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Overcome disordered eating and find peace with food
by Victoria Stockwell on June 27th, 2020

By Victoria Stockwell. You can also listen to Victoria's podcast HERE.

Throughout history, women have been compelled to alter their bodies in order to meet variable standards of physical perfection.

With its tight mid-section and muscular curves, the ‘bikini body’ is the ideal to which we are currently told to aspire. A lean physique, however, has only become fashionable during the last century. Prior to this, voluptuousness was idolised and fleshy figures were prized in cultures all over the world. Evidence of this dates back to 21,000 BC, as portrayed by the Palaeolithic chalk statue, the Willendorf Venus. The ideal body was big and matriarchal, its swollen form symbolising fertility and female power.

This notion of beauty persisted until the 1800s when there was a marked shift in the female body ideal. It was during this period that slenderness first came into fashion: the ascetic model that graces our modern runways originated in the wasp-waisted silhouette of the Victorian lady.

In 1893, one beauty journal claimed that ‘a slender, well-proportioned figure is the desire of most women.’ Replicating this aesthetic that was both slim and curvaceous required the use of a corset. The corset’s lacing and whalebone reinforcement caused gradual shifting of the internal organs to create the coveted hourglass figure with exaggerated bust and hips, offset by a narrow waist. Vogue magazine even featured a tightly-laced model on the cover of its first ever publication in 1892.

This move towards slenderness was the result of a change in women’s socio-political status. During the latter half of the nineteenth century the balance of power between the sexes began to change when suffragettes campaigned for the right to vote. During this period, the alteration in women’s appearance reflected their political aspirations for freedom and power. In the 1920s, female emancipation coincided with a new svelte ideal when the epitome of beauty became the boyish ‘flapper.’ As a consequence, dieting became a serious female preoccupation. This resulted in a marked increase in the number of women diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.

The following decades saw the return of the cinched waist, yet the ideal body retained the slenderness of the narrow-hipped, small-chested flapper. It was not until the 1950s that the hourglass figure returned in full force. Glamorous celebrities such as Jayne Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe contributed to a voluptuous ideal that had echoes of Victorianism with its petite waistline. This was achieved by wearing a girdle, however, rather than a tightly-laced corset. This beauty ideal was reflected in the immensely popular Barbie doll, which was introduced in 1959 and boasted a large bust, long legs and an impossibly small waist.

Since the 1960s, the figure possessed by models, playboy centrefolds and beauty contestants has become increasingly slim. This trend began with British model Leslie Hornby, nicknamed Twiggy, who stormed the fashion scene when she appeared in Vogue in 1965. Twiggy quickly became a cultural icon of femininity with millions of women across Britain and America engaging in self-starvation in order to emulate her waif-like fragility. As the ideal body reduced in size, definitions of ‘overweight’ subsequently began to include ‘normal-sized’ women.

By the early 1980s, the fashion for delicate femininity was replaced by a more ‘toned’ physique. This was reinforced by an emerging culture of health and fitness. For the first time, the ideal female body had muscle.

Shortly afterwards, however, health gave way to self-destruction and dissolution since the 90s’ aesthetic was based around ‘heroin chic’. The look, characterized by pale, emaciated features and unkempt hair was propounded by fashion models such as Kate Moss, who found fame in 1993 after featuring in an advertisement for Calvin Klein.

In 2020, those androgynous angles and unsmiling faces have now been replaced with toned, feminine curves as magazine covers and Victoria’s Secret runways are graced with happy, healthy looking models. Fitness culture has returned, bringing with it a trend for bodies that are curvaceous, yet also lean. The hourglass figure of the nineteenth century is back. Without a corset, however, women must work even harder to achieve the contradictory aspects of a tight waist and ample curves.

Throughout the centuries, self-comparison with the ideal female form has contributed to bodily dissatisfaction and disorderly eating. From organ-shifting corsets, to extremely restrictive diets, women have engaged in physically damaging practices for hundreds of years in an attempt to replicate a perpetually shifting ideal.

If we are to achieve freedom from this, we must remember that the concept of the ideal body is merely a concept. It is an idea, invented by culture and continually subject to change. Consequently, striving to achieve the ‘perfect’ physique will inevitably lead to failure. Today, we are told that we must aspire to have a curvaceous bikini body. Tomorrow, the fashion may change to a more androgynous figure and the hard work must begin all over again….

by Victoria Stockwell on June 12th, 2020

By Victoria Stockwell

In the current pandemic, ‘clean eating’ involves spraying your Tesco delivery with Dettol.

This phrase, however, does not ordinarily mean disinfecting groceries. When I first encountered the concept of clean eating in 2012, it was a nutritional lifestyle that existed predominantly within the fitness community. This diet was comprised of foods that were fresh, whole, unprocessed and unrefined. The mantra of the bodybuilding world was ‘eat clean, train dirty;’ and observing these principles was the standard way to reduce body fat. Day after day, I ate my sad looking turkey and greens from a sweating Tupperware tub, trusting in the magical powers of clean eating to grant me the lean physique of a successful bikini competitor.

Since then, there has been a noticeable shift in diet culture towards ‘wellness.’ Contemporary advocates of clean eating base their meals around foods that provide optimum health. Nowadays, the term ‘clean’ is liberally applied and also encompasses food that is organic, local, grass-fed, free from diary or gluten, ‘super,’ and raw. These eating trends are now mainstream and items such as almond butter and apple cider vinegar have become familiar cupboard staples.

In 2020, plant-based diets are still in vogue, but their offerings are more glamorous than the dry Linda McCartney sausages of my teenage vegetarian phase. Now supermarkets stock exotic products such as sustainable seaweed puffs, coconut flour tortilla chips and spirulina chia pudding.

This eating trend has been perpetuated by a boom of social media bloggers. Despite most of them lacking nutritional qualifications, these foodstagrammers have armies of followers. Their focus is not usually on the health benefits of clean food, however, but rather on its aesthetic appeal. Clean eating has become part of an aspirational lifestyle portrayed by lean, wealthy young adults who swear by their Mason jar rainbow smoothies.

If taken to extremes, clean eating can develop into a condition known as orthorexia nervosa. Orthorexia was first defined in 1977 by Dr Steven Bratman as a pathological obsession with healthy food. While not currently recognized by the American Psychiatric Association, the condition does bear similarities to other clinical eating disorders. Like anorexia nervosa for instance, orthorexia involves strict dietary control and fear-driven ritualistic compulsions.

Unlike anorexics, however, people with orthorexia fixate on the quality and purity of their food. This includes avoiding products that contain artificial preservatives, trans fats and pesticides. Echoing the principles of clean eating, this diet is limited to foods that support physical health. Yet, while clean eating is universally praised, orthorexia is deemed to be harmful and obsessive.

Ironically, such a strict ‘healthy’ eating regime can in fact lead to illness. Since many foods are omitted from an individual’s diet, there is often insufficient intake of the vitamins and minerals required for optimum health.

When part of a more balanced diet, healthy food is good for our physical wellbeing. Yet the language that surrounds our nutritional choices such as ‘organic,’ ‘detox’ and ‘natural’ infers that eating clean will also elevate us to a superior level of virtue. In this way, health food evangelists assert that those who conform to the values of clean eating will not only become physically well, but also morally pure.

This judgment and morality are an everyday part of our eating lexicon. ‘Clean’ food items are even branded with virtuous names. These include Halo Top Ice Cream, Innocent Smoothies, Perfect Snacks and Right Rice. The ‘guilt free’ slogan of these products echoes the idea that we are ‘good’ when we eat clean; and conversely ‘bad’ if we are tempted by ‘dirtier’ foods.

Using the language of morality to define our nutritional choices thereby demonizes food items, or whole food groups. Calorie-laden, low nutritional value foods are often described as ‘junk’ or ‘cheat’ foods, terms which suggest decadence and depravity. In the 1980s, Lyons marketed their products by associating ‘forbidden’ types of food with pleasure, coining the ubiquitous phrase ‘naughty but nice.’ Their successful advertising campaign endorsed the concept that highly palatable foods such as cream cakes are bad for the soul.

When we consume foods that have been designated as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ this morality becomes transferred to ourselves. Restricting our diet to good, clean products can therefore provide us with a sense of achievement and virtue. Within modern culture, praise and respect are awarded to those who eat healthily since they are perceived to possess superior levels of willpower and self-control.

This external commendation, however, only serves to reinforce the mind-set that clean is better. As a result, we are left constantly questioning whether our food choices are ‘good enough.’ Eating foods that we have labelled as ‘bad’ can lead to feelings of guilt and shame; and even physically damaging behaviours such as restriction or purging.

The fetishization of clean eating and its more extreme manifestation as orthorexia can therefore challenge our mental wellbeing. Ultimately, using the phrase ‘clean’ to describe certain types of food grants power to these items and their promise of health and self-worth. In order to disable this power, we need to remind ourselves that the moral lexicon surrounding food is merely a linguistic construct that is culturally promoted and self-imposed. We may feel virtuous if we eat cauliflower instead of bread, but this is just an idea: food does not possess intrinsic moral value. Health is about balance: eat the kale AND the cake.  

by Victoria Stockwell on June 1st, 2020

By Victoria Stockwell 

Throughout the noughties, young women appealed to ‘thinspiration’ for advice on how they should look. Instagram was their Bible and the thigh-gap their ultimate goal. Recently however, this disturbingly slender model has developed muscle.

In 2020, the fitness body has become the ideal to which women are told they must aspire.
It is now becoming increasingly difficult to avoid the ever expanding world of ‘fitspiration.’ Via their motivational online content, sculpted gym bunnies and yoga pant clad ‘wellness’ gurus offer us an attractive alternative to being ‘thin.’

While thinspiration placed emphasis upon mental willpower, ‘be strong and get skinny’, modern fitness culture requires resilience of both mind and body. This is indicated by the slogan: ‘strong is the new skinny.’  

Moving away from the comparatively simple starvation method, fitspiration encourages weight loss through ‘clean’ eating and exercise.  On social media, women in neon sports bras inform their followers that today is ‘leg day’; and ‘meal 3’ was salmon with sweet potato. Instagram feeds function as online food diaries as fitness enthusiasts post images of Tupperware-bound protein and greens, accompanied by their macronutrient values and the ubiquitous hashtag #absaremadeinthekitchen.

According to this trend, dieting must be supplemented by regular workouts in order to achieve the new ideal body that is not only lean, but also strong. The concave stomach of the thinspiration era now boasts a six pack; and the thigh gap has been replaced by muscular legs. A model’s rounded glutes are frequently the subject of fitspirational images where women are posed in the squat rack, dripping with sweat.

There are positive aspects to fitness culture, however. It can be encouraging in its (ostensible) quest for health, and is capable of promoting body confidence. Unlike the followers of its predecessor, advocates of fitspiration assert: ‘I work out not because I hate my body but because I love it.’ The women who refused food, or spent their days slumped over a toilet bowl are now positive and strong.

Nevertheless, despite their outward appearance of health, the women who represent this lifestyle maintain an extremely low level of body fat.  According to Muscle and Body Magazine, fitness models usually have 8.5-14% body fat, which is far lower than the 25-31% female average. For women, this can be particularly dangerous since a certain amount of body fat is necessary for their physiological health and functioning.  

Compared to the anorexic girls of the thinspiration era, fitness models have a large amount of muscle mass, which means that they do not look ill and emaciated. Marketed as fitness, the new ideal body makes ‘thin’ socially palatable by transitioning from the darker, self-harming world of anorexia towards a promise of health and happiness.

The danger of fitspiration therefore lies in the fact that it is merely masquerading as health.
With its confounding combination of muscular curves and low body fat, the fitness body is even more unattainable than its ultra-thin predecessor. As was the case with the diminutive form of the Kate Moss ‘nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’ era, striving to attain the fitness model look causes serious damage to mental and physical health. The thought patterns and behaviours of fitspiration are potentially as destructive and compulsive as self-starvation.

Attaining such a lean physique involves strict eating regimes and obsessive exercise, yet these activities are disguised by rhetoric of willpower and dedication. Like advocates of thinspiration, members of the fitness culture movement view their choices not as a dangerous obsession, but as part of a dedicated lifestyle. This is reinforced by their mantra: ‘obsession is a word the lazy use to describe the dedicated.’ In addition, the compulsive nature of these behaviours is confirmed by their claims that, ‘once you see results, it becomes an addiction.’

While today’s culture asserts that ‘strong is the new skinny’, this statement is undermined by its replication of many thinspiration conventions. Its followers photograph their meals, share weight loss tips, and post countless selfies; yet with a tighter, more muscular physique as their idol.

As well as promoting the same obsessions as its predecessor, fitspiration offers an even more impossible ideal. Looking like a fitness model requires heavy weight lifting, an impeccably rigid diet, and round the clock commitment; a truth overlooked by some of the young women who become swept up by this culture. Far from promoting a healthier attitude towards eating and body image, the fitness physique is merely a rebranding of anorexia-glorifying thinspiration. Despite fitspiration’s claim that, ‘strong is the new skinny’, strong remains resolutely lean.

by Harriet Frew on May 27th, 2020

Wanting to eat the WHOLE bar - in one go!

I was making the afternoon tea for us 5 in lockdown.

I'll usually have a snack at this time. Biscuits, nuts, crackers, fruit - one or some of these to keep blood sugar levels topped up.

I opened the cupboard door and looked at my chocolate stash.

By the way, I eat chocolate everyday - not in huge amounts but it's one of life's pleasures that I have no desire to give up now or in the near future.

I thought about eating the whole bar - not just a row or a few chunks. THE WHOLE BAR.

And sometimes I might eat the whole bar; I don't have food rules - I like to enjoy food and feel unrestricted.


But I knew I wasn't really hungry. At least not hungry enough to eat it all in go.

What was going on?

I pootled around and emptied the washing machine, whilst touching base with my feelings.


I felt tired, hot, flustered, irritated with working.


I needed a break rather than food. I needed a change of scene and to feel fresh air and sunshine.  I needed a drink of water. I was thirsty.


Food wasn't going to serve me here.

For me - tiredness. It's my biggest trigger for emotional eating.
 - 

When my children were little and I wasn't getting much sleep, I would regularly top up energy levels with sugar to get me through. It was survival.


And yes I also believe that emotional eating is part of life. You can't separate food and emotion.


But it's not helpful, when food is your number one turn-to, to soothe or calm or comfort.


You need to have other strategies too.


If you don't feel your feelings, you cut yourself off from an important internal barometer that can tell you what's right or wrong.

It's impossible to meet your needs properly, when you don't listen to yourself.


HOW TO GET IN TOUCH WITH YOUR EMOTIONS?

1. Slow down and give yourself a chance for emotions to come to the surface.

2. Write down your feelings in a journal.

3. Talk to a trusted friend or family member.

4. Go to therapy and open up within the safe boundaries of the therapeutic relationship.

How are you doing to today with FEELING your emotions?


by Victoria Stockwell on May 22nd, 2020

THE PERFECT BODY ILLUSION  by Victoria Stockwell 

Do you wish you looked like the girl in the magazine? I will let you into a secret…the girl in the magazine doesn’t even look like that.

I should know: I have been that girl.

Representations of the ‘perfect’ female body are pervasive throughout modern society, consolidated and perpetuated by an omnipresent mass media.

Online, this ideal can be found on a variety of platforms ranging from YouTube workout videos, to image-laden websites such as Instagram.

Every week we are bombarded with around 5000 of these ‘inspirational’ bodies which, thanks to our surgically attached smartphones, can be viewed any time, anywhere.

In today’s hyper-saturated image culture, this aesthetic ideal is extremely powerful; and its prolific distribution serves to reinforce our obsession with physical appearance.

Studies suggest that frequent exposure to these ideals places women, particularly adolescent females, at risk of developing a negative body image.

Comparing ourselves to these blemish-free, sculpted physiques can cause dissatisfaction and contribute to low self-esteem.

In a recent survey, 40% of teenagers admitted that they experienced concerns about their own body image after viewing idealised bodies online.

This comparison often encourages weight preoccupation, and may ultimately lead to disorderly eating in our attempts to replicate the ‘ideal’ body.

This body, however, is far from real.

In 2013, when I entered the fitness competition world and began to post images from my own photoshoots online, my friends and family remarked how tall I looked (in real life I measure a petite 5’2”).

Creating the appearance of height, however, is just one of countless illusions that can be produced using the art of photography.

With technological methods such as digital enhancement and airbrushing, it is possible to mask imperfections and homogenize skin tone.

Abdominal muscles can be made to appear more defined by increasing contrast and deepening shadows; and the body’s silhouette can be adjusted by tightening the waist and enlarging ‘desirable’ curves such as a woman’s bust and glutes.

This photographic illusion is also reinforced by the models themselves, who will often go to extreme lengths to ensure that their bodies are photo perfect.

My own gruelling preparations for a photoshoot included tapering calories, restricting certain food groups, and reducing my intake of liquids.

Having starved and dehydrated my body, on the day of the shoot I would then spend hours spraying dark tan, applying heavy make up, and vigorously backcombing my hair.

After squeezing into a pair of tiny hot pants and a luminous sports bra, I would then pump up my muscles to create optimum definition for the photograph.

Once the lighting and backdrop had been ideally positioned, all that would remain was to painfully angle my body to its best advantage, suck in my stomach, and smile.

The potential harm of this image manipulation, however, lies not in the enhancement itself, but in the photograph’s final presentation.

Despite being overly styled and digitally altered, such bodies are frequently portrayed as ‘normal’ in the mass media.

The constant stream of these images on Facebook and Instagram can therefore distort our perception of what is normal and attainable.

It is common practice for us to add a flattering filter, display our best angles, or even change our faces into a cat before posting a photograph of ourselves online.

This can be fun, or even reassuring if we are not feeling confident about our appearance on a particular day. The danger, however, lies in forgetting that most ‘perfect’ pictures on social media are not candid: they are often staged, well lit, strategically posed, and digitally manipulated.

When I find myself scrolling through old fitness photographs feeling envious of my leaner, more muscular physique, I try to remind myself that the body in the pictures was never truly real. I was starving, uncomfortable, and had a splitting headache brought on by lack of food and water.

If, like me, you sometimes brood over pictures when you thought you looked ‘better’; or compare yourself to the seemingly flawless models on Instagram, please remember that this perfect body does not exist…it is merely an ILLUSION.





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