A new type of role model

August 5, 2012

As a 24 year old girl living in London, I’m bombarded with hundreds of images on a daily basis telling me I should be thinner, prettier, and essentially a better version of myself. From high-fashion billboards featuring size zero models staring seductively into the camera, to features in magazines gushing about how fantastic a certain celeb looks now they can fit into that sample size dress, the message is constantly hammered home that thin, leggy and glamorous is ‘beautiful’.

Considering I have a degree in Advertising you’d think I’d have some level of immunity towards these messages, being fully aware of how they’re put together, the photoshopping methods used and the fact that they’re all just a clever marketing ploy. But somehow, I’m always left feeling somewhat inadequate after watching Gisele prance around a beach in a bikini. If even I’m left feeling this way, imagine the thousands of girls who take advertising at it’s word – that you really could be more ‘beautiful’ if you just buy this product.
I wrote a dissertation in my final year of uni on the effects of using size zero models in advertising, something that as a young woman felt incredibly relevant to me. After interviewing hundreds of students using images of size zero catwalk models versus healthy, normal women, the results were virtually unanimous. Almost every single male scored the ‘healthy’ sized women as being more attractive to them than the size zero models, whereas the vast majority of women did exactly the opposite. So, guys prefer curves whilst girls desperately try to diet and rid themselves of them. Go figure.
Even knowing all of this, I still feel guilty when I tuck into a burger or treat myself to a chocolate bar (okay, so it might be family size but still), and tell myself most days that I really must start my diet tomorrow. Being a healthy size 10 I’m by no means overweight, but can’t seem to shift the feeling that I’d somehow be much better off losing a few pounds.
I’ve always been attracted to the way that clothes seem to hang off of catwalk models, how elegant and expensive celebrities look with their thin arms and lean, endless legs. Looking in the mirror at myself in my favourite pastel skinnies, my legs seem short and dumpy in comparison, and my boobs always seem to get in the way of the ‘clothes hanger’ effect. 
So why am I, like thousands of other young women, doing this to myself? My boyfriend constantly tells me how beautiful I am, how he loves my body and wouldn’t want me to change (he panics at the thought of my boobs going anywhere), and my friends and colleagues are always complementing me on my style (what, this old thing?). It seems I’ve been caught up like so many others in a society that takes it’s ‘norms’ from movie stars, models, and unrealistic ideals generated by heavily airbrushed advertising campaigns.
Sat on my sofa last night however, something happened. Watching the Olympics whilst guiltily tucking into a box of Maltesers, I found a new role model. Someone that is young, healthy, motivational, inspirational, hard-working, dedicated, and shock horror – not a stick insect. And it seems I’m not alone. Twitter seemed to come alive with comments echoing exactly how I was feeling. Why are we all watching TOWIE and MIC, idolising catwalk models and pretty faces that do nothing more than strut down a runway? On the television right in front of us is someone who truly deserves our respect – who gives us something to strive towards and proves to us that with hard work and determination you can achieve your goals, and that guess what – it’s not all about what you look like! Jessica Ennis has shown a generation of young women that there’s more to life than reality tv, dieting, and obsessing over your appearance. Here is an absolutely beautiful woman with a strong, athletic body (and may I add the amount of men I have heard remark how hot/fit/smokin’ she is is quickly adding up). She may not have bony arms and legs and a lollipop head like many other women we’ve come to regard as ‘aspirational’, but with that gold medal hanging around her neck, I doubt she gives a ****. 
Let’s hope that the next generation of young girls can take something from this, and that a new type of role model has emerged out of the games. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off for a run…

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