Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Accepting Ourselves As We Are

It’s a passion of mine to encourage women to accept themselves as they are in their lives right now. Life is definitely is far too short not to love the skin you are in. Like so many others I have struggled with self-esteem – even anorexia in my teens - so I know how very hard this can be. This isn’t the first time I have written about this issue on The 21st Century Housewife -  I wrote Just As You Are about three years ago now and it continues to be as relevant today as it was then.

As someone who cares deeply about self esteem in women, I’ve long been a fan of Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty and I welcomed Bobbi Brown’s Pretty Powerful campaign. But it also seems that the fashion industry are finally getting the news that beauty comes in all shapes, colours, sizes and ages. Thanks to an initiative called All Walks Beyond the Catwalk founded by Caryn Franklin, a British fashion writer and broadcaster, Debra Bourne, a fashion consultant and Erin O’Connor, a model and designer, there is a great move afoot inside the British fashion industry. The All Walks mission is “to expand upon the imagery coming out of London Fashion Week and mirror a more realistic range of women, in age, size and race, than standards currently offer.” In the words of the three co-founders “Beauty is individual. It’s not restricted by race, shape, age or size.”

On the 11th February, from 6 to 10pm, All Walks are curating an exhibition called ‘Snapped’ at the National Portrait Gallery in London.  It contains nine specially commissioned fashion portraits by Rankin. Featuring  women of all sizes and shapes wearing looks by designers Stella McCartney, Vivienne Westwood, Giles Deacon and Matthew Williamson, the portraits will be displayed throughout the Gallery. Debates, soundscapes, illustration masterclasses, a photo booth and many other events mean that this evening promises to be one to remember, and one that I hope will create the beginnings of a change in attitude that will travel around the globe.

However, while magazines and advertisers still insist on ‘enhancing’ even the most beautiful of women as a matter of course, and while many designers still espouse the ethos that beauty only goes up to size 6, there is still a long way to go. And one of the only ways we can really see the kind of change we need is if we help to make it happen ourselves.

But how can we do this?

First of all, we need to really begin to accept ourselves just as we are. I know it is hard to resist the media, critical voices around (and even inside) you, but this is an integral part of growing as human beings. How can you sustain personal growth if you are constantly tearing yourself down about your appearance? We need to stop criticising our own appearances, and stop teaching our children to criticise theirs by our example.

We then need to begin to celebrate the beauty in every woman, no matter what her age, size or race. We also need to resist the media culture that uses appearance as a weapon against those in the public eye, which in turn encourages us to criticise other women.

The next step is to insist that the media and advertisers see the diversity that exists in beauty too by using our power as consumers. When questioned, magazine editors insist that women like to see images that have been altered using photographic techniques. Really? I honestly don’t know any woman who would actually agree to that. In truth, the reason they don’t want to stop using these enhanced images is because it is all part of how advertisers encourage us to spend our money.  When we are wracked with self esteem issues it makes us an easy targets for this kind of hard sell. And only we can make it stop.

One of the only really effective ways to do this is through how we spend our money, because that is often the only language retailers and advertisers can understand. If we support brands who use a variety of women of all shapes, sizes and ages in their advertising over other brands who do not, perhaps the message will begin to get through. And this goes for fashion retailers and even top line designers as well. Whether we are shopping at Target or on Rodeo Drive, we as consumers have tremendous power to effect change.

In the words of retail consultant Mary Portas,

“It’s just bonkers to think that fashion is only fabulous on teenage models – it’s even more bonkers, commercially, to think that is where the money is.”

If we spend our money with brands and designers who support a healthy attitude to beauty – and avoid spending money with those who don’t - we can encourage the industry to change. And I dearly hope that as time goes by, more and more industry greats will adopt a healthier attitude towards the models they use and the images they promote. Variety is, after all, the spice of life.

Know in your heart that you are uniquely beautiful. Don’t let anyone or anything convince you otherwise. The media want you to buy things and others might want any number of things. They might want to make themselves feel better by putting you down, or perhaps to make themselves feel needed because you feel you need them to ‘fix’ you. They might even want to sell you something. Either way, anyone who tries to tear you down definitely doesn’t have your best interests at heart - and they are definitely wrong. By all means aspire to be stronger, fitter and healthier, take care of your skin and your hair, and make the most of everything you are.
But above all, the most important thing is that you know, and actually believe, that you really, truly are beautiful just as you are right this minute.

I’ve done a mini guest post about this same topic over at A Moderate Life today as part of Baby Steps to A Rockin’ Life. Do please go and visit.

The 21st Century Housewife has not been paid for this post.


  1. I loved this and completely agree with you - although it can be easy to let the good self talk slide. This blog is a timely reminder for me.

    One practice of fascination for me is to read the covers of women's magazines. Woman's World Weekly is my favourite as there is usually a big slab of cake on the cover and next to it news about the latest diet.

    Another thing I have become conscious about is the way women's conversations ultimately lead to talk of weight, diet, etc. In becoming conscious I can see how prevalent it is and also how difficult it can be not to get sucked in.

    Great blog :-)


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