In an article extracted from her memoir, prize-winning novelist Hilary Mantel tells of her changing relationship with her body, as a faulty thyroid meant she ballooned in size (The Guardian, 02/02/13). Most of us – even naturists – have bits of our bodies that we wished were somehow different, their appearance better looking, contributing to a more handsome, more beautiful, you. For me, it’s my arms. As a kid, I would run everywhere, so built up muscle bulk in the legs but failed to do anything about my arms. So when I look in the mirror my reflection looks… odd… a mismatch between the upper and lower body. Like most people, my thoughts do not go beyond that. It is something I don’t particularly like, but at the same time, it isn’t anything to spend a great deal of time fussing over. Mantel came too much the same conclusion, saying: ‘Ok, then I’ll be fat.’
Personally, I am not sure to what extent my eventual introduction to naturism played in my acceptance of my body’s shape, especially now that I am getting older and I have a little pot-belly, although I am by no means overweight. I am sure, however, that it did play a role. I don’t consider my body – or anybody else’s for that matter – a shrine but seeing other people of both genders, warts and all, has allowed me to accept the changes I have seen as natural; a part of my upbringing and the passage of time combined.
Accepting the person for who they are and not what they look like is practically a mantra for naturists worldwide. Fat, thin, tall, short, hairy or a lack of, black, white or brown, with bits of us pointing in the wrong direction, it is all the same to us. This is why many naturists wonder if the lifestyle has something to offer those who have body image issues?
According to a survey from 2007 conducted by BBC’s Radio 1’s Newsbeat and 1xtra’s TXU, almost 50 per cent of 25,000 people between the ages of 17 and 34 said they skipped a meal in an attempt to lose weight and half of the women asked, said they would consider plastic surgery to improve their body image, compared to just 25 per cent of men.
Deanne Jade, a psychologist specialising in eating and body image issues, said the problems started with the emergence of thin models, like Twiggy or the Shrimp, in the 1960s, which led ultimately to today’s size zero models, a US dress size equivalent to size 4 in the UK. The Wolf’s Models Guide further explains that the waist of a size zero model can measure just 23 inches (60 cm), while the average waist size for a British eight-year-old girl is 22 inches (56 cm). In order to obtain such a thin body, models have been known to starve themselves, leading to a number of deaths, pointed to by the guide, and an inquiry reported in September 2007 that up to 40 per cent of models in the UK could have some form of eating disorder.
In stark contrast to the size zero models of the fashion world, and believed to be contributing to the anxieties of many impressionable adolescents, in 2004 Dove Skincare launched an advertising campaign that used ‘real’ women, showing off their curves. These were not professional models but women who responded to an advert in Time Out. One of those was teacher Emma Darwish, who at the time was about to teach 16-17 year olds vocal techniques in a studio, with a photo of herself grinning and in her underwear right outside. In an article for BBC News Magazine, Darwish said that at the time she felt a little self-conscious, but wanted to see more real women represented in advertising campaigns and fashion magazines. “We are