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What makes a woman?

Bringing shape into the body image debate

Anna Utopia Giordano’s images have been causing a literacy storm in the Huffington Post this week – there has been a sheer deluge of articles on body image as journalists have taken up the cause to fight back against the ‘thin ideal’ and debate what makes a ‘real woman’. While it’s great that the media is challenging this concept, it is vital that the importance of understanding shape and language is also included in this discourse.

Despite what society may tell us, being ‘thin’ is an adjective – it is not a body shape.  It’s not a case of ‘apples’ and ‘pears’ either; no one wants to be a fruit. In order for there to be a real change in people’s perceptions we need to go back to the root of how we actually see and interpret our bodies, in order to understand the principle of shape. Only then will we have an alternative framework to understand ourselves.

In image consulting, body shape is interpreted through the line that your shoulders and hips create. Ultimately this means that your body shape is based on your bone structure and alignment not on your weight. It does not matter how much you exercise to tone your muscle or how much weight you put on/take off: the basic frame of your body will remain the same. Fitness ‘experts’ and other influences may want you to believe otherwise – that’s how they make their money.

Last night Dr Phillippa Diedrichs presented a brilliant talk on behalf of The Succeed Foundation that highlighted the importance of using cognitive dissonance to challenge body image norms.  What really came across from the women in the room was the need to replace these negative societal images with a more positive affirmation of self through the language we use.  When people understand and appreciate their bodies, then this transfers to their inner sense of self and you start to see real changes. Once women (and men) are equipped to see their body shape in a positive light, then this will reflect in the way they present themselves to the wider world. That’s where image can really make a long-term difference.

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