Which of these women is happiest with her body?
As women finally start to embrace their curves Stephanie Bell finds that bigger can be better.
Is the tide finally starting to turn on society’s obsession with thinness? For years we have been bombarded with images of heavily air brushed impossibly skinny models held up in glossy magazines as the female ideal.
The size zero debate which raged globally in the fashion industry a few years ago did leave a stigma, making it not so hip to be super skinny anymore.
Criticism of celebrities with waif like frames is increasingly creeping into the media with Kate, the new Duchess of Cambridge, the subject of constant speculation about her health and comments about her weight.
Angelina Jolie's recent Oscar appearance had Twitter ablaze with criticisms of her thin frame with one user saying her arms looked like they were ready to snap in half.
In March, Israel took the unprecedented step of banning models from advertisements or fashion shows if they measure less than 18.5 on the body mass index (BMI).
It is part of an effort to promote health for women of all sizes, and to stop glorifying the ultra-thin.
“Beautiful is not underweight,” said Rachel Adato, one of the creators of the bill.
The lack of body diversity in the media has been blamed on the soaring number of children and young teens suffering from eating disorders.
The reality is that most “normal” people are not naturally skinny.
According to a recent survey, the average UK woman weighs 11 stone and is a size 14 and it looks like we are finally starting to embrace and celebrate those natural curves.
We talked to three real women who have very different body sizes about how their weight impacts on their happiness and self esteem and found some surprising responses.
‘Even big ladies can look great’
Donna Wilson (44), a beauty administrator from Belfast, is married to Alan (45), a maintenance engineer, and they have four children, Kerry-Ann (24) Curtis (20), Jordan (19) and Corey (16). She is size 20. She says:
I’ve never been thin. When I was a teenager I would have been a size 12. My weight went up when I had my children and at one stage I was actually heavier that I am now. I did go up to a size 28 but I lost four stone about four years ago although I have put two or three stone back on.
I can’t say I wouldn’t like to be a bit slimmer and I know I could do with toning up for my health but I am happy with how I look.
I love going out for meals and I love socialising. I like to enjoy life and so I don’t let my weight get me down or stop me from doing things.
I love fashion and I love shopping, when it comes to clothes I am a bit of a shopaholic. I always try to make the best of what I’ve got and yes, sometimes I do feel sexy. I love the High Street boutiques, River Island, Next and Dorothy Perkins as they all do my size and I like stylish clothes. I can pick up a nice maxi dress in River Island or leggings in Topshop which I wear with a long vest. I might have the big knickers on underneath to hold my belly in but if I feel good in something then it makes me happy and confident.
I am a real girly girl, I love dressing up and shoes, the higher the heel the better and I have so many shoes I could stock a shoe shop. I don’t think you have to be thin to look good. There is this perception that if you carry weight you can’t be fashionable but that’s just not true, even big ladies can look brilliant. I do work in a glamorous industry and would always have my full make-up on and my hair done.
I am a confident person and I do get compliments from people on how good I look.
My husband compliments me and even though I wasn’t this size when I met him, I think he still finds me attractive. I don’t think you have to be a size eight to be attractive, it’s more about being happy with life.”
‘When I’m naked I still feel skinny’
Louise O’Reilly (48), from Belfast, is a size 14. Louise is a part-time hairdresser and model who was a Miss Ireland finalist in 1995. She is married to Danny, a senior systems analyst and they have three children Natasha (22), Danielle (21), Matthew (19). She says:
I have been modeling since I was 22 with the London agency Aesthetics doing mainly promotional work. I also work part-time as a hair dresser in the Jason Shankey salon. Even though I am in an image conscious profession I was never the type to be obsessed by my weight or body image.
I was a size 10 when I was younger and then became a 12 in my 30s. I have been a 14 for a few years now and I’m still modeling.
I do all the motor shows, Silverstone and Birmingham as well as Ascot and the North West 200. Even though I am bigger now I think some model agencies don’t mind. Weight was never an issue for me. If I put some on, I could lose it again very quickly coming up to a big modeling event.
I am happier and more confident as a size 14. My husband certainly says he prefers me the way I am and he has seen me skinny in the past. When you get older you have a bit more wisdom and you realise that how you feel inside — being confident and happy — is more important than how you look.
I think image is such a momentary thing. I am aware of the health issues of being slightly bigger so I do eat healthy. My weight has gone up and down a lot.
Five years ago I got really skinny and was a size 10. You feel a different person when you are slightly bigger and I think you look better, especially in |your face. When I was a size 10 |I could have gone to the cheapest high street shops and bought clothes but now I have to think carefully about what I wear.
I have discovered that it is more flattering to wear your size rather than try to squeeze into a size smaller. That just makes you look fatter. I actually feel skinny when I am naked and I think clothes can add bulk if you don’t wear the right ones.
I think older women look better with weight on. I love food and I’m not prepared to sacrifice it because of my weight. To me that is too big a price to pay. I don’t have an emotional attachment to food, I don’t use it for boredom or stress, but I enjoy it. I think if I was hung up on my weight my social life would change and I wouldn’t be as relaxed if I was always watching what I eat. I like to eat what I want, drink what I want and live life to the full. I know where to draw the line.
I have young daughters and thankfully they enjoy living life and eating what they want and are not hung up on their weight either.
I’m very happy with my weight and I think most intelligent people would realise that you don’t have to be skinny to be attractive or content.”
‘Being this thin just isn’t sexy’
Caroline Stuart (37), from Belfast, is a full-time mum to Natasha (19) Rebekah (15) and Victoria (14). She says:
I separated from my husband about three years ago and to deal with the stress I joined the gym and started to work out. I had always been a size 14 in jeans and a size 12 on top and was quite happy.
I was going to the gym seven mornings a week as it really helping me to relax and made me feel good, I suppose I got a bit addicted. I didn’t really notice the weight dropping off me until people started to comment.
I went down to a size six and hated it. Clothes were just hanging on me. I lost my boobs, my bum and had no curves. I had always had a big, good shaped leg but they had gone and now I have these wee skinny legs.
I was worried something was wrong and went to the doctors but he found nothing medical that could have caused the weight loss.
I stopped the gym a year ago to try and put weight on again. I love the gym but I am too scared to go. I have gone up to a size eight but I am still too thin and have no curves.
My boobs used to be a double E and they are now a B cup and they are so ugly, they look terrible because of the weight loss. I looked into getting a boob job to make them a better shape and bigger. Years ago I was actually thinking about a boob reduction.
Some people say I look good but I don’t think it is attractive being this thin and I never wanted to be this thin. I look in the mirror and I hate what I see. I’m scared to even go for a run in case I lose what little weight I have put on in the past year and go back to being a size six. For me it’s not sexy at all.
I worry about my oldest daughter who reads all those glossy magazines and has a perfect wee size 10 figure but she is unhappy with it and would love to be a size 6 or 8.
I try to tell her that it doesn’t make you happy and it’s not attractive.
When I had weight on, crisps were my downfall and now I can eat them all the time and as much rubbish as I want but I’m still not putting weight on.
My partner James knew me when I was bigger and says he likes me the way I am but I think deep down he is only saying that because he knows that I hate the way I look.
I’m always a bubbly person and that covers up how I am really feeling.
To me there just isn’t anything attractive about being this thin.”
Why size matters for the stars too
Christina Aguilera (below right) (31) said women are constantly under scrutiny but added: “As long as I am happy in my own skin, that is all that is all the confirmation I need.”
High School Musical star Vanessa Hudgens (23) said she used to be embarrassed by her ‘tree trunk’ legs but has now learned to love them.
Former Friends star Courtney Cox (left) (47) says she’s happier in her own skin now than when she was in her 20s.
Singer Beyoncé Knowles (30) says she has days when she looks in the mirror and wishes she could change some things, but as she matures she realises that it is the imperfections “that make you more beautiful”.