Female body role models: Are we missing the point?

Female body role models: Are we missing the point?

Even if you’re not a fan of I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here! (and we wouldn’t blame you for it), you’ve probably heard about Rebecca Adlington’s body anxiety. The woman whose body has won her two gold medals broke down in tears over her insecurity compared to fellow jungler Amy Willerton, a beauty queen. It seems unbelievable that such an accomplished role model could fall victim to the same body worries as everyone else.

The sad truth is that Rebecca’s insecurity is relatable. As Daisy Buchanan put it in the Guardian: ‘I'm sure I wasn't the only woman watching who found it easy to identify with Adlington... We are not encouraged to be confident in our own appearance’.

This explains why the body confidence displayed by everyone ever’s dream BFF, Jennifer Lawrence, has earned her the admiration of not only legions of female fans, but also the media. This is the girl who fell over on her way to accept her Oscar and made a joke about it, the girl who hilariously fobbed off Jack Nicholson’s advances, the girl who interrupted an interview to comfort a crying child… and the girl who plays Katniss Everdeen, a teenage franchise heroine who boasts some serious feminist credentials.

Told to lose weight or get fired, Jennifer refused with a few well-chosen words that have been asterisked out in websites all over the internet. She told Marie Claire that she’d ‘rather look chubby on screen and like a person in real life’.

And lo, Jennifer has been propelled to body-role-model status. Our kick-ass contributor Muireann Carey-Campbell (of Bangs and a Bun blog fame) wrote a great piece on how ‘Jennifer Lawrence is striking a blow for healthy, sweaty women’, after Jennifer told Newsnight that ‘We have the ability to control this image that young girls are going to be seeing. They see enough of this body that they will never be able to obtain and it’s an amazing opportunity to rid ourselves of that in this industry’.

It’s certainly refreshing to see an accomplished young woman being praised for not being thin as a rake, and healthy body role models for girls are lamentably thin on the ground. But a big debate just broke out in What I See HQ over the very concept of praising women in the spotlight for their body shape. How constructive is it to describe any female figure as ‘ideal’ or something to be emulated, when every girl’s body is different?

We couldn’t help but be reminded of Tracy Moore’s Jezebel piece (and eagle eyed readers may notice it's the second time we’ve whipped this out for #WISPchat) on how we should ‘stop hailing women as good or bad role models’ because ‘it keeps us in an endless loop of chasing after this One Correct Way for Women to Conduct Themselves.’ She wasn't talking about body image, but the principle remains the same.

Which WISPee do you agree with? Is a healthy, confident body role model what young girls really need? Or are role models missing the point entirely? Should we stop idolising, and instead tell youngsters to just be themselves?

Let us know what you think during tomorrow's #WISPchat, kicking off at 2pm GMT. Don't forget to add the #WISPchat hashtag to your tweets folks!

Image source - Flickr: Carson Savage


1 Comment - Add yours


Whilst I believe it’s beneficial to have role models standing about for realistic ideas of body image I think it’s sad how much weight we put on looks over personality, intelligence and skill.

By Kait on 29 November 2013 at 15:00