By Ella Clair and Jake Amy
CW: eating disorders, abuse, body dysmorphia
At the start of August, the Attaboi team put out an invitation for you to share with us your experiences with your own body image. The submissions we received demonstrate the vast complexities and intricate nuances of people’s relationships with their bodies. Touching on intersections of invisible illnesses, bullying, representation, racism, appropriation, career pressures and mental and physical health, these stories are compelling, raw and at times hard to read. Thank you so much for trusting us with your words. Your voices deserve to be heard and forge open a space for further conversations surrounding body image online and within our day to day lives.
Submission 4: Galatea
holds her in their dirty hands
so they can play pretend
eager to unfold it
soft body moulded
they carve her breath
there’s almost nothing left
their bonsai Aphrodite
they found her words to bend
lips to mend
without an end
Our bodies have been sold to us as "clickbait", our desirability as power and our attractiveness as commodity...
Under patriarchal and capitalist structures, feelings of worthlessness manifest when you don’t look as consumable and marketable as you are told to be.
Everything womxn are sold is targeted towards looking more digestible for male consumption and as a result this is what we (as a collective) consume. This is not a new structure. The ancient Greek story of Pygmalion reflected a familiar narrative and was even adapted into a makeover style film titled My Fair Lady in 1939, wherein Eliza Dolittle is transformed into a "lady". In the original story, Pygmalion is a sculptor and king of Cyprus who carves an ivory statue of a maiden, named Galatea. Galatea is so perfect that he falls in love with her. He then prays to Aphrodite to make her human (because you know, none of the other maidens could ever be as perfect) and she grants his wish. I do love that story without the ending though, because screw that guy…
Most likely, everyone can resonate with looking into the mirror and picking themselves apart with insecurities. Sucking in your belly, tensing muscles, arching your back to give an illusion of a bigger bum and squeezing your sides to make your waist smaller.
When you stare at a word for too long, it doesn’t look right. When you stare at yourself in the mirror for too long, you run the risk of doing the same.
I don’t feel like I’m the most attractive person in a bar, nor am I immune to poking, prodding and warping my body in the mirror but...
I can’t say I’ve ever experienced discrimination because of my body or skin. I am a size 10, able-bodied, white girl with what’s considered to be a feminine figure. Generally, society has never told me that my body is wrong. No matter how I feel about myself, no matter how much I critique myself, and no matter how shitty I may feel about myself, I have to accept that my genetics afford me privilege. Acknowledging that how "attractive" the general public perceives me to be has everything to do with how people treat me was difficult. I mostly wanted to write a lot of things off as they liked my "personality" (I know how annoying that sounds) when the reality is they may have liked my personality, but my approachability has everything to do with societal and patriarchal bias**. Another reason this was difficult to accept was that part of me thinks that accepting "attractiveness privilege" means I am automatically calling people who don’t look like me "unattractive" with which I wholeheartedly disagree. However, it’s more about understanding how my actions and thoughts on my own body affect those around me.
I can be subject to the pressures of feeling not thin enough, falling into self-deprecatory fat-shaming when I see an "unflattering" photo of myself or mentally congratulating myself for skipping meals or not feeling hungry. Even though it is directed towards my own body, I have to fight it because my internalised fatphobia not only is unhealthy, in so many ways, it reinforces everything I claim to be against. I was called out for this behaviour by someone very close to me. I would never think or say any of these things about anyone else but how the hell is someone my size or larger going to feel hearing that I feel gross in a bikini? It most likely isn’t comfortable.
We shape ourselves into their* Galatea so that they will love us and consume us so that we feel like we are worth something. This is heavily embedded into the way we think, and it’s important to not beat yourself (or others) up for parts of you that don’t or do fit into their* "desirable" category.
Beauty is a cultural construct, and you will always be better whole.
*they/their = patriarchy, capitalism, colonial structures
**conscious and unconscious
Submission 5: Not Your Place To Comment
As a teen I was always active and relatively thin. I didn’t touch alcohol until I was 18 so my weight was never affected by drinking. In first year uni I was regularly partying and drinking with my friends, working my first job until 12am on weekends and eating late at night - obviously this affected my weight.
I eventually signed up for KX pilates - something I used to do regularly with my mum since I was 15. I became super strict about what I ate and my goal was tone up and I enjoyed the process of working hard to get results. Other people started to notice. I remember someone telling me that a guy I knew had said “Wow she has lost so much weight, I would so go there with her now”. Despite the fact I was never interested in this person to begin with, this comment affected me greatly, making me think there was something wrong with how I looked before. I made sure I would never allow myself to get to that point of appearing “fat” or whatever it is that individual perceived me to be again.
At times I was way too hard on myself. For a while my “unhealthy snack” would be my daily coffee (which had no sugar) and I would eat very bland food or soups. I eventually realised that this was unhealthy and unnecessary and so I started experimenting with a plethora of vegetarian recipes.
KX pilates has become a passion of mine and an important part of my weekly routine. During my change of lifestyle, I have had numerous family members tell me that I look “too skinny”, that I have “lost a lot of weight” and that they are “concerned for me” when all I was doing was trying to be the best version of myself. I remember going to the pharmacy near my house and I said hi to a worker who knows me. She stopped; looked me up and down and said she “didn’t recognise me because I had lost so much weight”. I thought to myself, “If she says she didn’t recognise me, then what did I look like before?”
I know that many of these people do not have ill-intent behind these comments, however the outcome is still the same. As a woman, it feels as though no matter what you do you will never be good enough to live up to everyone else’s standards. You’re always too this or too that. I have stopped allowing people to make me feel ashamed of what I look like because I do not exercise for anyone else - I do it for me. Therefore the commentary from others - no matter the intent - is irrelevant.
Unfortunately not everyone gets to a place of self-acceptance and I have witnessed first hand how extremely damaging these comments can be...
So I implore everyone to choose their words carefully and understand that it is actually not your place to comment on or question someone’s physical appearance or weight.
Although I don’t feel like I owe anyone an explanation, for me, exercise and eating well is genuinely about feeling healthy and being the best version of myself NOT a number on a scale. I hope everyone can be the best version of themselves - whatever that may mean for you.
Submission 6: Laughing It Off
I was heavier when I was in my early teen years and this one guy came up to me everyday for a year, slapped my "man" boobs around and shouted "chunky", putting on a voice. I laughed it off at the time because I didn't feel like I could say anything.
Submission 7: Untitled
I cannot remember the moment I realised I was (am) fat. Only that I was small, and that it was strange to feel hated for it. To be young and made ugly for lacking the athletic physique of a child from a country town. To no longer be whittled and instead be weighty.
Thank God for your brain!
To be young, fat and have any sense of sexuality beaten out of my gut before I could grasp it - where is my sense of desire? Who can hold me when I'm too big for both hands?
Everyone! And you will still be worthy of the space between.
To be fat feminine and act is to be comic.
Point me in a direct which proves me wrong.
I sit and write reflective essays for acting courses screaming, “Finally! I feel in my body like the actors!”, and yet I continue to look nothing like them. They are lean and taunt. And it is not their fault - they are no more or less ugly or beautiful for it.
But I lay and watch thinner friends fret over becoming fat, only to wonder, "If this is your fear, what do you think of me"?
Have I always lived as the monster under your bed?
Have I simply learnt how to dress for them and offer the silhouette they want from me? Do I really not mind if the waist is synched? Do I live a life of female impersonation in this malleable body? Who let my mother dress me in low-rise skinny jeans?! And does she hate me for living in the body she gave me?
For years I lived in shapeless bags and forgot that I had a body. I felt housed in a terrible tension of a stretched skin prison and chose to pretend I didn’t live there.
Now I know my body to be a canvas - stretch the skin across my hollow-boned structure like a holy yurt and invite everyone I trust to my house-warming party. Feel the floorboards on my stomach flex with anxious comfort as they step inside. Become an ornate fixture of meaningless scribbles and sentimental movement.
I live as fluid instillation and dress as a personal God. I am grasped with attracted intent and grasp back the same. I love character face and have character face.
I see myself in others and love it.
If you or someone you know is struggling, especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic, we highly recommend these resources:
Butterfly Foundation: (+61) 1800 334 673
Lifeline: (+61) 13 11 14
Eating Disorders Victoria: (+61) 1300 550 236
We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other First Nations people who have read this article.
Illustrations by Ella Clair. Submission 4 artwork by Hannah Potter.