Changing The Shape Of Things To Come | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Changing The Shape Of Things To Come

Comment Editor Kat Smith discusses the pressure to obtain the 'perfect' body image, and how we should focus on more important personal qualities

Body image: a buzzword that has circled social media, dinnertime conversations and probably countless therapy sessions across the nation. It haunts people of all ages, genders and backgrounds and is something we are encouraged to improve by our teachers, parents and friends throughout our lives. It’s becoming apparent that, although we all want to accept ourselves as we are, we are existing within and encouraging a society that continually perpetuates unrealistic body standards.

I know this isn’t exactly ground-breaking. The pressures on women in particular (although I wholeheartedly agree that there are expectations for men also) are undeniable. Anyone saying otherwise would probably be ridiculed.

Historically, or at least in the scope of my relatively short lifetime so far, the pressure has been for women to be slim. Thigh gaps, flat abs, narrow shoulders, slender legs… the list goes on. But over the last few years, this has transformed. Waves of fitness fanatics and everyday people on ‘fitness journeys’ have taken to social media to preach about why and how women can lift weights too. Women can be strong too. It can be perceived as somewhat empowering; taking ownership over a section of the gym that has usually been reserved for men.

But I can’t help but feel that the latest fitness fad are not all that innocent. Building the peachiest bum possible and using your ‘booty-building’ guide bought online from your favourite Instagrammer is all well and good, but the focus on building muscle is tailored to crafting a certain body meeting current trends. I don’t think that really, the desire for strong women is about their strength, but over the appearance that comes with it. There’s still a concern of getting ‘too muscly’ or the muscles making your frame larger than is socially acceptable (whatever that even means).

If you’re proud of your size 6 frame, you should be aiming to get #thicc; but not too #thicc
We are still encouraged to be dissatisfied.

I’m still trying to practice what I preach. Struggling with body image and trying to turn an obsession with being small into a passion for the gym isn’t going to fix my attitudes towards myself. But it’s a systemic problem that means our self-esteem is never quite high enough when it comes to our bodies. While the media and general society compliment certain shapes and demonise others, there is no potential for us all to tell these expectations to sod off.

Eventually, the only way to solve pressures on is to eliminate them completely. Complimenting and criticising alike, putting the spotlight on a body for whatever reason is inadvertently feeding the pressures. Telling your friend her waist looks thin in a dress as a compliment or that her bum/boobs etc. look big in another outfit is reinforcing that bodies need to look a certain way to be attractive. You’re appealing to the convention you’ve been told to consider beautiful. Has anyone ever lovingly told you your waist looks large or boobs look small? Probably not, because we haven’t been told that they’re beautiful attribute to possess. It’s hard to find the balance between boosting your friends’ self-esteem and feeding into societal conventions but we all need to start focusing on things that actually matter. So go compliment your friend for their kindness, wisdom or intelligence… and let’s stop focusing on the size of our arses.

Opinionated second-year Philosophy student and houmous enthusiast. (@katlouiise)


21st March 2018 at 9:00 am

Images from

Amanda Mills