Nicola Morgan

Author, Speaker, Supporter

Understanding and Supporting Your Teenagers – few spaces left and I’m not doing it again!

Mixed messages about body image

We are surrounded by very mixed messages about weight. The mixedness of these messages and the different reactions different people might have to them were what made writing Body Brilliant very difficult at times. I was sometimes straddling two viewpoints, seeing the value in each and the problems with some of the messages for some people. There’s also the problem that certain messages are appropriate for some people (many adults, for example) and not for others (young people still growing or individuals with disordered eating or very negative body image.)

Here are some of the messages we might come across:

Remember: these are the messages we see around us; they are not all things I believe to be true!

  • Obesity is a health problem and becoming more common – so, we are repeatedly told we must avoid being overweight and if we are overweight we must lose weight
  • Being skinny is (constantly pushed at us as being) desirable – and yet the desire to be skinny is potentially dangerous and can lead to disordered eating and a negative relationship with food, dissatisfaction, low-self-esteem, yo-yo dieting
  • Body positivity – the idea that all body shapes are beautiful and desirable – is on the one hand good (because people shouldn’t feel ashamed of their weight or shape, partly because shame often doesn’t lead to healthy lifestyles and partly because there’s a far wider range of healthier shapes than the health or beauty industry would let us think) and yet on the other hand problematic (because it celebrates larger sizes over smaller sizes, thus still focusing on appearance, and because there is good evidence that certain levels of obesity are indeed bad for us, shortening lives and bringing major health risks)
  • We should eat “healthily” and the government and advertisers try to “help” by labelling foods with calories and other measurements to allow us to make “healthy” choices around fat, sugar, salt, fibre etc – and yet over emphasis on calories or other factual aspects of what we put in our mouth can lead to an unhealthy relationships with food
  • We should eat “healthily” and yet “healthy” is a trigger word for some disordered eaters who find themselves focusing too much on what they perceive as healthy instead of having a varied diet that genuinely nourishes them mentally and physically
  • We shouldn’t feel guilty about food – and yet the messages about “guilty pleasures” are all around us – and yet, and yet, and yet, a little bit of guilt can be a pretty effective way to stop someone eating too much – while also making others feel self-hatred, which is not a healthy mindset for anyone…

Sometimes I felt I needed to write two versions: one for those at risk of disordered eating or negative behaviours around food, and those not at risk; those likely to take any mention of “healthy” eating as an instruction towards control and guilt, and those who would take it as it’s meant: useful advice to help us make varied choices and enjoy the wonderful nourishment that food brings to our bodies.

Everything’s a balance, isn’t it? We are all ordinary and yet extraordinary. We all deserve to be allowed to live our lives in the bodies we have and to respect those bodies enough to feed them well, to give them the nourishment, exercise, sleep, friendship, fun and relaxation they need. We all deserve privacy, so that no one else feels they can stare or laugh or comment or criticise us for being not quite like some enhanced plastic doll. We all deserve to be able to look at what our bodies can do and to know that it’s what they can do that makes them all brilliant.

As I say at the start of Body Brilliant:

You already have a brilliant body. I know this, though I haven’t met you. I don’t mind whether you’re tall or short, plump or skinny, darker or lighter-skinned, whether your nose is button-shaped or hooked, whether your eyes are round or narrow, how many limbs you own or what visible differences you have.

None of that makes your body brilliant. What makes it brilliant is what your body can do. And that’s a lot. Think about what you can do that you couldn’t do when you were born, all the skills you’ve had to learn and practise. Again, I don’t know you but I’m pretty sure you can do some (but not all) of these: run, skip, swim, play games, draw, write, read, operate a computer, bake, care for people, tie knots, somersault, have ideas, sing, act, dance, jump, throw a ball into a net, kick a football hard, touch a worm or a ladybird, tiptoe, stamp, smile, hug. Those are actions human bodies are capable of and you can do many of them. And you can do a lot not on that list, including things I can’t.

What we look like is utterly irrelevant compared to all that. Being taller or shorter or thinner or larger or more typically “beautiful” than another person doesn’t mean you can do those things better. Being slimmer or having whiter teeth does not make you a better or more successful person. Having a crooked smile or back or nose doesn’t make you a crooked person. The weight of your body has nothing to do with the weight of your mind and the size of your belly nothing to do with the power of your brain. And if aspects of our physical bodies make some things easier or harder, so what? We can still do a lot with our bodies, whatever they look like.

Your body is the vehicle for your life. It gives you possibilities and choices, ambitions and power. It carries your dreams and allows you to try your best to make them come true.

If that was the end of the story, this would be the end of the book.

Everybody’s body brilliant.


Body Brilliant comes out on July 11th. You can pre-order your copy through any good bookshop, physical or virtual! Look out for giveaways on Twitter (@NicolaMorgan ~ @HachetteKids ~ @HAchetteSchools), Instagram (NicolaMorgansBrain ~ wattsandwayland_books) and this website. We have posters and postcards for schools, being handed out at all my events and the SLA/YLG conference on June 21st. And special edition mugs to be won! There’ll also be free teaching materials to download soon from my website and Hachette Schools website.

Do comment but please remember that this site is for all ages.

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