The English and the (real) Female Body: A love affair

Posted on May 1, 2010 by yankeebean


When I first came to England I was 16 years old and I was a US size 18 (UK 16).  I moved from an affluent area where a US size 8 (UK 10) was considered fat and all the popular kids looked like Abercrombie and Fitch models.  (Seriously – I once heard a group of girls gossiping scandalously about a ‘friend’ of theirs that was a size 8.  There was much gasping and OMG-ing going on…).

UK 18 and UK 20 are the same size – but they felt a world apart.  My size went from being taboo to being faboo in the time it took me to fly across the ocean.  It was AWESOME… and bloody good timing as a 16 year old :)

It’s the norm in the UK to show bodies of all shapes and sizes in the media.  Literally, ALL shapes and sizes.  The UK has a love affair with the real female body and I LOVE IT.

I’m not going to talk about health – I know there are health factors blah blah blah, but I’m not a health guru and that’s not what this is about.  But having been heavier in my life, I know for a fact that making people feel badly about themselves is NOT how you get them to start living a healthier lifestyle.

There’s a wonderful glorification of ‘flaunt what you’ve got’ here.  Find your best features and spotlight those puppies.  Got boobs?  Lift and separate :) .  Got legs?  Walk the walk.  Got arms?  Work those guns.

Don’t worry so much about what you don’t have – focus on what you DO have and work work work it.  Then revel in the confidence of your best bits.

For evidence, watch an episode of the UK’s ‘How to Look Good Naked‘ – this show always leaves me laughing out loud and beaming with joy.  It’s guaranteed to make you feel like a powerful gorgeous saucy-licious woman.  I’m always tempted to strip down to the nip and run around after I watch it, much to Mr. Nice Guy’s delight… :D

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What Others Are Saying

  1. Michelle June 29, 2010 at 9:21 am

    Well, he wasn’t all bad – he was 85% pretty great. He was compatible with me like no one else has ever been – except for a few key areas. Those few areas were important, but there were so many other areas where he was a good fit for me, and beyond any tally of compatibilities, I just loved him a lot.

    Plus, in my mid-30s, I was willing to have 85% compatibility. Now that I’m still single and in my 40s, I know I was right about how special he was (in general). Especially since I knew I had the character strength not to believe or worry too much about his physical nit-picking. Although I didn’t let it get to me (I really didn’t – it didn’t get to my core self-belief), my physical body still felt his negative attention along those lines (his negative attention wasn’t constant, only occasional, but I knew that it bothered him) and I think that made it much harder for me to lose weight or get in shape, even though I was really working at doing so (a few months before I broke up with him, I did step aerobics for 8 weeks solid, 6 times a week, for a full hour daily, plus worked out with weights 3 times a week, and I didn’t eat any more than I had before, but I gained 5 pounds and my clothing size went UP – my waist, hip, and bust measurements went UP).

    I also think my body puffed up for medical reasons (encroaching hypothyroidism which all the women in my family have, unrealized lactose intolerance, and a sensitivity to aspartame which I hadn’t figured out yet). In the year after I broke up with him, I stopped consuming all nutrasweet/aspartame, I stopped drinking milk, and I walked for an hour a day instead of doing more impactful exercise (because anything above low impact and low intensity makes my body want to bulk up instead of slim down), and that helped me to lose 15 pounds that year.

    That was 7 years ago or something, and I’ve kept the weight off – although last year I was flying a lot for work (like eating airplane and airport food 4 days a week, and having to eat out on the road on the other days) and I got up to 133, but that job ended and I’ve gradually gotten back to 120, now that I can cook for myself again.

    It’s hard in my US hometown to get much good food in the supermarket – everything is processed and full of artifical stuff and full of meat. So I absolutely can’t wait to shop at Waitrose again – I will probably float through the store talking to myself (which somehow doesn’t seem too weird to do in London – I think I must have done it a lot, I would shop in my own little mental bubble — I’d never do it here though, because here people have no shame about staring and getting into other people’s business!)

    In Waitrose, I’m going to head straight for the Rachel’s organic dairy greek yogurt with coconut – it’s so yummy. And the welsh goats cheese rolled in ash, and the greek olives, and the vegetarian mezze at Sofra, and the Soho pizza at Pizza Express, and the lovely French wines, and baby leeks, and a certain Spanish type of big biscuit that they sell (with aniseseed and olive oil), and these great wool knee-highs that they sell in John Lewis, and fantastic (German) Meindl hiking shoes that I could only get in Field and Trek (they don’t sell them in the US), and the ubiquitous SANDWICHES at pret a manger, and oooh a mango smoothie from marks and spencer, and real-butter scones, and everyone knowing that a cup of tea makes things better… i can’t wait!

  2. Michelle June 22, 2010 at 2:23 am

    I do think it’s true that the UK society doesn’t have such high expectations of female appearance and grooming as the US does, I also think this can vary depending on where you go, and whom you associate with, in both countries.

    I am from the Midwest in the US, and people are very large here – almost everyone you see out and about is obese. I’m not exaggerating. It’s a small city of 80,000 that is pretty poor, and there isn’t much culture, visual beauty, or employment here, so the type of folks who care about weather, image, high salaries, beaches, nearby international airports, and/or museums – whatever – don’t choose to move here, and if they grew up here, they move away when they can (like I did).

    The ones who are left have, in the last 25 years, gotten bigger and bigger generally. I weigh the same as I did in high school, 120 pounds at 5 foot 4, but back then I was a size 8 to 10 (American size), and now I’m a size 2 or 4 (I’ve even bought 2 pairs of trousers in the last year that said size 0 on the label – obviously, that label is ridiculous because I’m not emaciated). I haven’t changed, but the sizing has changed. What is worse, these days in stores like TJ Maxx or Kohls or Macy’s, my area of the racks is empty, or has one thing on it, whereas the bigger sizes have all the selection. In TJ Maxx, the trouser section for me has about max 3 items on it, but there are probably a thousand pairs of trousers on the rail.

    My point is that I’m very unusual here for being what was 30 years ago a very standard size for a woman. Even the children here are generally pretty large. When around other people in my home state, I feel so much smaller than I do in London. There isn’t much of a value placed on good nutrition or healthy lifestyles in my home state. I know this is very different from more affluent US communities and states, especially on the coasts, but here people load up on fast food, alcohol, treats, drive everywhere, are couch potatoes, etc., and are proud of it and flaunt that lifestyle.

    On the other hand, in London, I often felt a pressure, from the British people I worked with and knew generally, to be nicely groomed (up to a point, certainly not up to the New York City level, though!) and dressed, and many of them were very fit and cared about being in shape and slender. Their vacations often revolved around fitness activities (skiing in the Alps, climbing mountains, bicycling in France, that kind of thing). My English boyfriend (it was a pretty serious relationship; he’s now an “ex”) was really concerned when I was in grad school and gained some weight (he met me when I was 125 – then I went up to 135 in my master’s) and he wasn’t very kind in showing me how he felt about that. In fact, he was worse about my appearance (my nails, brows, tummy, pasty skin) than any American man I’ve ever dated. I knew that he and his close guy friends (all through and through British) talked about women and compared their appearances (not just the overt boobs and bums kind of thing, but their fashion style, hair, nails even!) One of my ex’s friends from university was an actress in a tv drama show and she always looked beautiful.

    [By the way, after I broke up with him and moved out of our flat, I lost 15 pounds by just living in my own rhythm and by my own expectations. :-) ]

    So I think that it’s easy to stereotype, and generally it is true that the US has higher expectations of the appearance of women (at least those in the public eye – on tv, actresses, musicians etc., plus I know that high school can be really tough in the US; it was for me, as I was one of the 2 largest girls in my class for most of my childhood, while if I were in school these days and were the same size as back then, I would be one of the smallest girls) than the UK does, but there are a lot of variations within each country as well. Someone moving from the high-maintenance culture of New York or Beverly Hills would definitely be more shocked about the standards of female appearance in my backwater Midwestern area than she would about those in Fulham or Chelsea in London.

    • yankeebean June 22, 2010 at 8:28 am

      Michelle – I’m so glad you dumped his arse! Sounds like a complete knob. Yay for getting rid of negative bell ends! :D

  3. MyAmbitiousFiction June 14, 2010 at 5:48 am

    This post rocked my socks!!

    Being plus size all of my life and growing up in the US, I know exactly where you are coming from with the “Abercrombie and Fitch” wanna-be’s. I had boyfriends and guys that showed interest, but they all seemed to treat me like they were with me INSPITE of my body. I stumbled across the term “BBW” (I won’t explain how *Epic Blush* lol), and it open my eyes to the idea that there were men that would like me BECAUSE of who I was and how I looked. The first time I used the title in my name in a chat room…the result was overwhelming. Nearly every man that messaged me privately was English!! I’ve asked them what they thought the difference between English and chauvenistic American men was, I’ve gotten a few different answers but my favorite is…”We’re further from Hollywood and know that real women aren’t cookie cutters.”
    While I’ve never been to England, English men have given me the confidence that I have needed my whole life. And I plan on thanking one in person someday ;)

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  5. peacefulyorkshire May 11, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    Hi Sandra,
    I loved your comment so much that you have inspired my next post. Stay tuned !!!
    Ms. PeacefulYorkshire

  6. SandraDee May 11, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    Hi there!!
    Loved this post. I certainly noticed it when I went back to America last summer and went to work out in a gym for the first time in um… ages. Well, since I was living in America (3 years I have been here in Yorkshire). For the first time I started noticing how wrong it was to see these chicas aiming for flat abs and the endless time on those treadmills. Not that I am against staying in shape, its just the hollywood ness of it all made me realise how obsessed I used to be too. I used to delight in my flat abbed stomach. Now. welll, I can’t be bothered to care. In England it is so cold that I normally don’t get the time to show it off any way. Well, except to my English man. And you should see his stomach….. he does NOT have a six pack nor does he want one or care about my newly formed fat bulge.

  7. alisha May 6, 2010 at 12:46 am

    Hi again,

    Just wanted to say that I wrote a post about imperfectionism in the UK and shouted out this blog!

    Also, Yankee Bean, how do I get in touch? I can’t find a contact email on this website?


    • yankeebean May 8, 2010 at 5:46 pm

      Hi Alisha

      Thanks for the mention – awesome! My email address is yankeebean [at] shesnotfromyorkshire [dot] com . Thanks for the request – it made me realise I didn’t have it anywhere on this site. I’ve added it to the side bar now so it should be less of a mystery :)

  8. Daissey Girl May 5, 2010 at 10:44 pm

    The first time i visited the UK back in August of last year my friend told me that Brit’s think American’s are either fat or super skinny. Wow! I had no idea. But after spending a much loved vacation in England i soon realized that he was right. Americans are either over eaters or under eaters. I fluctuate between a 4 and a 6 depending if i’m having a good carb day or a bad one lol! I feel like i’m the fattest of all my friends and i’m constantly disappointed in myself for eating that piece of bread or slice of pizza. But spending time in the UK and walking everywhere and eating carb’s i felt great! Somehow the english know how to do it. And my english guy thinks I have the most amazing body and that in itself makes me smile everyday.

    • yankeebean May 8, 2010 at 5:48 pm

      It’s all about confidence, I think. Confident women are beautiful whatever their shape or size. I definitely feel less pressured to be a certain shape, but I think part of that is also that I’m not in high school any more and I don’t give a shizzle what size I am compared to other people. FREEDOM!!!!

  9. Lucy May 3, 2010 at 10:34 pm

    I’m a UK 10 and I felt battered in group workouts until I moved — and then I was sent off to Pilates Reformer work for spinal rehab and for the first time, it was a treat to go! All shapes and sizes, with such warmth towards the other people around you sweating and muttering, and the instructor is enthusiastic because she has arthritis and the classes help her keep it in check . . . .

    No one cares about the flap of skin on my stomach that will never go away without surgery, or my stretch marks. People love my long neck and curly hair and high cheekbones. It’s good to feel appreciated for what I have, rather than pitied for what I lack.

  10. Rachel May 3, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    I agree! I agree! I agree!!!!! It is funny that I continually run into people who have this weird idea that the US is full of very large people who don’t care. I found the US the opposite — very critical of body-shape. I can’t even tell you just how much it was like that in Southern California. When I arrived in the UK, I was a US 20 (UK 22). Since being here almost six months now, all the positive body image (and aerobics classes with NORMAL-sized and shaped women) has taken away the demotivation I had in CA to go as often. I’m now a UK 16 (wheeeee!) and feeling amazing. I love my curves and now I live somewhere they are loved by everyone else!

  11. alisha May 3, 2010 at 5:27 am

    I completely agree! One of my favorite things about living in the UK was not feeling the pressure to look perfect all the time. Not that I did reach continuous perfection before I moved to England (ha!), but I sure felt the pressure. I think British culture in general is a lot better at celebrating the beauty of imperfection and the diversity of looks than American culture is so I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one.

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  13. Bryn May 1, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    I remember noticing a big decrease in body self-consciousness when I moved here, and I couldn’t figure out why. Thanks for the possible explanation.

  14. MissChicago May 1, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    Very true! More realistic than the template skinny and skinnier body types that America is obsessed with!

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