In case you have never met me, may I briefly describe myself – I am a type A, bubbly, 90% of the time content 30 year-old. I can hold a good conversation, often take it over (apologies in advance for what’s to come) and can take an excellent joke and deliver it in a mediocre fashion. I rule (I think) the kitchen with easy, toddler friendly, healthy meals. I am the one pot wonder queen who can pack enough veggies into any meal that will put Jamie Oliver to shame (sorry Jamie, I still adore you and you’re cracking accent though). I work as a GP but my defining roles are mother, wife, daughter, friend.
Note I didn’t mention my weight, height, hair colour (or skin colour for that matter). It’s because I don’t think those are my defining features.
Recently I shared an experience with my followers on Instagram. The response was overwhelming. I am a doctor with a media profile with the sole aim of promoting preventative health in a fun and dynamic manner, I am trying to inspire people to take charge of their own health. Despite being a medical professional with some idea about what is healthy and what isn’t, I was told to consider losing weight to be successful in my media journey. Read on, it gets worse.
Months ago, I interviewed 6 publicists via phone call to assist me with “The Wholesome Doctor” (I often refer to her in the third person to reduce my own anxiety levels; it isn’t actually me putting myself out there. I’m quite similar to Beyonce in that manner with her persona Sasha Fierce. Mind you, the similarities do not end there; all I’ll say is wait until I dance! I digress sorry, this is exactly what I meant about taking over conversations). Overall the experience was quite pleasant – the PR world is one I have never dealt with – but generally people were kind and constructive. Except one. I was told by one man that if I wanted to aspire for TV I should “review” my weight if I wanted to look “good”. He added that Carrie Bickmore from “The Project” should be my yard stick, after I had commented that being a guest on the show one day would be my dream. I adore Carrie, I really do, but I’m not trying to replace Carrie (that’s sacrilege, isn’t it?). I am a doctor trying to provide health information to people in a way that is easy to understand – I don’t think I need to look like anyone else to do that. Instead of exploding (surprisingly my brain did not coat the walls), I laughed. I giggled in fact. My response was “I am who I am.” Those are the exact words that came out of my mouth; I knew that I would not change my appearance (or weight in particular) for anyone. I gently highlighted he had missed the purpose of my endeavors – my point of difference was that I was a doctor and that I was not attempting to compete on red carpets or Melbourne Cup marquees – I was trying to get people thinking about their health and inspire some positive change. He had missed the mark completely and I made him aware of his mistake, trust me.
In the 4 months since the phone call I have had time to reflect. Whilst I giggled at his comment about my weight, I later realised that if someone tells our daughter to lose weight in the future so she looks “good” I won’t cope as well; mainly because at 18 months I do not yet know how my daughter will deal with such a stupid unnecessary, yet potentially very damaging, remark. A comment like his plants a dangerous seed in the mind of a woman, or any person for that matter; “am I good enough?” Even in my case it did; I ruminated on his comments after I hung up before realising, “wait a minute, that’s ridiculous – I do not need to lose weight for TV and I won’t.” My fear, and what I see come to fruition all the time with my patients, is that not everyone can stay standing after a comment like this. Not everyone can quash the seed.
It got me thinking – how often do women get subjected to this sort of thing? Eating disorders affect 4% of the Australian population at any given time; 60% of those are women. As women we are almost programmed to constantly measure up to unrealistic goals and it is no wonder some of us succumb. We are programmed to strive for “thinspiration,” thigh gaps and 6 packs. And from what I can see on social media exercise only counts if you have dumb bells hanging off your ears whilst you do 300 squats. I find so many of my patients (both younger and older) strive for the picture of health presented by their Instagram or Facebook feed. Hold up, who said the size zero woman in the red bikini was healthy? Healthy doesn’t equate to how thin you are or how many green chia seed smoothies you drink.
For the record I am 60 kilograms and a size 10. My BMI and blood pressure are well within the healthy range. I eat 5 serves of vegetables most days but sometimes struggle with the 2 serves of fruit. I exercise most days – walking and reformer Pilates are my thing or “thang” if I was trying to be more hip than what I am. My cervical cancer screening test is up to date. Point is – I do not need to lose weight. Quite frankly, the suggestion this publicist made is offensive– are you questioning my healthiness or ability to be on TV because I am not stick thin? And what else do I need to change to be successful? My patients don’t require a 6 pack or thigh gap as proof of my healthiness; neither should the media. I am a real woman, I reflect the norm. Questioning my weight is not acceptable. And honestly, I don’t think Carrie would be too pleased with being used as a yard stick either (and if I knew her I’d tell her over a wine and have a giggle, but also plot to change the world for women so this type of thing didn’t happen anymore).
If I ever discuss weight loss with a patient it is because they are in the overweight or obese weight range and even a small amount of slow sustainable weight loss (even 5 to 10%) could improve their fertility chances in polycystic ovarian syndrome or improve their fatty liver disease or reduce their blood pressure. The discussion never, ever, revolves around appearance. When I have the tough talk with women it’s to inspire them to change their health outcomes, not to destroy them so they walk out of my room ruminating on the negative seed I’ve planted. Plus, I hope we agree I am qualified to talk about weight loss – this is part my job. It certainly isn’t in the publicist’s job description.
It is time to look at women for who we are, not how we look. This particular publicist should have judged me on my credentials, my ability to communicate, my manner, my social presence (or lack thereof!), anything, but my weight. The media should be filled with women who look like the majority so that we feel validated. Give us something real to aspire towards. Make us feel proud and validated when we flick through our magazines or turn the TV on. Show us women with stretch marks on their belly post the birth of their child. Show us women who don’t have a flat stomach in a pencil skirt. In essence, show me normal women like me. And don’t tell me to change.
To the publicist who made the comment to me –I am “good” enough mate (to use your own word back at you) – and my weight, dress size and appearance has nothing to do with it.