am just an average looking brunette with blue eyes. C: Average? There is nothing average about you! You are beautiful C: See, how can you not love her? She makes you feel good about yourself at all times. C: (Laughs) I am medium 165cm tall, rather slim and I have long wavy hair. How would you describe each other? C: Elle est très belle! She is beautiful I wouldn’t be able to say anything else C: My mum is a cool and gorgeous woman. Have you ever had a conversation about body image? C: Hmmm where should I start? We have had a lot of conversations about body image since I have become a teenager. C: We go to the gym together and when we are there is inevitable to talk about it. We do but not too much. I wouldn’t want Chantelle to start thinking about body image too much again. Do you think that it is important to discuss body image with your mum daughter? C: I didn’t think it was important until I was diagnosed with anorexia 2 years ago. If it wasn’t for her support I would have never recovered. I mean she’s just the best. C: Definitely, I wouldn’t want anyone to go through what we went through 2 years ago. Imagine if we were not close, it would have been a nightmare to fight that horrible disease. Who do you usually discuss body image issues with? C: Mainly with her, if not with my friends but I find it easier to speak to mum about it, because she knows exactly what to say to comfort me. C: With her or with my husband. You’d be surprised but some men are good at giving advice. Do you feel that you have a different perception of beauty? C: I think it’s very similar now. C: Yeah very very similar. 71
What is your idea of the perfect body? C: At the back of my mind I do, sometimes, think that to have the perfect body you have to be skinny but most of the times I am thinking that feeling healthy and looking healthy is important. C: Just a healthy body. I never think about a specific size or a specific weight. Do mothers influence the way daughters think about themselves? C: To a certain extent yes and very easily. If you are not happy with yourself you could easily pass it onto them. However, in our case I think she was being influenced by other things. C: Back then not really. My mum has always been very comfortable in her own skin but I was too busy comparing myself to others to notice. Now, I think that she influences me to be happy with myself and to be grateful for being alive and for having nice people around me. What characteristics, do you think, are seen as beautiful in your culture? C: In France people are very very thin especially in the big cities like Paris. Some are naturally slim but some go out of their way to fit into the designer clothes which are always very small. C: Probably thinness. I don’t know really Do you associate yourself with what is seen as beautiful in England or in your country of origin? C: A few years ago I would have probably said France but I quite like how people in England are more healthy looking and do like food and don’t regret it too much. So I would say both C: I will always be French but I don’t necessarily agree with eveything about France. They put way too much pressure on girls to look a certain way. Don’t get me wrong they do the same thing here, but I believe that English people are less strict about body image. How important is your appearance to you? C: Probably 80 % C: I think it’s important. Yeah, definitely! Do you feel pretty? C: Yeah. C: Now I do, yeah why not!? I think that feeling pretty has something to do with your mood as well. If you are happy in general about life, you feel buff ( pretty) too. Are you satisfied by the way you look? C: I am. I could make few changes but I am not too bothered about it and I am scared of surgery. C: Nobody is 100% happy about the way they look. sometimes, I wish I never had to go to the gym to maintain my weight but exercise is good for the soul too. I can’t complain. What do you like the most about your body? C: I like my stomach and my eyes. C: My legs, my thighs, my eyes and I do have pretty good nails too. What do you think is your biggest cause of your body image concerns? C: Probably my skin. I am getting older and wrinkles are slowly taking over. C: Ermmm. I don’t know. I am still a bit scared of gaining weight but it’s not as bad as it used to be. I think everyone is scared of gaining weight, anyway.
What do you think are the factors that may result to having low self esteem in relation to body image? C: The are lots of things out there that make you think that you don’t look right. For me it was school, one time at school during P.E someone mentioned that my thighs were rather chunky. That comment literally changed my life, I didn’t want to look chunky, so I started eating less or pretending to have eaten and counting calories until it became an obsession. The rest of the story is history. C: I think peers have a huge influence and girls could be very dangerous when put together especially during the teen years. Chantelle never had chunky legs and I can’t believe that someone pointed it out. It is completely out of order and it just shows how jealous girls could create an issue when there isn’t one. What would you tell girls that have low self-esteem in regards to body image? C: TALK TO YOUR MUM NOW!! Go for a coffee and just talk, tell her everything C: You need to start talking about how you feel and stop comparing yourself with others.
MY MUM IS ONE OF THE MOST ANNOYING PEOPLE THAT I KNOW BUT ALSO THE ONE THAT I LOVE THE MOST.
I come from a fairly stereotypical British, Caucasian family. I live at home with my family of five, three children, I’m the eldest at 17 and my sister is the youngest at nine. My parents met when they were in their teens, and by the time my mother was 20, along I came (by accident of course). Having a younger mother has a lot of perks, we are ridiculously close, I could tell her absolutely anything and I adore that. I aspire to be as close to my children when I am older (a lot older than twenty, I hope). I think diets, body image and everything under that concept is a widely talked about topic in many households, especially in Britain, so of course that comes up a lot in conversation with my mum. Every single magazine on the shelf contains diet plans, fitness tips and many other objectifying and sometimes rude comments towards women. But we still strive towards that idealised, desirable body. I digress; I would usually say my mother was just any typical looking mum. But when you see the facts, maybe she isn’t. The average height of a woman in England is 5ft 3”, whereas my mum stands at 5ft 8”. I followed her footsteps and I’m a slightly skinny, long legged 5ft 8” 17 year old with ginger hair and freckles, doesn’t that paint a hilarious picture.
TOO TALL...SO WHAT? Written by Ashleigh Kybert
Where me and my mum are of a similar age than other mums and daughters (I have sixteen year old friends with 55 year old parents). I find that our views are a lot more similar, we are of linked generations, both accepting the same things rather than contrasting against each other. I have found us discussing body image a lot. We both come from a generation where to become desirable, you must have that perfect body we see on television or in the magazines. But my mum struggles with her weight and I help her through that. She’s not obese by any means, she’s just around 11 stone. But being close to me, where I am just 8 and a half stone I think it can have a negative affect on her. She wants to be young again, and to be able to steal my clothes like I do to her a lot! But I hate how obviously affected every teenage girl is with their body, because I’ll admit it, I went through a stage where I was convinced I had Body Dysmorphia, which I feel that so many girls must have. I don’t see myself as ‘stick thin’ but when I get those comments, I don’t know whether to take them as a compliment or an insult which clearly doesn’t help. People make remarks along the lines of ‘wow you must hardly eat a thing!’ and I’m meant to laugh, but you would never go up to an overweight person and say ‘you must eat far too much’. This is where so many different generations’ views on weight, height and all things body related is just a little messed up. However, I’ve learnt through maturing, and having a very supportive mother that I shouldn’t hate my body. I’m blessed to be able to eat whatever I want and still stay thin, to be able to wear tight jeans and not worry about my lumps and bumps. I should love my body, and if I want to change it, then work for it! But the main worry between me and my mother was never our weight, sure, we did worry about it and discuss it together. But our height is actually more important. Tall women seem to have a very derogatory stigma attached! I know 5’8’’ isn’t that tall, but it’s taller than a lot of people. My mum cannot wear high heels on a night out, as she’ll be taller than my dad. I also, cannot wear heels that often as I’m already taller than my friends! A few years ago, you could
make a horrible comment about my height and I would be reduced to tears. But yet again, with help from everyone being lovely, I don’t care anymore! About a year or two ago, I found myself sat up in bed at 2am staring at my twitter interactions. There, I found about 5 abusive messages from a couple of boys that I knew fairly well. They were older than me, and I would call them acquaintances. However, one of them was particularly short (about 5’6’’) and thought it would be absolutely hilarious to get everyone involved insulting me and making remarks about my height. These involved comparing me to the local monument in our town, saying I was probably bigger than it. It seems so trivial now, but back then I couldn’t think of anything worse. Some people may hide that from their parents, but I did go to my mum the morning after it happened. I didn’t tell her everything, I didn’t want her checking up on my twitter and protecting me, I could do that myself. But she knew the comments got me down, so, like all mums, she gave me a wonderful talk on it and I was fine again, I realised that being a little taller than some other people was not a big deal at all. Before, I was insecure, struggling with accepting that I was a little taller and skinnier than everyone (with no boobs at all!). Nowadays I am fine, a few people have caught up with me height wise and I like my height, it means I never have to ask people to help me reach something in a supermarket. My parents even join in now calling me the names, because they know I find it funny and shrug it off, it’s nice to have a relationship like that with them. Oh, and you know what? I DO wear high heels out now.
I DON’ T SEE HER AS MY MOTHER. SHE IS MORE OF AN OLDER SISTER FOR ME.
Tania, 49 VALENTINA, 20 Italy
Place of birth: T: Milan, Italy V: Varese, Italy Ethnicity: T: Italian V: Italian How close do you think you are to each other? V: We have always been very close. T: Yes we are close even though she’s moved out for uni and left me alone with her dad. BORING! Do you think you look alike? V: Yeah, pretty much. Same nose, same eyes, same hair colour and same chin T: Yes we do indeed. I think Valentina has said enough. Do you think you are similar in any way? T: Hmm no. I am very outspoken and chatty while Valentina is quiet and shy. I wonder where she got that from, definitely not me V: Yeah I am the shy one. How would you describe yourself ? V: Tall and slim. T: Tall and slim-ish. I used to be but you know I have been trying to shift the Christmas weight for the last two years. (Both laugh) How would you describe each other? V: Mum is pretty. I don’t think she’s overweight. I think she looks great in her body. T: She’s slim and gorgeous Have you ever had a conversation about body image? T: Usually when we go shopping. You know when you try on things, it’s typical to talk about it, especially if something doesn’t fit. V: I don’t think we ever sat down to talk about it, it just comes up in a conversation randomly. Do you think that it is important to discuss body image with your mum / daughter? V:Uh uh (nods) T: Of course. You should be comfortable in talking to your mother about anything. Who do you usually discuss body image issues with? V: My best friend and my cousins. T: My sisters and friends. Do you feel that you have a different perception of beauty? T: Do we. I don’t know. Our ideas are changing all the time. V: Maybe I wouldn’t know. I am obsessed with Millie Mackintosh at the moment. I think that she looks great. Do you know who that is? T: She is beautiful! Of course I do, isn’t she the one from The Only Way is Essex? V: (Laughs) Noooo! the one from Made in Chelsea. T: I can’t keep up with all these TV shows. If Valentina thinks that she is pretty. I 83
am sure that she is. What is your idea of the perfect body? V: Flat stomach, thigh gap, medium sized breasts and small feet T: Slim and toned Do mothers influence the way daughters think about themselves? V: A little bit, but we also have minds of our own. T: Secretly we do. You have to be very careful about the way you act or even talk when your daughter is around because they could quickly pick up something and turn it into a habit. I stopped smoking when she was around three and I didn’t want her to have memories of me puffing a cigarette. What characteristics, do you think, are seen as beautiful in your culture? T: Italians love slim women with long legs. Literally almost everyone that I know goes to the gym and at least once a year they are on some sort of salad diet. Ohh! And they like big breasts V: Hmmm. The mediterranean look, dark hair and dark eyes. T: But we do have a mixture of people in Italy and we welcome everybody we are don’t discriminate. Do you associate yourself with what is seen as beautiful in England or in your country of origin? V: I don’t associate myself with anything. If I like something I just like it. T: I am the same way too. How important is your appearance to you? T: Quite important. That must be a cultural thing because all Italians like looking good. V: Very important! Do you feel pretty and are you satisfied by the way you look? V: Yeah. People in England make me feel pretty, they always tell me that I look exotic and beautiful. Must be my olive skin. T: Yes I do. I mean I am not a model but I like my looks. What do you like the most about your body? V: My hair and my slim figure T: My lips, I think I have sexy full lips and my legs are not bad either. What do you think is your biggest cause of your body image concerns? V: My chin, no offense mum but it’s really big! T: Hmmm. I have big hands but people never seem to notice so that’s a plus. What do you think are the factors that may result to having low self esteem in relation to body image? V: When you read too many magazines and you don’t have much going on your life, it means that you have time to think and too much thinking is bad, do you see what I mean? T: I don’t think you can blame the media too much. Everyone knows that a lot of the photographs are photoshopped and that those famous people don’t really look like that. I think it starts from home and school, if girls are not taught about being confident about the way they look, they become easy targets and would fall for anything that the media is trying to fool them with. What would you tell girls that have low self-esteem in regards to body image?
T: Come over for some pasta and red wine and let’s talk about it. V: Yeah come over for dinner! Also, embrace who you are, nothing is worst that wasting time being paranoid about something that isn’t a real issue. Whatever you think is an issue is what makes you unique.
OUR RELATIONSHIP IS LIKE A ROLLERCOSTER. WE HAVE OUR UPS AND DOWNS. W.
My mum and I share a lot in common in terms of our bodies. Round faced, snub nosed, full lips with cherubs bow, sloping brown eyes and curvaceous bodies. But I am 5 inches taller, infinitely paler-skinned and have longer limbs and hands and feet. The other way in which we differ is in our opinions of our body. Funnily, it is something we rarely speak about, unless she is lauding the beautiful brown colour of my eyes – ‘just like hers’ – or complimenting me on my lips. But, as I recently discovered, her opinion of her body is far more positive than my own. This is surprising, considering the essentially racist environment she was brought up in. ‘I was called rubber lips at school,’ she tells me of her childhood in Wolverhampton, the Midlands. Born in the sixties, she was brought up in an era in which Enoch Powell was still orating his ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech to rapturous audiences and when bed & breakfasts and boarding house’s would put up ‘No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs’ signs in their windows. A first-generation black woman of Jamaican descent, with her parents moving to the UK in their teens, she was referred to as ‘blackie’ and other racist diatribes when she was younger, but ‘has never really been bothered by any of it’.
Written by Charlie Brinkhurst- Cuff
Many years on, when I was a teenager, I was referred to as a ‘paki’, a ‘black bin bag’, and, just once, a ‘nigger’. But on the contrary, I was definitely bothered by the blatant insinuation that I was different from my peers. Of course, this could be due to a variety of reasons. It could be because of our differences in personality – or perhaps because while she was brought up in a predominantly black area, I was brought up in a predominantly white area. Scotland – where, in the 2011 census, 96% of the population classified themselves as white. So it is on many levels that my mother and I differ in opinion about our bodies and skin colour. One of the things that I definitely believe to have influenced my more negative opinion is my use of social media. Online as a young teenager I was easily able to compare of myself to stereotypically pretty, skinny, and generally white celebrities. My mother has an identical twin sister, and although she says that having a twin ‘emphasises your bad bits; the bits you feel self conscious or unhappy about,’ she also notes that through comparison, ‘the positives are that you learn to love what you are and how you look a lot quicker. It’s given me physical confidence to see someone who looks like myself.’ The comparisons that I make are not so kind. The beauty specified by the media is so much easier to access due to the advent of the internet than it was for my mum growing up. There’s no denying that there are plenty of positive media campaigns to get young women loving their body shape online (such as Body Gossip), but predominantly I feel the internet and the media in general works against young women. This is especially true for black and minority ethnic women, who just do not have the representation that they should in today’s media – unsurprising when research reveals that there are zero newspaper editors who are not white in the UK. But as my mum puts it, ‘we should be proud of our heritage and our colour because it is beautiful. We just never hear it very often.’ Nevertheless, my mum does acknowledge that ‘its taken me some time to get to this point’, to a place where she is completely happy with her body. She also notes that
‘When I was your age I thought I was fat, my bum was too big and I was not that pretty,’ which is something that sounds like an echo of my own words. When she was growing up, the lack of representation in the media of ethnic minorities was even less. ‘The media was still very white,’ she tells me, ‘and they reinforced the white ideal of beauty. Long hair, porcelain skin, having a flat figure. Everything I was not.’ So perhaps, although the internet plays its part, it is time that has caused her to develop a more positive opinion of herself. As revealed by a recent survey by TODAY and AOL in Feburary 2014, the amount that women worry about their bodies declines with age – only 35% of women 50-68 said that they worried about people judging them on their appearance. With my mum it probably helps that due to the melanin in her skin the aging process has been kind. ‘It’s one of the plus points when it comes to being black!’ she says. She has no wrinkles. So, here’s hoping that as I age, my opinion of my body will improve too. It definitely has since I was a younger teenager. ‘Black people still learning to love themselves’ my mum says, and I can be counted among that number.
WE ARGUE. WE LAUGH. WE HUG. WE CREATE MEMORIES TOGETHER. R .
NAJMA, 50 HANIFA, 21 AISHA, 18 England / Pakistan
Place of birth: N: Pakistan H: England A: England Ethnicity: N: Pakistani. H: Mixed race. Half Pakistani and half caucasian. A: Same as Hanifa, I guess. How close do you think you are to each other? H: We are very close, as we’ve got older Aisha and I have got closer to mum. A: Hanifa is closer with mum than I am but I can still speak to mum about the majority of things. N: Definitely closer to Hanifa but I believe it is so because she is older and Aisha is still a teenager. Do you think you look alike? N: They look completely different, when they were younger people used to ask me if Aisha was the milk mans because her complexion is completely different to Hanifa and mine’’s. .-she looks like her father, white and tall! Do you think you are similar in any way? A: We are all very similar, we are all strong women but we differ in the way we look at a lot of things. H: We are all very one sided, N: I’m a lot more open minded than they are. How would you describe yourself? N: I am a strong woman, strong minded and very sociable. A: I am open-minded, very introverted but still strong. H: I’m quite open and sociable. A: Hanifa isn’t guarded about anything, she just blurts out everything. How would you describe each other? N: Hanifa is kind but slightly blonde at times and Aisha is very switched on, very clever but can be a little bit harsh. A: Mum is very straight to the point, she doesn’t guard her feelings and Hanifa just puts it all out there too. They are so similar. H: Aisha is funny, quick witted but doesn’t listen to anyone she does what she wants when she wants and Mum is strong minded and has a harsh tongue. Have you ever had a conversation about body image? N: We do have conversations about it all the time, A: It’s all we ever talk about! H: We are weight obsessed in this house. N: I think that is my fault, I have always been weight obsessed and I’ve given that obsession to the girls. Do you think that it is important to discuss body image with your mum/ daughter? A: Yes I do think it is important, I feel like if mum tells me I look good then I do. H: Mum doesn’t have a problem with telling us if we have put weight on or look too thin N: Maybe I am a bit too harsh. I wouldn’t say it in a rude way or do I? 95
A: Yeah, she wouldn’t Who do you usually discuss body image issues with? H: Each other, always! N: We talk about it a lot the three of us. A: Always between us and then talk about it with mum’s best friend (our godmother) all of our aunties and cousins Do you feel that you have a different perception of beauty? A: We are all pretty similar, I think. N: When talking about our perception of beauty we are all quite similar but our Asian family have a completely different idea. H: Yeah, our Asian family like the girls to be super skinny and that just isn’t what we like. What is your idea of the perfect body? N: I just want to be 9stone7, I’ve been fighting for that weight for about 3 years. A: I think slim, I like slim bodies, maybe around a size 8. H: I like to think my perfect body is someone curvy like Kelly Brooke. The perfect body has nothing to do with being slim. Do mothers influence the way daughters think about themselves? N: Yes! I used to go on to Hanifa all the time when she was younger as she was severely overweight and now that she is older she is obsessed with her weight. I think that is due to my influence A: Yes, mum is obsessed and it made Hanifa obsessed and now I’m obsessed it’s all we ever talk about and me and Hanifa are always comparing our weight in stone. H: See mum, it’s all your fault! look at what you have done to us (laughs) What characteristics, do you think, are seen as beautiful in your culture? N: In our culture, light skin, light eyes and skinny and tall are seen as good things. A: Basically me, without sounding big headed, my skin colour is like “perfect” for our Pakistani culture. H: Yeah, they like girls to be very light there is something about being dark skinned that is hated. Do you associate yourself with what is seen as beautiful in England or in your country of origin? N: I think I am beautiful, but in England more so because I have always been exotic in Pakistan no one looks twice at me ! A: People always call Hanifa exotic because she doesn’t look English, I look English and so I am more attractive to people in Pakistan, weird right?! How important is your appearance to you? H: Very important, well I understand that my intellect and mind are also important but personally I take pride in my appearance, (whispers) when I have time. N: Aisha is the worst, she is obsessed even if she has exams to do. She is absolutely impeccable and her appearance is so important to her, she can’t concentrate if her nails are a mess, apparently. A: I need to look good at all times. Looking good makes me happy. H: Honestly that’s out of order, who sees you when you are revising anyway? Your coffee mug? A: You must think that you are funny! Well... You aren’t ! Do you feel pretty?
H: God yeah! N:Yes! A: Indeed. Are you satisfied by the way you look? N: I think we all are, we complain constantly but we all know we are stunners! A: Mum speak for yourself, I could always change bits about myself H: I am but I do obsess about my weight which restricts me from enjoying food to the fullest. What do you like the most about your body? N: My legs A: My legs and my bum H: My arms and my tummy. I quite like having a flat stomach What do you think is your biggest cause of your body image concerns? A: Mum! H: Mum!” N: Alright, alright relax girls! Not me, I think the media and also fueling each others insecurities by talking about it all the time. What do you think are the factors that may result to having low self esteem in relation to body image? A: Instagram. I am secretly obsessed with looking at beautiful women I had to delete it at one point. H: That’s where you get your thinspo from. N: What on earth does thinspo mean? A: Thin inspiration N: Really? Are you that sad? A: I was absolutely obsessed! What would you tell girls that have low self-esteem in regards to body image? H: We are all beautiful, but you have to be happy with yourself, if you want to lose weight and feel happier that way then that’s fine! N: I’d tell them to stop bloody worrying and get a degree A: I would say (sings) DON’T WORRY, BE HAPPY!
SHE IS MY MUM AND SHE ALWAYS LOOKS OUT FOR ME, TELLS ME OFF, BUT THEN SHE IS FUNNY AND JOKES AROUND. SHE IS A MOTHERLY FRIEND. L .
KUAI-PENG, 56 CHI- MUN, 21 China
Place of birth K: Malaysia. C: London. Ethnicity K: Chinese. C: British. K: British? No, you are Chinese! C: Okay, Chinese. How close are you to each other? K: We are almost like twins. C: We are very close. Do you look like each other? K: No. You tell us do we look alike? C: No, I look more like dad. Are you similar in any way? K: No not really. You have a good sense of fashion, you could make a a potato sack look glamours. While if you gave ME a potato sack, it would just look like a potato sack. Describe yourself: C: I am bossy sometimes. K: Oh yes! like when you boss around your brother. C: (Laughs) I am organised because I like being in control. I would say that I am well groomed, kind and friendly. Physically wise, I am short and pale and I donâ€™t know what to say. Your turn mum! K: Okay, I am strong willed, chatty, approachable, compassionate and also empathic. C: Empathic? K: Do you know what that means? C: No, not really! K: It means that I understand how people feel. C: Oh yeah, you are like that! K: If I had to describe myself physically, I would say average, unfit and fat. C: You are not fat, you have a hourglass shape. K: Okay then. Describe each other: C: She is generous, friendly, bossy, smart dressed and she has no eyebrows. K: No eyebrows? Thatâ€™s not very nice, is it? C: ( Laughs) K: Chi- Mun is organised. She definitely likes being in control and she could be bossy. Very bossy. C: I am not that bossy! Have you ever had a conversation about body image? C: Yes, when I talk about wanting to lose weight and the inspirational pictures that I show you K: Yes, we do talk about body image and when she shows me those pictures, I always mention that if God wanted us to look a certain way. He would have made us differently. 101
Do you think that it is important to discuss body image between mothers and daughters? C: Well, yeah! K: Yes because it creates a rapport among the two. It’s important to talk to each other, I mean you don’t want your kids to harm themselves, hide and not talk about things that are worrying them. As parents we need to teach them about life, talk about values and morals. Looking glamourous is a good thing but we must not neglect what is inside of us. C: Agreed. What characteristics do you think are seen as beautiful in your culture? K: This is a good question. Well, in our culture pale skin, long hair and curly wavy/ hair are seen as beautiful. C: Definitely no tattoos. Tattoos are not seen as a good thing. If you have tattoos you are considered a prostitute or a gang member. I did want to get a tattoo at one point when I was around 16, though. K: I am glad that I had thought you about our culture and you didn’t get it. C: What are you talking about? You told me that if I still wanted it done by the time I was 18 I could have got it done K: I have never said that! C: Anyway, to be honest, my decision to not get it had nothing to do with culture. Soz! I chose to not get it done because it’s permanent and I can never make up my mind. K: Thank God, then. Do you associate yourself with what is seen as beautiful in England or in your country of origin? K: Chinese C: England’s K: Chi is a BBC ( British born Chinese), so her views are different from mine. I think it’s normal. What is your idea of the perfect body? K: Ideally 34”, 26” 36”. It may sound mean but I am talking about my pre-kids body However there is no such thing as the perfect body. I am all about being natural and sticking with what we were born with. No injections and all those silly things. C: My idea of the perfect body is this ( pulls out phone and shows an image from a social network of an athletic woman with a flat stomach, full set of breasts and tanned skin) K: That’s anorexic, really! C: No she is not! She looks nice and skinny. Look even if her breasts are fake they are in proportion with her body. I mean they don’t look to fake. K: I understand that! But it’s all about being natural C: No it ain’t ! Do you have similar ideas in terms of what is seen as the perfect body? C: No way. I like perfectly skinny bodies but strong. You’ve got to have some muscles. You wanna look strong and toned not just skinny. K: No, I don’t think so, I am more about being natural. C: But if you are not happy with something why not change it?
K: Well, you were not born that way for a reason. Do you feel pretty? K: Do I feel pretty? hmmm. I feel pretty all the time. I don’t wear make up, I am a natural beauty. C: Alright! Well right now definetely not. In general it depends. I think I would feel prettier if I had a boob job. K: You’ve got to be kidding! C: (laughs) no but seriously Are you comfortable with the way you look? K: Yes I am. Feeling comfortable comes with maturity, however, if you like the way you look it doesn’t mean that you should neglect. C: I would say that I am 95 % happy with myself. K: Oh, that’s good. I don’t feel so bad then. There are people that are a lot unhappy and also everyone has that something that they are not happy with. as they say: The grass is greener on the other side. If you aspire to look like someone, just take good care of your body and you’ll be just as perfect as the person that you look up to. What do you like the best about your body? C: My hair and my nails K: Nothing. I am just joking, probably my skin because it is clear C: Yeah, you do have nice, clear skin unlike me that I am all greasy. What do you think are the factors that may result to having low self esteem in relation to body image? K: Social media is putting a lot of pressure on girls. C: No it doesn’t K: Can I finish? As I was saying it puts a lot of pressure but it does encourage women to be more groomed and to take care of themselves which is also a good thing. C: Oh okay! Well for me, there is nothing that affects me directly but on social media you do see girls posting pictures of themselves at the gym and their amazing bodies may make you feel a bit unhappy about the way you look. But for me, I look at them just because it’s a habit and also a reminder; a way to remind myself that I could get there too K: Inspiration? C: Yes that’s the word that I was looking for. What would you say to girls that have low self-esteem in regards to body image? C: I would say that it’s fine to feel unhappy at times. Tell your parents and your friends about your insecurities Make changes if you are unhappy, go for it but make sure it’s not too permanent and if it is then think about it twice. If it’s really serious talk to an outsider someone that doesn’t really know you and can give you advice. K: This is a tricky one as whatever I say to them would make no difference if they already feel bad about themselves. Definitely find the cause that makes you feel that way and try to improve it. Speak to your parents and a councilor if you can’t sort it out yourself.
MY RELATIONSHIP WITH MY MUM IS VERY TIGHT. I FEEL LIKE I CAN TALK TO HER ABOUT ANYTHING. SHE HAS ALWAYS BEEN VERY SUPPORTIVE. I KNOW THAT SHE’S MORE MATURE THAN I AM, BUT AT THE SAME TIME SHE UNDERSTANDS MY AGE GROUP AND SHE CAN RELATE TO ME. WE HAVE BEEN CLOSE SINCE BIRTH AND TO BE HONEST NOTHING HAS CHANGED. B.
SPECIAL THANKS I would like to thank all the mothers and daughtes who have taken part in the creation of this book, as well as the contributers who have shared their experiences and expressed their feelings in regards to their relationships with their mothers through stories and and quotes .