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Balancing Act! Body Image & Self-Esteem

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Being fit and fabulous is one thing but, in pursuing health and happiness,
we need to be sure we are sending the right messages to our kids.
Trisha Hughes reports


Exercise is a word that fills me with an undeniable kind of dread. It means potentially putting on Lycra and exposing my body to the world, which is something I have no wish to do, especially so soon after my Christmas binge.

But if you look around the plaza, the fit women of DB have no qualms about doing exactly that. I watch them in a kind of awe as they get off the buses, water bottles in one hand and phones in the other with not the least bit of trepidation. As they walk confidently through the plaza on their way to the
gym, their other half is strapping on his helmet and heading off to the bike trails.

As I watch, I often wonder what it is that makes the gym (or yoga studio) so enticing to these fit and fabulous DBers. Is it the thought of a quarter pounder combo without the consequences at the end of the session that makes it so appealing? Or is it the alluring promise of those endorphins ready to rage mysteriously through their bodies at the end of a punishing one-hour workout?

I was raised in a country where women are obsessed with their bodies. Australia is one of those countries where nearly everyone knows how to swim and they spend every available weekend soaking up the sun on a beach in their skimpy bikinis. And of course, women watch other women and they make judgments, and for a while people’s opinions were a vital part of my life. But oh boy, was I wrong. I’ve come to realise that generally speaking, people’s judgements don’t matter after all. It’s freed me up for a ‘who cares!’ adventurous approach to life.

You will know by now that I am no exercise bunny. And although we are roughly the same age, I am certainly no Madonna. She’s been working out for 40+ years, she’s been married twice, and has six children and a gruelling career. Goodness, the woman should be exhausted! She should be lying on the couch at night watching movies and eating ice cream with her fingers. Instead, she’s off to the gym at least twice a day and out there par tying night after night, all with the unbridled enthusiasm of an 18-year-old schoolgirl.

I can only admire her stamina and energy. By contrast, I picture myself slumped over a treadmill, sweaty and dispirited after only a few minutes in the gym. A fretful voice in my head whispers: ‘There has to be some other way!’

That was the lightbulb moment. I decided to delete exercise from my 2023 agenda… all I needed was a diet. The thought made me stop and open up my new calorie-counting phone app and ask it how many calories there are in one glass of red wine. I knew I’d get a quick and simple answer like I did with the boiled egg question.

The app then asked me was it red wine or jus? Regular? Cooking? Sparkling? Or just red wine? After a lengthy think, I pressed regular. It then asked Sip? Large glass? Extra-large glass? Or Other? Playing it safe, I opted for other.

By then, I thought I’d just twitter Madonna because she would certainly know what course of action to take when it came to calorie counting and exercise. Or even Joanna Lumley, actress, champagne swiller, owner of the world’s most seductive voice and as thin now as she was in Absolutely Fabulous.

And then, I stopped to think… do we place too much emphasis on the current celebrity preoccupation with telling us what to eat? The thought made me pause and wonder if we put too much faith in celebrity diets and by extension in the all-pervasive ‘name and shame’ culture, popularised by shows like The Biggest Loser. I’m no doctor or psychologist but finger wagging rarely works.

Are these messages perhaps the wrong ones for our children? When 12-year-old kids are undergoing gastric banding surgery, and the obesity rate is still climbing, surely we should be thinking whether these anorexic-looking people are the ones who should be influencing us. Our obesity crisis will not be solved by a clutch of privileged people who eat small amounts of food and crave nothing, because for most of us food is perennially fascinating, not least delicious.

If in doubt, you only have to watch a Jamie Oliver show to know that extensive dieting is bad for us, not to mention the long-term damage it does to our skin. It’s nutrition that is the solution to the problem.

But with so many people offering different ideas on nutrition, who is right and who is wrong? There’s no doubt about it, diets are confusing. We have low fat, low-carb, low-calorie, detox, low-glycaemic and high-glycaemic. Some people insist on the low calorie option, while others insist that eating less more often will build up metabolism and is the way to go.

Then you have all the weird celebrity diets, with a cacophony of stars eager to disclose their intimate culinary habits. Victoria Beckham has eaten steamed fish and vegetables almost exclusively for 25 years; Rebel Wilson uses the Mayr Method to lose weight, cutting out sugar, dairy and gluten and chewing each bite of food 40 times; Joe Rogan is a fan of the carnivore diet (just meat and fruit) and when Mariah Carey wants to lose weight, she eats nothing but Norwegian salmon and capers. (Incidentally, it’s inadvisable to try these diets at home.)

So here is what I’ve I figured out. Life can be tragically short and yet, it’s in our hands to fill it with heaps of happiness. I know that to be miserable about self image is easy and that self-absorption is an utter waste of time. I’ve learnt that no matter how rich or poor you are, how many shoes you have (that number is called ‘never enough’), and how much exercise you do in the messy business of life, the greatest possessions and achievements you can ever have, are your friends and family who love you just as you are, with or without a muffin top.

Of course, it’s good to keep an eye on your weight but what about those magic words ‘everything in moderation?’ And now the dreaming part (and dreamers out there will know what I’m talking about), I would really like it if the day would come when I can eat all the chocolate I want and not have it show up on my hips.

While I dream, I am lacing my feet into joggers ready to hike around beautiful Lantau. If anyone should see me collapsed in a bush, please be kind enough to haul me out and revive me. Low-cal red is fine.

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