For as long as I can remember I have been on a diet. It’s a horrifying thought that at every point in my life, at every milestone, I have been watching what I eat and what it does to my body. Some may say that’s a healthy thing and if truth be told, for me, [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Why do so many women strive to be ‘skinny bananas’?


For as long as I can remember I have been on a diet. It’s a horrifying thought that at every point in my life, at every milestone, I have been watching what I eat and what it does to my body. Some may say that’s a healthy thing and if truth be told, for me, particularly as a teenager, this consciousness stemmed from a need to be strong and fit to partake in competitive sports and because my own metabolism needed a little extra help. Latterly as a Performing Artist, it became part of my job description. Being slightly older and wiser, I now know the importance of having a balanced diet and understand the need to combine it with a healthy dose of exercise in order to maintain what I feel to be a healthy pear shape.

Being one, a ‘pear’, has never bothered me. Nor, to my knowledge, did being apples, hourglasses and bananas bother any of my peers or acquaintances. During our school days and teenage years, it just was a reality of life that we all came in different shapes and sizes. It was not really an issue to worry about before we were adults. Naturally, awareness of physicality grows exponentially with age and maturity, and by then people are better educated and equipped to deal with all the additional brouhaha that comes with it.

Amazingly however, most teenagers and young adults of today, appear to be vastly unhappy with the shape Mother Nature has blessed them with, and appear to spend a lot of time, energy and money in trying to alter their actual blue print. Writing for the Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC) in 1997, Kate Fox states that “The latest surveys show very young girls are going on diets because they think they are fat and unattractive. In one American survey, 81% of ten-year-old girls had already dieted at least once….A recent Swedish study found that 25% of 7-year-old girls had dieted to lose weight – they were already suffering from ‘body-image distortion’, estimating themselves to be larger than they really were. Similar studies in Japan have found that 41% of elementary school girls (some as young as six) thought they were too fat. Even normal-weight and underweight girls want to lose weight”.

The problem only seems to manifest when these same young adults develop into fully fledged ones. Kate Fox goes on to observe that “Among women over 18 looking at themselves in the mirror, research indicates that at least 80% are unhappy with what they see. Many will not even be seeing an accurate reflection. Most of us have heard that anorexics see themselves as larger than they really are, but some recent research indicates that this kind of distorted body-image is by no means confined to those suffering from eating disorders – in some studies up to 80% of women over-estimated their size. Increasing numbers of normal, attractive women, with no weight problems or clinical psychological disorders, look at themselves in the mirror and see ugliness and fat.”

Why do so many of us women have such a negative attitude towards our bodies? Why do we harbour and entertain these almost warped ideas of what constitutes a ‘perfect figure’, as laid out by last month’s gossip magazine or favoured advertisement? These women are most often straight like a banana and boyishly thin and tend to be devoid of any feminine curves – not to mention any possible ‘help’ the photographer may have been able to give them with all our advances in technology. Who decided that women need to be a particular shape to be attractive? Are glossy magazines, social websites and a variety of media largely responsible for propagating this mistaken notion that all women need to fit into a ‘global idea of beauty’? And that somehow by being thin and often straight like a skinny banana, you automatically fall into that category of being ‘beautiful’.

Ironic this is, particularly as in South Asia, the natural female shape has always been of a more curvaceous nature and considered beautiful and able to hold its own against any straighter, generally more western figure. Even in historical times there is evidence that a more generous figure was given pride of place.

The Damsels of Sigiriya, here in Sri Lanka, proudly displaying their fuller figures, are a sight to behold and are lauded around the world as being incredibly proportionate and womanly. A verse in the Selalihini Sandesaya, famously describes a perfect woman (loosely translated from the original) as having “A slender waist that a single hand could span and wide hips, symmetrical and circular like the wheels of a chariot…”.A far cry from anything resembling a ‘stick’.

Each woman has her own idea of how she would ideally like to look. In addition, factors such as family influences, cultural upbringing, genetic make up and various bits and pieces of information obtained through various channels, combine together to form each person’s idea of a perfect final image. Sadly the presence of ‘picture perfect’ skinny models and actresses on mainstream media, billboards, adverts and magazines has created an unnatural idea of what it means to be beautiful. More importantly, of what sort of shape and figure is considered the most desirable. More often than not, that tends to be an unrealistic and unattainable overall look, which very few women will ever truly achieve. According to the SIRC, “Standards of beauty, have in fact become harder and harder to attain, particularly for women. The current media ideal of thinness for women is achievable by less than 5% of the female population”.

It took me some time, but I finally understood that whilst there’s no harm in trying to change within the frame, you cannot change the frame – not in any healthy or natural way in any case. Once we start beginning to understand that, then suddenly apples, pears and bananas all start becoming equally appealing and desirable. Even though many will still have their individual preferences, there will still be beauty within that diversity. I personally favour the Pear – for obvious reasons – but hopefully one day we can also all recognise that it takes many types, shapes and sizes of ‘fruits’ to make a beautiful salad.

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