I’ve never been a lover of long-haul flights. I tolerate them, because without them, the world would suddenly become a very large place indeed. So large, it would be almost impossible to travel to those far off destinations that are crying out for me to visit. They are, however, a necessary evil; a method of transportation to be endured rather than enjoyed.
My last long-haul sufferance was no different. I was tired, uncomfortable and exceptionally bored. I’d already seen most of the in-flight movies and had no interest in watching the poor selection of TV programmes on offer. As a last resort, I opted for a music channel. Unexpectedly, my interest was piqued. For at least thirty minutes, I was entertained by non-stereotypical female singing stars. By non-stereotypical, I mean ‘large’. The first was the wonderfully talented Adele, whose voice is instantly recognizable the world over and whose attitude to stardom is a definite no-nonsense ‘take me as you find me’. Adele lets her singing do the talking and is uninterested in any opinion concerning her shape, size or style. As role models go, she has to be one of the best. Having recently won five Grammy Awards she is the undisputed queen of the music charts. And she didn’t have to starve herself to get there.
All too often, we see size zero models, pop stars and actors strutting their stuff in magazines, on the TV and on the internet. The negative message portrayed is particularly damaging to young girls (and boys) who believe they too must be stick-thin in order to succeed. This subject has long since been an issue for campaigners raising awareness of Anorexia, Bulimia and other eating disorders and remains a valid concern for parents of children who idolize this false image of the so-called ‘perfect ten’.
Next up on the music channel was Kelly Clarkson. Kelly shot to fame in 2002 after winning the US talent show American Idol. She has since released seven albums, selling over 25 million worldwide, and has won three Grammy Awards. Her music is known for its themes of independence and self-empowerment for young women and she is to be congratulated not only for her success, but for the message she conveys by not conforming to the ‘norm’ when it comes to media expectations.
I couldn’t help but notice, as Kelly’s music video came to an end, that the stick-thin theme wasn’t just restricted to my screen. The cabin crew on my flight, both male and female, were all of a certain size and alas, so typical of the conventional image associated with airline staff.
Turning my attention back to the screen, it was now Jennifer Hudson’s turn. Jennifer also rose to fame after taking part in American Idol. Despite finishing in seventh place, she went on to release three studio albums and has appeared on both the big and small screen. In addition, she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, has performed at the White House and is now a judge/coach on The Voice UK. Admittedly, Jennifer’s weight has fluctuated over the years but with a personal life as tragic as hers, even the most judgmental onlookers should surely cut her some slack.
I must admit, it was a refreshing change to see these true performers gracing the screen. And it wasn’t over yet. Next up was Meghan Trainor. Her debut single, ‘All About That Bass’, sold 11 million copies and remains one of the best-selling singles of all time. Like Adele, Meghan doesn’t conform to the music world’s idealism when it comes to image and for that reason, is considered an inspiration for children and young adults struggling with their own body shape. In fact, body image and womanhood are common themes in her music, encouraging women of all ages to embrace their curves rather than buckle under the pressure of what society considers ‘right’.
We’re constantly reminded of what society believes is the perfect body and it’s no wonder the next generation associates it with wealth and success. But thanks to these ‘larger’ celebrities, many of whom come from humble backgrounds and are now wealthy beyond their wildest dreams, it should be easier to convince future young stars that you don’t need to be a matchstick to be hot.
Suitable buoyed up after my thirty minutes of pop therapy, I turned to the in-flight magazine. The theme continued as Jennifer Lopez stared back at me from the page. Jennifer is the epitome of the body beautiful. Not only does she celebrate her curvaceous figure, she broke the mold when it came to general perception of what the female body should look like. Her many image-related accolades include ‘The Most Beautiful Woman’ of 2011, but it’s her career achievements that should really be celebrated. In 2012 she was ranked as ‘The Most Powerful Celebrity in the World’ following success as a singer, actress and dancer – without a single size zero in her wardrobe!
As the cabin crew appeared with the drinks trolley, I was reminded of Beyonce’s ‘Lemonade’. How could I not mention Beyonce when talking about influential female superstars? Wonderfully curvaceous and exceptionally talented, Beyonce has won a total of 22 Grammys and was listed by Forbes as ‘The Most Powerful Female in Entertainment’ in 2015. Her net worth is estimated at $290 million and she was the subject of the term ‘bootylicious’ when it was first introduced in 2006; a term which was subsequently added to the Oxford English Dictionary. Who better to inspire girls and young women and to convince them that zero is not their hero?
Although they’re not skinny, these beautiful role models are far from obese so they’re not telling us that it’s ok to be overweight. What they are saying is be healthy, be happy, be confident and most importantly of all, be you.
For once, I hadn’t entirely lost the will to live by the time I disembarked my flight.
Of course, it’s easy to assume that body image insecurities only apply to girls; but boys have image concerns of their own. Thankfully, today’s role models are more diverse than ever before so if you know of a young man struggling with his body shape, ask him if he’s seen Rag ‘n’ Bone Man. He’s only human after all.< Back