Hazel McHaffie

Body image

The end of a year is traditionally when one takes stock before resolving to do better in the future, so in this spirit, on the very last day of 2014, I shall share one of my (many) failings with you.

I’m one of those countless people who feel dissatisfied with what they see in the mirror … in spite of being told donkeys years ago by a lovely man (himself a skilled potter) in our church that it’s a sin to do so on the grounds that the insignificant clay pot has no business criticising its all-powerful Maker. Sorry Derrick, but I genuinely do sympathise with folk who don’t like the casing they come in for whatever reason, and my personal problems are compounded at this precise moment by the ongoing necessity to define myself as ‘ill’. Me? I’m the strong energetic type who can rise above all weakness and still live life at a hundred miles an hour … Not any more it seems – at least not until the cardiologists ‘fix’ me! Since October when these shenanigans with my recalcitrant heart began, I’ve been aware of the need to consciously work at keeping my mood buoyant in the face of physical frailty. I don’t like what I see or feel.

So I suspect it wouldn’t take the genius of Freud to deduce that that abiding angst has quite a bit to do with my present conflict with my writing about body image. I’m struggling with the effort of trying to stay inside the skin of some of my characters who are even more tortured than I am. Body image, huh? Big subject. Cue size zero models, toddlers dressed provocatively, the obesity epidemic, self harming, cyber bullying, celebrity culture, cosmetic enhancement … you know the kinds of things our society is obsessed by nowadays. So where am I with it at the end of this chequered year?

Books on eating disordersRemember this row of books I bought by way of research a while back? Well, I’ve now read them all. Phew. Good job I’m stubborn! You’ll have noted that I haven’t reviewed any of them in this blog. Why? Because I don’t think you’d be interested. But for my own records I kept a tally of my assessment of them as I went – just a brief resume and my score out of 5. Hmm. Only three stood out as an enjoyable read, but, in fairness, a large percentage are teen fiction which isn’t my bag. Having read them all, though, I’m confirmed in my resolve a) not to write for young adults; b) not to focus on anorexia but to embrace a wider context; c) to strengthen the hooks to keep readers reading.

Question now is: can this new, more-fragile me personally cope with taking on a story which presents a much more challenging set of issues? Only time will tell.

However, thus far, I haven’t been dragged below the plimsoll line of my own tolerances, but total absorption with this topic would definitely not be good for my mental health – goodness, I’m borderline neurotic as it is! I’m also conscious of another phenomenon: the more I grapple with my characters’ uncomfortable emotions, the less they disturb me. So it will be important to remember my own initial reactions in order to be sensitive to the potential shock or outrage or revulsion or whatever of my potential readers coming to this subject without preparation.

Work to do then. But there’s a silver lining. At least when I’m absorbed in the lives of my protagonists l’m not sighing at the mirror! And I did get a stack of Christmas knitting done as I ploughed through this set of books. So it’s an ill wind …

Polo jumpers

Boys pullovers

So, here we are at the end of 2014. Thank you so much for visiting my scribblings. Special appreciation to those who’ve taken the trouble to contact me; it’s so heartening to hear about your thoughts and reactions and simply to know you really are out there. And I wish you all – whatever your hang-ups and issues – peace, health and happiness in 2015.

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2 Responses to “Body image”

  • Heather Sutton says:

    Hi Hazel,
    I have been avoiding social media sites but it looks as though I will have to rethink my bias. Your comments on your blog are very interesting; I have not as yet heard any solutions to many of the issues medicine has created with its advances. The greater the advances the more complexities are created in many cases.

    Regarding transplants, many of my nursing students hated being involved in the “harvesting” of organs. I think they saw it as disrespect; assault on the body. I never went into it with them, but I can imagine that there may have been some flippant remarks during the process, which may have reinforced their feelings.

    Currently the issue that has really hit the headlines has been the exploitation of Asian women, especially in Indonesia, to be surrogates by Australian couples. They do pay them a few thousand dollars which the women would find it hard to refuse. Apparently some gay men use this way to have a baby. The most outrageous scandal was when the woman had twins; the boy had Down’s Syndrome; they only brought the girl to Australia. The surrogate, a single parent, was left to look after the boy. It was later revealed that the Australian father had previous convictions for paedophilia. After a huge outcry authorities decided not to remove the girl from the family. Money was raised by Australians for the surrogate to help with the boy. I am not too sure but the Aust. Govt. might also have given her some money.

    Keep well, Heather

    • Hazel says:

      Thank you, Heather. As a tutor of nurses in Australia your comments are particularly interesting. These are indeed vexed issues around the world.
      The case of the Australian couple declining to take the twin boy hit the headlines over here too, and the subsequent allegations of pedophilia, but we were left wondering how much sub-text never reached the news. That’s one of the snags with relying on the press for information, but from my point of view, cases such as these prove very useful starting points for discussion of ethical issues which is what I’m all about.
      Great to hear your comments from a different perspective.

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