Model and writer Rosalind Jana discusses how the modelling industry impacted her self image…
It’s funny how small things can have a large impact, particularly online. There are plenty of actions we consider to be pretty throwaway – a picture perhaps, a status update or an observation poured into 140 characters and forgotten soon after. Often they flare for a second or two, snagging someone’s attention, before subsiding into the great big junk pile of all that is no longer ‘current’. Forgotten as the minutes tick forward or the clicks go by.
Yet it’s always gratifying to know that occasionally the fleeting can have longevity. Take this example. A wonderful and gifted friend of mine named Rebecca Pearson has been modeling since her teens. Aaaaaages ago (which shows how long it takes me to write up things on occasion) she posted a picture on her Instagram of herself at eighteen, with an accompanying caption about how skinny she was at that point. I saw it and commented on how she’d been beautiful then, but I thought she looked even more amazing now. Shortly after, I received a lovely email from her, saying how the collective weight of people’s observations, including mine, on how she looked better now had made her really pause for thought.
This was all many months ago now, but I’ve thought about it on and off ever since. I wonder if being a model/ former model/ sporadic model brings with it additional body image anxieties. Not only do you have all the famous figures society and the fashion industry deem to be beautiful, images of their lithe limbs and flat stomachs and lean frames hard to escape. You also have past pictures of yourself. I have a visual chart of myself from the age of thirteen onwards. Those six years of images document a slow but steady alteration from pre-pubescent girl to the shape I am today. That’s a kind of extraordinary trajectory, but it does have its downsides.
When I began blogging – and modeling – I had the kind of non-existent hips that meant skinny jeans sagged, older people would look at me and sigh “you could wear just about anything” (or swoop on me at vintage fairs going “I have a tiny dress no-one else could fit!”) and fashion magazines thought it appropriate to use me in editorials selling clothes to adult women. Incredibly unsettling, it was also the kind of figure that meant I would attract scatterings of pro-ana followers on my blog. Although it was worrying at the time, in retrospect that utterly horrifies me.
My weight was entirely healthy(ish) at that age. I ate tons and tons, did no exercise beyond PE lessons and had little comprehension of the fact that my clothes size had a kind of cultural currency. In fact, I’d get pissed off at people making any comments about my (lack of) weight, and would occasionally wonder what a life with boobs might be like.
Then I went through scoliosis, surgery, the last stages of puberty, the natural shifts in weight that happen throughout your teens – that general narrative of alteration with some unexpected twists. I’ve written enough about all that before, but there’s something else too. I only acknowledged (and I mean properly acknowledged) last summer that, at a low level, I’d been unhappy with my size for at least the last three years. Not in any destructive way, but in the number of times I’d see an image of myself and think, “hmm, I really am bigger than I used to be”, or look in a mirror and feel worse for the rest of the day, or burst into tears if something didn’t fit. That began to happen with much more frequency throughout the first half of 2014, and I felt pretty shit.
All of that has subsided significantly since, and I feel very comfortable with where I’m at now. Yet you know what? I still didn’t want to put in those last few sentences. Why? They feel weak, foolish, self-indulgent. If this were a Guardian article, the commenters would be racing to tumble over their keyboards and tell me all the ways I’m wrong and narcissistic and irrational. Well, the last one’s right. It was irrational.
But knowing that something is silly won’t necessarily stop you feeling it. Knowing that there are much, much bigger problems out there may give perspective – but it won’t immediately vanish that sense of inadequacy away. We humans are complex creatures. One can accept that a feeling or way of seeing oneself is ridiculous whilst still remaining dissatisfied. And it’s oh so easy to write incredibly angry commentary on the bullshit of body ideals, and still have a self-image problem.
Maybe, actually, it’s not something exclusive to models. Now we all have our own visual charts, and we live in a society where women are told time and time again that their worth lies in their weight (or lack of it), as though controlling the amount of flesh spread across your bones constitutes some kind of grand achievement.
For me, the message to come back to again and again (and one I’ve brought very strongly into 2015) is to view my body as marvelous – rather than a site of failure. Yes, I am not the same shape I was when I was fourteen. But that’s exactly how it should be. Now I eat really healthily, cycle, and have an active, independent life. And, more importantly, I’ve learned to inhabit my body properly. It’s a good one. It looks fabulous in heels and swing coats and sixties dresses. It has long legs, lips I can paint bright red, hair that can never properly be tamed.
And even better, I have so much more presence than I did as a scared, skinny young teen. Now I get to march around, look (and finally feel) confident, and damn well make sure people notice when I stride into a room.
Follow Rosalind on twitter: @Rosalind Jana, and find her blog here.
Rosalind’s book ‘Notes On Being Teenage’ will be available to buy Summer 2016.
Illustration: Sarah Clifford