Preparing for a party some years ago, my Girls then aged 4 and 6 sat on on the bed to watch me dress and make-up.
After applying the final glittering touches I twisted and turned in front of the mirror, wondering if my new, high-fashion body-con creation was really doing its thing and asked the children “does my bottom look big in this?” The unedifying reply: “No Mummy. But your tummy looks enormous.”
A guide to Firm Abs in 30 Days and a fixation with sit-ups and crunches arrived. To this day when appraising myself in the mirror, I focus on that tummy.
Over the years criticisms received about my own body include: thighs like a toddler, big nose, fat arms, short legs, flat chest. Imagine if it were all true … I’d look like Geoff Capes with dwarfism. As it happens, the combination of my less than perfect attributes creates a figure that even I think ain’t half bad.
Were Miss World to magnify any body detail in isolation from everything else, perhaps she too might find fault; we all do it. Better to zoom out and see the whole picture. Let what others see form your judgement because on this, the detail can be Devilish indeed.
To explore what fuels these obsessions, let’s visit the gossipmongers. Heat and its peer publications often feature celebrity pictures with the tiniest, most human flaws encircled and scorned. Untoned arms, cellulite, smile lines (wrinkles, apparently); all are fair game to the hacks that demand perfection from those in the spotlight. These people are presumably practically perfect in every way? I hope their glasshouses are triple glazed.
In truth, I quite like my celebrities to be flawed; I’m reassured by a red-carpet dress that’s artfully draped over a well-Spanxed thigh. I like seeing a less than perfect upper arm on an actress or singer my age, because it’s real and makes them no less starry.
In sixth form, my close friend Pia developed anorexia after the father she worshiped joked that her bottom had become more generous than he had hitherto noticed. This teasing yet casual remark made no doubt with paternal affection, led ultimately to her death. Watching my friend quite literally disappear before my eyes was terrifying; her beautiful hourglass figure became the enemy and the smallest hint of excess flesh a sin to be fasted away. Her spirit died long before her body; the flame of this formerly lively young woman was extinguished by starvation.
Unwitting father or bitchy magazine, its often others’ perception of us that creates body obsession. Out of context magnification can make a monstrosity of the most normal form.
Context is not the point, however, of the genital zoo that makes up the Embarrassing Bodies gallery. Here we find bizarre breasts, funny fannies and strange scrota. The cleverly maverick aspect of this collection though, is how the sheer variety of dimension and droop is designed to reassure us that other completely normal people have far odder completely normal bodies than us. View the most freakish anatomy in relation to the whole and rest assured, normality is restored.
Whatever any one of us thinks about ourselves, whatever unique peculiarities we identify, nature has already solved our personal puzzle by designing each component to fit with poetic and seamless synchronicity, no matter what our shape or size.
My own mild obsession is now irrevocably linked to the ageing process and a propensity to put on weight easily. An irregular gym routine, sit-ups, facial exercises and diet plans punctuate my days. But like it or not, the most powerful incentive to lose a few lbs is still a stinging personal jibe.
Asking a male friend for his opinion on my performance in a filmed interview recently, I mentioned that the camera angle wasn’t particularly flattering to my chin.
“Which one?” he quipped.
Did I say not half bad? Better get to work on the other half then.
© Giovanna Forte