Obviously, I was struck in North Africa with the sheer exotic-ness of the place. There was so much of what you might imagine it would be but I was blown away at how very clean the streets were and the smells… Morocco is truly a sensuous place.
What struck me as one of the the most interesting revelations on my travels, however, was how differently the women were represented in the British media compared to here and then how that influence was easily seen on the streets of London. I used to live in London. I really adore the city and MUCH has changed since I lived there (the cars got big!). I was far less observant in my youth. During the years I spent in residence there, I was young, in my very early 20s. I didn’t really pay much attention to adverts or what people were wearing. I didn’t have a TV and I wore whatever clothes I could cobble together on a meagre salary.
As someone who notices these kinds of things now, here’s what I immediately observed as I watched British commercials. Most, I would say 80%, of the women featured were in their late thirties, 40s and even 50s. The women selling anti-aging cream – get this – actually needed it. They weren’t beauty queens or supermodels. The women in the commercials looked like average women. At first I thought it must of been a fluke, but as I kept watching, there was no denying it: the presenters on shows, the actresses, etc all weighed a good 20 pounds more than their American counterparts. Their hair wasn’t lambasted with extensions. Their teeth weren’t perfect. They were attractive women, surely, but not like you see here in America where perfection means underweight, gleaming white teeth, perky boobs and silky locks. Oh, and 21 years old.
As I dragged my poor husband from one High street to another, I saw how British women internalized what they were seeing on their TVs. First of all, they took far more care in their appearance than I’m used to here in Portland. But I would even argue that they dress far more chic-ly and certainly with a rather fancier flair than they do in LA, which takes nuanced casual to a whole new level. New York is a whole different ballgame, of course. But here’s the the thing: these women I saw in London, wearing gorgeous, sometimes funky clothes, were not skinny. I didn’t see many obese women (actually, I’m not sure I saw any) but thin has a different bar in the UK. I would say that on average, the women I saw, who looked quite happy and extremely fashionable, were about sizes 8-12. They looked exactly like the women I saw on TV. Imagine that.
At 5’8″ and about 135 pounds, with a mummy tummy, I’m so used to going to LA and NY and even Nashville where I work frequently and feeling dumpy (it’s my weird baggage, I know). It was such a pleasure to feel totally normal. Not just normal, but even quite lovely. I went to many shops and even though I know the sizing in the UK is different, I did not see a single size 0. I didn’t even see a size 2!
Despite Kate Moss’ outrageous declaration that nothing tastes as good as skinny feels (bull#$%#, chocolate cake feels and tastes pretty darn awesome) there can be no denying that the media in the UK presents a far more realistic woman to its citizens and its citizens in return reflect that notion in person. I didn’t see any ads for weight loss pills or cosmetic surgeons. Down on Oxford Street or Picadilly, I didn’t (as I did in Times Square) see any waif-like stick figures flogging anything.
In America, youth, beauty and an extremely thin figure are the images we are deluged with on a daily basis, multiple times. I didn’t realize how depressing this could be, how downright demoralizing it is and the subconscious toll that it takes. I’m not saying that advertising and the media, even in the UK, is perfect. What I am saying is that America, without a doubt, is the worst. Stay strong ladies and don’t buy into it.
Featured image of a woman at the Royal Ascot via ShutterStock