Only one in 10 British women is happy with her body

Most believe weight-loss will solve life's problems. Why is fat still the female demon?
Click to follow
The Independent Online

How many teenagers do you know who are happy with their bodies? And how many women in their twenties? New surveys have confirmed the sadly familiar truth: that most girls would like to be thinner, and nearly all women are unhappy with their bodies. A health and lifestyle survey of more than 36,000 secondary school pupils found recently that at least one in five girls is starving herself in an attempt to lose weight.

How many teenagers do you know who are happy with their bodies? And how many women in their twenties? New surveys have confirmed the sadly familiar truth: that most girls would like to be thinner, and nearly all women are unhappy with their bodies. A health and lifestyle survey of more than 36,000 secondary school pupils found recently that at least one in five girls is starving herself in an attempt to lose weight.

The survey, commissioned by the Schools Health Education Unit, found that 60 per cent of girls aged 14 to 15, and 28 per cent of boys, believe that they need to diet - even though only 13 per cent are clinically overweight. Nearly a fifth of girls said they had skipped breakfast that morning and 15 per cent said they had missed lunch the day before.

Dr David Regis, research manager of the SHEU, said: "It's regrettable that so many young women want to change the way they look. Young people have enough to worry about without being worried about their weight and the problem is getting worse. Ten years ago we weren't seeing quite the same emphasis on body shape. There was quite different type of model and pop star then. No one had heard of Kate Moss or that level of extreme thinness.

"There are clearly extreme cases which will lead to eating disorders and mental health problems. If there were the same number of young people with cuts and bruises as there are with mental health problems there would be a national outcry. Problems such as eating disorders are more hidden, but no less serious."

Dr Regis said children as young as 11 thought they were fat. He added: "This fashion for baring midriffs does nothing to help."

Female obsession with body shape only increases with age, however, and a survey out last week showed that 85 per cent of women worry about their size and shape every day. It seems that Marks and Spencer's enthusiasm for the fuller figure is not shared by the majority of British women. While M&S is using size 16 models in its latest advertising campaign, the Top Santé magazine survey found that only 1 per cent of females are happy with the way they look. The survey of 5,000 women found that eight out of 10 women thought their lives would improve considerably if they lost weight. In an attempt to achieve the perfect body, 86 per cent have tried dieting, on average 32 times, with one in 10 saying they are permanently on a diet. In spite of repeated health warnings, not to mention expert advice that they don't actually work, a quarter of all women have tried slimming pills, 25 per cent have also fasted and four out of 10 said they have suffered an eating disorder.

Karen Williamson, editor of Top Santé, said: "British women have become incredibly critical of their bodies, and their obsession with their shape and size is now spoiling their lives. Women feel they are imperfect and the extent of their dissatisfaction is deeply disturbing."

We spoke to three women about how they feel about their shape.

'My boyfriend said I should lose weight for him'

Denise Ellul Age: 21 | Job: clerical officer | Size: 14 | Height: 5ft 5ins | Weight: 11st | Measurements: 36-29-36

I was about 16 when I first became conscious about my figure: I never wanted to go over a size 14, because I think that's huge. I always put weight on my bum, stomach and face. My belly is the worst, it just never seems to go flat. I don't think I've got a bad-looking face. But I know I could look better.

When I look around me, everyone seems to be skinnier than me. I think it would be perfect to be a size 10 with a 36C bust. But with my bone structure, I think the minimum I could get to is a size 12. It's a vicious circle - when I put on weight or see people who are thin, I end up eating to comfort myself. Then I don't want to go out because I feel I won't look good enough, so I stay in and end up eating more...

I always think about food - when I wake up I think about what I'm going to have for breakfast and if I eat that, what can I eat for dinner? So it can get a bit obsessive. I tried the cabbage soup diet once, but I only went on it for about a week because it gave me migraines. I joined Weight Watchers again two weeks ago but I haven't lost anything yet.

I think girls feel they should be a certain size and if they get above that size then they've got a problem. My boyfriend once said I should lose weight for him. I personally don't think I'm fat, but when someone tells you that you are, it gets you down. Losing weight would give me confidence: I'd probably have a different outlook. I'd want to go out and meet more people. 'I went on a non-eating diet where I starved for a week'

Ita Kenny Age: 20 | Job: asst personnel manager | Size: 10 | Height: 5ft 8ins | Weight: 9st 7lbs | Measurements: 36-24-36

The worst parts of my body are my bum and my thighs. My bum is huge and really sticks out. I first started worrying about my figure when I was about 18. My boyfriend told me I had a big fat bum and I was putting on weight. I really didn't feel good about myself, I didn't like my shape at all.

When you're with someone and they tell you you're fat, you have to do something about it. I went on a not-eating diet, where I starved myself for a week, but that didn't work. I lost a lot of weight, I went down to about eight stone, but I felt really ill. Then he said I was too thin and didn't have enough meat on me.

People say that being my height and weight, I've got nothing to worry about. And now I've got a new boyfriend who's happy with me, so I'm happy with me as well - though I wouldn't mind losing a bit round the thighs and bum to tone up.

When you see other people, it makes you think: well maybe I should be that thin. Especially when you look in the papers at these lovely, beautiful women, you think, "How did they do it?" But I think you have to live with what you are.

All my friends worry about their weight. I tend to think about it more if I've got something special coming up. At the moment I'm on a diet, because I've got a ball in a couple of months. I'm just trying to eat healthily, cutting out chocolate, crisps and Coke. I try to go on my skiing machine every day. 'My friends say that there's nothing wrong with me'

Michelle Hatch Age: 23 | Job: time-tabling officer | Size: 12 | Height: 5ft 2ins | Weight: 9st 7lbs | Measurements: 36-26-37

I feel overweight and think I look overweight. I'm quite small, so I think it's more noticeable. The first diet I went on was Weight Watchers. I was a lot bigger then and only lost half a stone. After that I adopted my own diet and got down to nearly eight stone, but I put it all on again.

I think about my shape all the time, even more so when I'm getting ready to go out. Sometimes I have to try out three or four outfits before I decide what to wear - and then I end up just wearing black. This morning I tried on three outfits to get ready for work, so you can imagine what it's like when I'm going out.

I have the mickey taken out of me by my friends and my family about being big, but most people don't say anything - it's just my own self-consciousness really, though I used to have a boyfriend who was always making comments about the way I looked.

I think I've got more confidence now, but I still have bad days. I feel better when I've done some exercise. If I have a binge on crisps and chocolate, I feel bad for the rest of the day.

My family are all the same - we are all quite chubby. It was not until I saw pictures of myself with other people that I realised I was big. My friends say that there's nothing wrong with me, and that because I'm so short they wouldn't be able to see me if I was too skinny. I've got a small waist and skinny ankles. I've been told I have a wicked smile and that tends to get me by.

Comments