For its annual 'body issue', Marie Claire South Africa
challenged six major advertising companies to design an advert that
would change the way women feel about their bodies.
With an editorial tagline proclaiming "We don't all have the
same body-type but, regardless of this we are all perfect", it's
refreshing to find a magazine that peddles an idea fashion, beauty
and lifestyle tips illustrated by spreads of size-6 models and
dieting advice actually acknowledging that the majority of its
readers don't fit the image that they project. More importantly,
it's refreshing that they're saying "that's okay".
The agencies took very different approaches to conveying this
message, from an "IMPERFECT/ I'M PERFECT" wordplay to an annotated
Barbie doll (complete with laugh lines, cake lines and wobbly-bits
- exactly the bits Mattel have carefully removed over the last 50
years). Jupiter Room's entry (pictured) manages to strike a balance
between humour and empathy; "If you were to get rid of everything
you hated what would be left?" According to the (beautiful) model -
who's crossed out every part of her body except for a band of flesh
across her shoulders and lower calves - not much?
By showing even models can have body issues, the advert seeks to
normalise imperfection and mirror own self-judgment. As likely as
we are to exclaim "There's nothing wrong with her body", the
advertisement echoes this back; there's nothing wrong with ours
From the outside, there seems to be an assumption that lesbians
are uncomfortable in their own skin. It's common to hear
non-lesbians - men and women - make judgements about queer women
based on their appearance, a frequent misconception being "butch
women dress like men because they want to be men".
They project insecurities based on a perceived lack of
'femininity'. Likewise, femmes are judged to be 'over-compensating
for something', deeply unhappy or ambivalent about their sexual
orientation, 'dolling themselves up' for men because they're not
'completely' gay(whatever that means).
This is of course nonsense. For lesbians, as for heterosexuals,
clothes are chosen to reflect our inner identity and our
lifestyles. Interestingly though, and perhaps because of our
sexuality, there is greater room for experimentation and expression
afforded by the rejection of hetero normative stereotypes for
lesbians - it is okay for us to wear men's shirts, ties or boxer
shorts or trousers if we so wish.
A lesbian can wear what she wants because by casting off
traditional gender-pairing and the binary of male/female we have in
turn allowed ourselves to cast off gender identity in all its
Without wanting to sound too Judith Butler, that's perhaps not
all. For lesbians, the coming out process is closely tied to
learning to love your body. For some women, coming out coincides
with their first glimpse of another woman (who's not their sister
or mother or friend) naked. That glimpse is not fuelled by
comparison -does she have cellulite? Has she got a better bum than
me? - but by adoration.
If this feeling pervades - is reciprocated, and acknowledged -
then we learn to accept the imperfections of others, which should
in turn teach us to tolerate and accept the imperfections in
However, its silly to assert that lesbianism is the golden key
to positive body-image, nor are we better at it than heterosexual
women. There are members of our community who have suffered eating
disorders, who struggle with their own body-image. Butch, femme,
trans - anyone can suffer from poor self-image. But a correlation
between accepting your sexuality and accepting yourself is one that
does exist for many gay women.
I'm example of this. Built like a 14 year old Chinese gymnast,
whilst some women are 'pear' or 'hour-glass' shapes, I am the
equivalent of an 'ironing board'. With wide shoulders, narrow hips,
zero bust and an (alarmingly) small pin head, I look more like a
boy in shape than that of a 'woman'. But after decades of changing
room tears and teenage years marred by taunts about being
flat-chested, I really couldn't give a toss.
This didn't happen instantly, nor did my bust size miraculously
balloon overnight (despite years spend wishing it would). One day I
just stopped caring about the fact that it hadn't. For me,
accepting my body meant also accepting what was inside my body - as
I became more comfortable with my sexuality, my nerdishness, the
fact I'm good at English and rubbish at maths and all the other
little nuances that make me unique - I stopped caring about what
size my bra was.
We all have 'ugly days'- its part and parcel of being human.
Insecurities don't disappear overnight and they can re-emerge like
an irritating pimple that you've popped - but you're not alone. We
all feel like this at some point. And that's the real message Marie
Claire succeed in sharing.
You can follow Marie
Claire on Twitter and tweet your favourite advertisements using
the hashtag #MCLoveMyBod.