Things we need to teach our daughters about body image

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images 

It's not often that scantily clad supermodels scaffolded in $5 million bras make positive community service announcements about body image, but when Victoria's Secret model Adriana Lima revealed what it took to look like her, I automatically felt better about the Oporto burger and chips I was wolfing down at the time. 

In a complete pivot to the standard, "Oh, I just adore food – particularly carbs, fats and sugars blah blah blah", Lima was refreshingly candid about her diet and exercise regime in the months leading up to famous Victoria's Secret catwalk shows.

In a nutshell? Lima revealed she completes two workouts every twenty-four hours and stops consuming solids for nine days before a show (only protein shakes will do, apparently). Two days prior, she'll drop the amount of liquid she has, then finally banish all liquids for twelve hours before she takes to the runway. Brutal. I'm amazed she actually has the energy to walk and doesn't have to be wheeled down the runway on a dolly like Hannibal Lecter. What she really revealed in this interview, however, is that like practically ever other women who walks this planet, she's got some serious body hang-ups she can't quite let go of.

Adriana Lima walks the runway for Victoria's Secret.
Adriana Lima walks the runway for Victoria's Secret. Photo: Evan Agostini

You may not be letting it all hang out on the world stage, but there's a good chance there will be times in your life when you too will have moments that you'll feel your legs aren't long enough or your waist thin enough, but you know what? At the end of the day, it really doesn't matter. If your boobs magically blow up two cup sizes tomorrow, you're not going to be any happier and people are not going to think any differently about you – except for the guys at the bar who'll just stare at your tits all night and try to bed you simply because they're simple and you have a large rack (these two things seem to attract one another).

If you suddenly wake up to find you're a supermodel commanding $20 million a year (and if so, stay away from cocaine, rock stars and Kate Moss please), life is not going to get a whole lot rosier either, because despite your best efforts, the media and the public will still tear you to shreds ('Oh yes, but did you see that cellulite?') because doing so makes everyone else feel better about themselves. I'm not saying it's right, only that it is and you need to know how the world works.

You can't win, so my advice to you is this: groom yourself to whatever level makes you happy and don't worry too much about what you can't change. At least in your world, getting ready for work only involves a shower, an application of lipstick and a dress. And in your world, you can just pop out to Oporto for lunch without someone wheeling you up to the counter and removing your muzzle. Sometimes, it really is the simple pleasures that count. 

What you need to know about… your physical appearance.

When a man sees you naked for the first time, he will not be thinking about the state of your thighs or less-than-toned stomach. At that point, there's only one thing going through his mind and it's this: "Oh my God, I'm going to get some. She's going to sleep with me! I'M ACTUALLY GOING TO HAVE SEX!" Nothing else will register because that's all he really cares about. Aren't you glad?

The next time you're staring at your reflection, spare a thought for supermodel Cindy Crawford. Don't freak! This is positive advice, I swear, because if you've ever wondered why you don't look like the models in the pages of your favourite magazine, it's because they don't really look like the finished product either, not really. As Cindy C is often quick to point out, "Even I don't wake up looking like Cindy Crawford". Okay, she's hardly an ogre but I can say that in all the years I've worked in the magazine industry, I've yet to come across a model who looks the same in person as she does in print.

Cindy Crawford with her daughter.

Cindy Crawford with her daughter. Photo: Instagram: @cindycrawford

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You've got to remember that these women are primped and preened for hours by the world's best hairdressers and make up artists. The lighting will be perfected, the most favourable angles chosen and once the photographer has finished shooting, the images will be retouched. The art team at the magazine will then Photoshop said images so that the model can have flawless skin (all blemishes removed!), more defined cheekbones, larger breasts, smaller waist, bluer eyes and so forth. When you're looking at these images and feeling sorry for yourself, remember this: none of it is real. 

Women have an uncanny way of associating self-worth with a numeric value, so for this very reason, scales are best avoided. I'm telling you, buying one of those things is like making a pact with the devil, because once you start weighing yourself, it's easy to become obsessed with remaining a particular weight or shedding a few kilograms. Tell you what, when you're a size you're happy with, put aside a pair of your jeans and try them on every now and then. If you find they're getting too tight, you'll know it's time to cut back on the doughnuts and fried chicken for a while. 

You might have noticed that orange peel thing happening on your bottoms and thighs. That's cellulite and you need to remember that almost every woman has it. There's no point in getting upset about it because that's how we are built, and although cosmetics companies pay squillions in advertising each year to have you believe otherwise, there's no cream in the world that can rid you of it. Best just embrace it and move on. 

A confession: I've had plastic surgery. Tired of living with what would best be described as "Prince Charles ears", I had them pinned back, and at the age of 23, I was able to wear my hair up in a ponytail for the first time. Knowing what a difference the surgery made to my self-confidence, it's not for me to say 'don't ever have plastic surgery', but I would recommend you think long and hard about your reasons for wanting it in the first place.

If you decide there's something you would like to change about yourself, you need to do your research and seek out only the best plastic or cosmetic surgeons possible. There are times to throw money at a situation and this is one of them. Working in men's magazines for many years, I've seen my fair share of both $5,000 boob jobs and $15,000 ones and let me tell you, it's worth taking on extra shifts and waiting a couple of extra months to get it right. 

While I'm on the subject of plastic surgery, do not even entertain the idea of taking one of those "plastic surgery holidays" overseas. If your hospital extras package includes cocktails by the pool and henna tattoos by the beach, it's pretty safe to assume your health and safety is not going to be the clinic's priority. Stay local. 

Repeat after me: "I do not need preventative fillers in my 20s". Sure you might think that it's nothing but a little injection here and there but before long you're going to start looking like the kind of person who'd melt next to an open flame. The worst part? By then you'll only be in your 40s.

Learn to take a compliment and give them readily too. If someone says you have a beautiful face or great skin, don't argue with them, just smile and say "thank you". 

Ever notice how celebrities refuse to answer the age-old "Which part of your body do you most despise?" question in interviews? That's because if they answered truthfully, we'd all be taking a magnifying glass to the page to say, "Oh yeah, she really does have short bed nails!" What I'm trying to say is, never point out your perceived physical flaws if you don't want others to notice them too. You may think people are talking about your strong Roman nose or "cat's bum" lips, but they're actually far too absorbed with their insecurities to have noticed yours – unless you extend that invitation, that is. 

The way you look at 15 is not a clear indication of how you're going to look when you're older. You may think you're too thin, too fat, too pimply, too awkward etc, but most of these things iron themselves out as you grow into your body. You're still a work in progress so try not to get too hung up on aesthetics just yet. 

Lastly, beauty really is in the eye of the beholder and you're never going to be everyone's cup of tea. Some people are going to think you're the hottest thing they've ever seen, while others will think you're a little blah. That's not your problem. Like yourself, love yourself and say no to determining your value based on what one person has said or done. The only opinion that matters is yours. 

This piece on body image was first published (2012) by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Limited in Dilvin Yasa's first book, Things My Daughter Needs to Know. Yasa's second book, Good Enough: Confessions Of A Less-Than-Perfect-Mum is available through Pan Macmillan.