Wednesday, 23 April 2014


Below shows a short analysis of the survey results collected for the practical element of the module. This analysis can be seen in the printed and PDF version of the finished book designed also entitled, 'How do you see yourself?'.

“We must not allow other people’s limited perceptions to define us.” ― Virginia Satir

In a modern day society our judgment can often be clouded by the perception of others, and how we perceive ourselves.  We are often told which celebrity has the best body, what size should be ‘in’, or what new wonder diet to follow is. Every week a new model emerges with an impossibly small 23inch waist; which is comparable to the average 9-year-old girl. Every month we see a new cover star on Vogue enticing the reader to engage with their beauty; an airbrushed beauty. And every year, hundreds of vulnerable males and females are captivated, and fall into the ‘trap’. Society dictates what beauty is and isn’t, as well as what is hot, and not. Over the past few years this idea of the perfect figure, face and size has taken off to new extremes and has pushed people to the point of mental illness and eating disorders; especially for those who are tempted by lavish lifestyles, the ideal and the fashion industry. We are only ever told what is right, wrong, fat, thin, in, out, ugly, beautiful, perfect, chubby, anorexic, bulimic, short, or tall. We are never allowed to express our own opinion. And this is where this survey began.

6 years ago, I was diagnosed with Severe Anorexia Nervosa. My body image perception was clouded with a project I was working on in Year 11. I was looking at the Size 0 fad of the time – the skinny hips, the skeletal rib cage and its roots. I was always meticulously organised, a good timekeeper, punctual and desperate to be successful. At the same time, I was suffering with my own demons, overcoming a family murder and coming to realize I was being raised in a dysfunctional home where I didn’t belong. Soon after that my A Levels came round, and I was pushed to study Fine Art at Oxford. I became absorbed with my passions and an obsession with striving to succeed and be the best arose. I set goals daily. Calories, exercise, weight loss goals. It was a distraction from the pressure of family life and education, as well as a mentally abusive relationship. After 1 year, I lost 3 stone and fell to 6st 1lb. With a BMI of 15.8 at 5’5” I fell ill with amenorrhea and risked early osteoporosis as a teenager. Everything I had worked for was about to be taken.  I rejected the offer with 2 A*s and an A. I was about to be sectioned.

6 years later, I have recovered, and remain passionate about the illness and the associated realities of being ‘beautiful’. I continue to raise awareness about the illness and creatively try to deter people from the media’s captivity and isolation ‘beauty’ stems too. Throughout my recovery process taking almost 4 years, I was told to attend counseling, psychotherapy, anger management, aromatherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy sessions weekly in order to clear my mind and take steps forward, opposed to backwards. I didn’t find any of these allowed me to try and help others, nor change my own perception, as I was scared to be honest. I just wanted to be anonymous.

The idea of anonymity is a powerful tool that allows our deepest secrets to be revealed in a way, which no one else can decipher, no one can criticize and no one can judge. Only you can judge yourself. You can be free, emotional and heard. From this motive, people engaged with the power of body image perception and responded to an anonymous question, which gave a new insight into the power of feeling, emotion and the physical form.

74 people reached out to a survey that I released and published internationally. A range of male and female respondents aged from 16 – 60+ have showed powerful insight into how we think, feel, act and judge others around us, and judge themselves on a physical appearance opposed to characteristics such as personality.

Out of the 74 respondents 21 of which were male, and 53 of which were female. I expected the responses to be highly negative after such high pressure on society from the media. Surprisingly, only 55% were negative responses, whilst the remaining 45% were positive.  This was a much more balanced figure than expected. From studying the statistics taken from the survey, it is possible to tell that women are more negative than men with an average of 35 positive responses and 39 negative responses, more than half of which were from female respondents.

Out of the 74 responses, only 6 in total mentioned the impact of the media on their own body perception, whilst 5 stated that they make comparisons to their younger-self, a celebrity or other people surrounding them on a daily basis. The 11 people in total who commented on the impact of the media and surrounding issues mentioned were all female - “I feel the media has pressured me as a size 12 to be slimmer, however in recent years social media has made this much worse. I do not feel that I HAVE to be slim, but both media and social media has made me feel like I would be more easily accepted in society if I were.” Female, 18.  This alone shows a glimpse of evidence that women are much more conscious and aware of the subliminal impact mentally which is derived from the media, in turn leading to a negative view on their own body image perception, which is then reciprocated by others with similar interests and mentalities. Whilst acceptance is often a trigger for bodily changes and self-criticism, some people struggle to find acceptance with themselves, regardless of other people’s perceptions. A 21 year old female anonymously replied backing this figure up by stating “[My body image is] not very good, hard to live up to. The perfection shown on TV and magazines that have clearly been airbrushed within an inch of normality! Would be nice to see size 12 on the catwalks, as not everyone is lucky enough to be thin, adding to depression in women who can’t achieve that look. Always striving for better body image, will I ever be happy? Probably not!” Female, 21.

On the contrary, friend and international supermodel Samantha Rollinson responded to my survey, anonymously, to raise a point of positivity reflected through catwalks and the media. Samantha stated,  “I feel happy with my body image, rather than feeling put down by other peoples beauty I simply admire it!” Female, 19. This, perhaps unexpected response, allows confidence to be infiltrated into positive body image awareness.

Freud in early 20th century brought to light the mirror stage of ones life, whereby from around 6 months old, one can see our own reflection in shiny, or mirrored surfaces. Freud, stated that “the mirror itself is a ‘double’, where the person is oneself and the image the person sees is another self … Since this produces a double image, what is visible may actually be invisible or altered through our own perceptions” (Lind, 2009) Evidence of this is backed up through the survey results which dictate that people in general, both male and female are at times somewhat scared of their own reflections. This quote taken from the anonymous results supports this theory and statement. I try to avoid mirrors at all costs (I even close my eyes when I walk past a full length mirror in my house). I feel like I never look good. I feel like I am a weird shape and that my clothes look strange on my body Female, 32. It is possible to see from the results as yet, that different people are triggered emotionally and physically regarding their bodies in a range of different ways. Triggers noted are childhood, upbringing, clothing choices and aspirations which in all push people to negative extremes, which can lead to illness such as Anorexia and low confidence and self-esteem; all of which are responses from the survey.

Retrospectively positive responses were found from both males, and females. However, those who had a positive response to their body image where on average older than 25 years old. For instance, a 41 year old, female anonymously stated, “I still love the skin I’m in, though I’m starting to feel the wear and tear of my age. I’ve got great hair; beautiful skin and I tan well. I’m too fat, my ass too big, but I know how to work it all to my best advantage. My body is I as much as my personality is, and I accept it as so. Life’s too short for any different attitude.” I feel this response shows how beauty at any change can be accepted, believed in and seen as ‘beautiful’. Older men also feel as though they are much more comfortable in their skin than in the past; “Fairly slim and tall with a growing belly (noticeable only to me I’m told!). Pretty comfortable about myself - as I age and fat levels increases I sometimes think I should do more exercise. But I can’t say it’s a big concern.”
Male, 31.

Acceptance appeared to be one of the most succinct reasons as to why we try and blend in with the stereotypes and trendy figures, however, the more changes we make, the more often we criticize ourselves further, and in return fall into a trap which unknowingly captivates its victim into a world of ideology, sacrifice and ill health.

The results of the survey collectively were overwhelming, whilst some made me laugh, and some made me cry. Some reminded me of my own thoughts, both past and present in regards to my own self body image perception and reality. They show a broad range of truthful, honest thoughts from a broad range of people who have come forward to make others aware that we are all the same. We all have feelings, emotions, worries, pet hates, self-criticisms and things about ourselves which we would love to change, but the ultimate truth is that as time has passed, society has moved on, standards are changing and new ideals are constantly being promoted. Consciously or subconsciously we engage with these ideals, which increase our levels of self-doubt and low confidence (in most cases anyway), or alternatively push people to the other extreme, which contrasts the negative strain the media has tarnished body image issues with – positivity, pride, passion and power. Whichever way the figures are analyzed or pulled apart, the results show a conclusive negative undertone, highlighting that everyone faces body issues daily, and that you are not alone.