Can the body positive movement include us ‘old biddies’ or is it only ok to be body inclusive as long as you are young?
On Saturday 31st August I walked around Trafalgar Square in my bikini. I was almost 55, an ordinary size 12 and have all the lumps and bumps that go along with being a normal middle-aged woman. So what on earth was I thinking…?
I was thinking at the time I must be truly mad, I was jolly uncomfortable and kept comparing myself – and finding me lacking – to the lively confident young women who hugged each other and bonded over what they were wearing. On the morning of the catwalk I had rummaged through the holiday bag under the bed to find a miss-matching old bikini top and the biggest bottoms I could find. I did bung on some old tinted body lotion that was supposed to be like wearing magic tights, I was hoping that it covered the cellulite but nothing in a tube can work those kind of miracles can it?
I am the editor of a magazine that shows off diverse beauty in all its un-photoshopped glory, I regularly post photos of myself in not many clothes on instagram, I even hosted a swanky ‘What the fuck to Beach Body Ready’ event in London in July in a swimsuit, but…come the day of walking with 100+ other gorgeous people in their bikinis and lingerie I was shit scarred and looking for any excuse to not go through with it. As the moment to line up got nearer my face set itself into a rigid pose that I hoped hid my crumbling confidence. During my swift catwalk appearance I felt a total sham; I hated my body, I was not right, no one thought I should be there, and for all my talk of body confidence I was no further along the path to accepting my body than I had been as a self-hating-diet-obsessed-emotionally-distraught fifteen year old.
That is why in the photos of me on prancing on the chalk drawn catwalk in front of the National Gallery I look so grim. Everyone around me is smiling and having a good time. I couldn’t wait to get it over with. Once the ordeal was out of the way it was as if I had stepped back into myself; I was smiling and happy; eager to talk to the others who took part to find out how it felt for them; it was even easy to wander around in the throng of spectators, still in my bikini as though this was perfectly natural.
The Real Catwalk was devised by model Khrystyana Kazakova, a contestant in America’s Next Top Model, in response to the ‘unreal bodies’ on display at a Victoria’s Secret lingerie show. The guerrilla-style fashion show catwalk is a truly intersectional group of ‘real bodies’ who represent the diversity that is still all too often missing in editorial or ad campaigns. My experience of connecting with this remarkable group is that age is the least under represented sector in this worldwide community. So why is this? Why is the body positive movement predominantly made up of young women who are proud to share their bodies? Are the young women themselves creating boundaries for women my age or does the fault lie with us? What can we learn from each other that will promote more diversity enabling all ages to just be themselves?
I chatted to many of those who were ‘brave’ enough to parade in full view on Saturday and it’s clear that some younger women feel that my generation were complicit in allowing the view that beauty is ‘thin, white and perfectly shaped’. They feel that we set bad examples and they don’t want us to hitch ourselves to their positive campaign. That’s fair enough and not without some truth. Other girls talk about older women who have supported them in their desire to deal with the age-old way of being acceptably beautiful; they told me about mothers who struggled with the need to be fashion-thin but have gone out of their way to make sure their daughters learn to feel comfortable in their own skin.
I watch these young women and want to absorb the confidence they radiate, not because they are young and I want to be that, but because they are smart, emotionally literate and full of balls. They have taken total control of ‘the male gaze’ and give short shrift to any man who attempts to objectify them. They know they are gorgeous and don’t need the validation of outsiders to boost their egos. The endless selfies they take and share aren’t for any ones’ pleasure but their own and in sharing their body positive views they are truly opening the way for societies rigid formulaic beauty ideals to be shattered. They have no need for traditional media to acknowledge them as they generate their own stories across all social media platforms, but especially instagram, and having ceased control of the means of communication they are rocking it.
But is my admiration for these young women reciprocated? And do I – or indeed should I – care? I would like to think that they see older women on the real catwalk and feel that perhaps getting old isn’t so bad after all; I would like to feel that they think that older bodies are equally beautiful, but I also realise that age is the final taboo in fashion and beauty, and the YUK factor is difficult to supress. There may well still be an implicit reluctance to share the stage with bodies that don’t quite conform to the notion of instagram-able body inclusivity.
I don’t want it to seem as if the others who walked the real catwalk in any way made me feel inferior or excluded, the sense of being an outsider was purely my issue. I wasn’t made to feel any other than welcome for all my insecurity about being the right kind of body or having the right kind of attitude. But I do feel that there is work to be done on cross–pollinating the body positive girls with the ageing activists to encourage intergenerational body inclusivity. Or should we perhaps just leave this space to the young girls, those beautiful youths who love their bodies, to do their own thing without us wrinkling their image?