In the Guardian magazine each week there’s a Q&A feature where a public figure gets asked a fairly standard set of questions about their life such as ‘when were you happiest?’, ‘what is your most treasured possession?’ and ‘who would play you in the film of your life?’ There’s one question that regularly appears and which really irks me because it perpetuates the idea that it’s normal to be critical of the way we look – ‘what do you most dislike about your appearance?’

Usually people conform so Stefi Graf’s response was ‘Where do I start?’, Carla Bruni’s was ‘My reflection in the mirror’, and Olivia Coleman said ‘My eyebags and the middle bit between knee and armpit.’ These are competent, active women who are good at what they do. I wonder if they really feel this way about the bodies that enable them to act, play sport and make music, to love, bear children and connect or whether they fear the reaction if they are not self-deprecating. I would love to see more people resisting and subverting the pressure to conform to the norms of feminine appearance.

But recently I’ve rejoiced to see people celebrating their bodies and the way they look. Caitlin Moran said, ‘I say this in the spirit of feminist encouragement, but I think I’m pretty hot. I’ve got all the facial features, facing the right way, at the right end, and you can always paint over the bad bits with makeup’ and Louis Smith’s response was ‘I don’t think I’d change anything. This is just me and I’m OK with that.’ But I think Sinead O’Connor’s response was the best, particularly considering the life that she’s led – ‘I love my glorious appearance!’

A few months ago we did a service at Grace which explored what it means to be embodied beings and which aimed to critique the temptation to be dissatisfied with our bodies which are so fearfully and wonderfully made. I would have loved to have used Sinead’s response as part of a liturgy of celebration of our physical selves – I love my glorious appearance. We are integrated beings – body, mind and spirit – and what happens to one aspect affects all the others. If we despise our bodies and the way we look then we despise our very selves. We can do better than that.

2 thoughts on “What do you most dislike about your appearance?

  1. Clare and I were having a conversation the other day about how we would not want to be 16 again, watching Lily and her friends reminded us of feeling so uncomfortable in our bodies, they too are showing that sense of unease about themselves. For me I think it has only been in the last 10 or so years that I have finally come to feel at ease about my body, who I am, how I look. I love that quote of Sinead’s but I suspect that her outlook is so unusual. It’s not unusual to hear the women in my office talking about having breast surgery, plastic surgery if they could afford it. For me the question at the moment is how to help my girls to feel delight in how they look, to feel that they are beautiful and wonderful. We tell them but I don’t think that’s enough to counter the messages they hear form the media and at school.

  2. Thanks Sonia – It’s interesting that the beauty ideal we’re meant to aspire to is that of a typical teenage girl – young, thin and wrinkle free but I can also remember that feeling of awkwardness around that age, partly because I was taller than most of my friends and I had massive feet or so I thought! I’ve definitely got happier in my skin as I’ve got older but it’s also a conscious choice I’ve made and running in particular has made me really grateful for what my body enables me to do.

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