Abs-olutely Not Fabulous
If you’re not a size 6, then you’re not good looking. Well you better be rich or be real good at cooking.
Is it me, or is it impossible right now to open a magazine or join the social media circus without an abdominal muscle smack bang in your face?
It feels like we can't move for six-packs, cheese-grater abs, pancake-flat stomachs and washboard midriffs all over the show. Perfectly honed abs are TAKING OVER THE WORLD and it's becoming a bit grating if you'll pardon the pun.
The fabulous Polly Vernon recently declared ankles and the midriff the erogenous zones of Now, with a capital N. Polly talks a load of sense (and charts lust in such a clever way that even Howard Jacobson took note) so this must be a Thing. Furthermore, the other day the Chart Of Lust used Rihanna (yawn) to launch a semi-regular Abs of the Week segment which means, Lord help us, a dose of feel-terrible-about-your-non-celebrity-body to stomach (if you'll pardon the pun, again).
Instagram, once an interesting platform for wonderful photos (that's you, thegoodly), somewhere to nose around at what the famous ones are up to and catch Breaking.Fashion.News with a FROW-side view (behold, there are feminists on the Chanel Catwalk! etc) is fast descending into a shameless, look-at-me fest to rival its archenemy Facebook. There are now squillions of accounts dedicated to manic, pumping fitness churning out a stream of toned body parts, especially abs, that makes you feel guilty as hell for eating five segments of Terry's Chocolate Orange when you only meant to pop one in your mouth (NB: surely orange oil provides one of your five a day?). Even if you accept deep down the clever use of filtering, saturation, sharpening and the like is at play it's hard not to suck in your tummy and pull down your top a bit self-consciously.
There's no escaping the fact that abs are getting cosy with fashion - crop tops and bralets are having a moment and have been in that moment for a while now, with labels like Carven, Louis Vuitton and Calvin Klein featuring wispy models with stomachs on show over the past couple of seasons. Just like brilliant clompy ugly-chic shoes, cropped tops are now a regular feature on the catwalk. Styling the beautiful Rosamund Pike in a Dior Cropped Wool Polo Neck with a sizeable portion of midriff on show in the October 2014 edition of British Vogue is evidence enough that it is de rigueur to flash one's belly.
Wait. Before I go on, let me make one thing absolutely crystal here before you pelt me with a protein shake - I'm no fit-shamer. I'm a regular gym-goer and squish working out into a busy schedule to counterbalance my penchant for consuming Prosecco and orange-flavoured chocolate. Arguably, it's a feminist issue too - women should be able to celebrate their bodies and no one has the right to deny them of their choice to portray or display themselves as they damn well please.
What really gets my goat though is the enormous pressure on women (and men) to look 'perfect' and how society expects us to look and behave. The saturation of images in the media, print or digital, deemed to be the ideal but in reality are unattainable-without-a-personal-trainer-or-eating-only-green-stuff might feel like a smack in the gut (sorry, again) for people who have a job, raise children, fulfil caring responsibilities and have a bit more on their plate to deal with than sculpting their hard abs. For the Wonder Women who work hard on their bodies AND lead their busy lives (and just get on in with it rather than share with the rest of the world) I salute you.
It makes me wonder though, is this never-ending stream of idealism sending us all a bit doolally as we try to achieve the almost unachievable? I'm scared we're losing the plot. Women are squeezing 7 Minute Workouts into every available cavity of the day and furiously Pushing Up, Crunching, Squatting, Dipping, Jumping Jacking and Planking the shit out of every spare moment, even when we're supposed to be resting or on holiday. We're being sucked into the social media vacuum and hanging on for dear life as we're told what we're expected to do and achieve. 'How Kim got her little waist'. 'How to get Ellie Goulding's toned Glastonbury torso'. 'Millie's non-stop work outs'. Non-stop? Argh. Stop!
Without disclosing the account name (as Jameela Jamil once said this is the moment you go from having an opinion to being a bully) there is one particular transformational fitness Instagram account that alarms and fascinates me. The owner of said account in the US recently shared photos of herself at a spa tricep-dipping off any available flat surface, barely allowing a moment of relaxation to pass without flexing a muscle or springing up and down. The accompanying commentary said 'No spa day is complete without a tricep hold' and #MostRelaxingDayEver. Dear God, it's a SPA. SIT DOWN. Read a book. Give yourself a break. Flop on a lounger and grab yourself a glass of fizz. Un-dip yourself at once.
Worryingly, 'skinny apps' exist that allow users to slim down their pictures for Instagram. SkinneePix claims to help you 'edit your Selfies to look 5, 10 or 15 lbs skinnier in two quick clicks on your iPhone. It’s easy. It’s simple. It’s fun'. Erm, it's the end of sense as we know it. A distorted concept. Since when did abs become more important than showcasing kindness, intelligence and talent?
Is the relentless ab-onslaught putting women under immense pressure to look perfect when we should be conserving our energy for important topics like as the gender pay gap and carving the way for the women of tomorrow? Julie Bentley, CEO of GirlGuiding UK recently spoke in Stylist Magazine of visiting girls who were participating in her Be Body Confident campaign and Free Being Me badge that centres on tackling girls' low self-esteem. She cites that 'girls are often aware of what society suggests they are supposed to look like - but this isn't necessary what they see themselves when they look in the mirror'. This really makes me sad. They should be celebrating their ambition and achievement, not worrying about their looks.
I'll leave you with this powerful entry to the marvellous Everyday Sexism Project to put things into perspective.
I look at images of women everywhere I go - in shop windows, on the sides of buses, in the tube, on the backs of newspapers, in magazines open on women's laps, on billboards, on videos, on TV, on the internet, popping up in my screen. They are all the same. They are taller than me, so much thinner than me, beautiful, flawless, perfectly made up. Many, many of them are revealing their long, toned legs right the way up to the tops, their flat, flawless stomachs in all their tiny, tiny glory, their ample cleavages looking perfect - not fat but perky. They are all that way - there aren't any that I can look at and think, she's a bit like me, that's OK. And they are everywhere. There is no escape. When I look in the mirror, I see myself and over the top I superimpose that image and all I see is the difference between us. When I meet new people I feel like they are looking through me to those differences too. She is everywhere and I can't escape her and I'm terrified my boyfriend compares her to me constantly and finds me constantly wanting. Know the funniest part? I'm a very normal size. I'm not obese or fat, I have a pretty good figure. But it's nothing compared to hers. And she's everywhere.
So now I am SHOUTING at you (with a Chanel-inspired megaphone). Inspirational, beautiful, intelligent women everywhere, let's see your talent and ideas, your kindness and strength as well as your lovely stomachs - no matter the shape, size or hours spent moulding them (or filtering them).
Don't waste your time, effort and energy on the unachievable and entirely unimportant. There is no need to reflect your worth through your body parts and let's stop feeding the media circus that perpetuates this ridiculous, asinine ideal.
You are so much better than that.
You are amazing as you are.