Did you see this recent advert for a weight loss product? it features a barbie look-a-like, tiny-waisted, blond haired woman in a bright yellow bikini with the question 'are you beach body ready?' next to it.
The suggestion being, it seems, that if you want to feel good about yourself and enjoy your holiday you need to lose weight. I often ask myself why advertisers are still using such body shaming strategies and I think the answer must be - because they work. it seems that we buy into the concept that we need to look a certain way in order to enjoy life, and we therefore feel ashamed enough of our own bodies to spend money on diet products. This is done in the belief that it will make us look more like the model in the picture which will make us feel better. In fact, the advert was withdrawn in the UK in April after concerns were raised about health issues.
According to the latest government statistics, the majority of people in the UK are overweight. And at the same time we have become obsessed with thinness and a need to transform our bodies and look our best. In fact, even our best isn’t good enough. We are encouraged and cajoled by advertisers not only to lose weight in order to look better but to have cosmetic procedure’s in order make ourselves more attractive.
Perhaps the reason that this kind of advert works when it comes to selling weight loss products is that feelings of low self esteem and poor body image are often linked to problems with food and eating. Many women and girls think about food, weight and body image from the moment they wake up in the morning to the moment they go to bed in the evening.
The conversation goes on and on, inside people's heads but also with their friends and colleagues, and prompted by the magazines that they read which are full of dietary advice and pictures of celebrities' bodies.
How can we make sense of this obsession with thinness which is combined with a reality of overeating and obesity? In her book 'Bodies' Susie Orbach suggests that 'a search for contentment focused around the body is a hallmark of our times' . She goes on to suggest that our bodies are increasingly being experienced as objects to be honed and worked on. She makes a link between these cultural expectations and the kind of problems so many people have managing their appetite and their desire to eat.
So, whilst some people who want to lose weight just eat less and exercise more - many people just can't do that. They have been trying to loose weight, or struggling to maintain a healthy weight for most of their lives. This is a group of people who might want to think more about the psychological aspects of their eating. For example, how their eating disordered eating might be linked to relationships, emotions, family background and daily stresses.
In her book 'How to understand your eating' Julia Buckroyd suggests that disordered eating is linked to childhood experiences. In adulthood, many people use food to soothe themselves, to take the edge off of life. Other times there might be a sense of deprivation and food is used to make up for something that is felt to be lacking.
The reasons for disordered eating patterns are in fact varied and individual to each person. Psychotherapy is one way of giving people a chance to think about these issues in more depth. During therapy the client and the therapist can consider where patterns such as overeating, yo-yo dieting and binge eating might have arisen, what purpose they might have served, and how this might be linked to other aspects of the client's life, both in the past and the present.
This is a way in which symptoms can be given meaning; and these same symptoms can act as signposts - pointing to areas that need addressing. So, once you know that you are eating out of a deep-felt sense of dissatisfaction, you can think about what it is in your life and relationships that leaves you dissatisfied.
Working with a psychotherapist is interactive and offers a way for the source of problems to be known about in a real rather than a theoretical sense. Once links are made they might make perfect sense, but somehow they have previously been obscured. In this way issues such as low self esteem, a sense of deprivation, inconsistent relationships and perfectionism can be thought about and tackled, creating an environment where new relationships with people and a healthier relationship with food can be fostered and maintained.
So, in order to change your outlook on this issue perhaps you need to rephrase the question and ask 'how can you get the best out of your holiday if you don't feel good about how you look?'. Part of the answer may lie in taking a step back and giving yourself time to get a different perspective on how you relate to yourself and to food. In doing this, I think it is helpful if you can hold onto the fact that not only is there a multi- million pound diet and advertising industry which benefits from the fact that you feel dissatisfied with how you look, but there might also be a part of you (that is hard to get to grips with) that is very unforgiving and undermines your own best efforts to feel good about yourself.