Wednesday 26 April 2017

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SUMMER: Anticipation or dread?

C. SCHEMBRI HAS ‘SOMETHING TO SAY’ ABOUT BODY IMAGE AND THE PRESSURE ON WOMEN (AND MEN) TO BE PERFECT

As Summer 2014 is fast approaching, most of us are filled with a strange mixture of anticipation and dread. During Winter and the Christmas holidays, most of us will have put on a bit of weight, and in January headed religiously to the gym to work it off. However, some of us may have remained complacent, in cold rainy February succumbing to hot chocolates, cakes and muffins. March brought a brief respite from the cold and this is when some of us had the nagging thought at the back of our minds that Spring is approaching. Amidst daydreams of cocktails, cold beers and ice creams, April suddenly showed up and lo and behold Summer is a large heat front looming right in front of our faces!

This is when the desperate attempts at dieting and working out take place, if you are anything like me. I have a couple of kilos squared and multiplied by 2 to lose, and therefore I have dutifully signed up with a local weight loss expert, made an enormous shopping list of all things healthy, and planned out my exercise regime. Because when Summer knocks on your door, you have to welcome it with the best body possible, right?

The headlines on all the glossy magazines scream out their challenges: Will you, or will you not, pass the infamous Beach Body Test? You have to rock that first beach visit! If you’re a woman, make sure you have the perfect ratio of curves, no jiggly parts please. If you’re a man, you should definitely be buff and ripped.

The problem with such stereotypes is that they lead to certain issues and problems, and the scale varies from mild dissatisfaction with the way you look, to full blown Body Dysmorphic Disorder. According to the DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) persons with body dysmorphia ‘become overly concerned, or at times convinced, that in some fashion or other they are misshapen or deformed, despite all evidence to the contrary.’ This disorder does not only affect the traditional female aged between 13 and 21 years old suffering from bulimia or anorexia which we often quote when we refer to eating disorders. All age groups and both genders may be affected by such disorders, and not only overweight or obese people. Recently, I have become aware of the problem that naturally skinny persons face. Society has started to identify a healthy woman, for example, as being curvy. A naturally thin woman who has difficulty in putting on weight is therefore faced by judgement as being the standard which other women cannot live by, and also not having the ideal feminine body shape. For the male equivalent, a lack of toned, ripped muscles and pure sheer bulk is seen as unmanly.

So what is the way forward? For starters, I think, we need to acknowledge that there are different body types, and we should celebrate this fact. Personally, I find uniformity rather dreadful and boring. The biggest step however, and I do not mean to sound like a tree-hugging peace hippy from the 70s (not that there is anything wrong with that), is to feel and practice love. Love towards this body – with its various trials and tribulations – and other bodies too. You have to love yourself first, and envision a healthier livelier you. Because yes, it is important to have a healthy, varied diet and exercise at least on a weekly basis. There are a myriad health benefits which result from such a lifestyle, physical benefits and just as important, mental benefits. What we do and how we perceive our bodies originates from our mind and affects our mind.

Therefore, here’s to displaying our happiest, healthiest versions at the beach this summer. And if you find yourself craving that cool Mojito or an ice cream sundae every once in a while, what the heck, go for it!

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