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  • Some people claim that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but looking back at my childhood, I would probably have to disagree and say that beauty is firmly in the eye of the global media market, and that the beauty they value is the kind that only goes skin deep; flawless, gorgeous, and most importantly, thin.
    From a very young age I was constantly caught up in notions of what it was to be beautiful, exposed early on to the complex site of the female form through my Barbie dolls, physically perfect to the point of being anatomically impossible. Of course I didn’t understand the implausibility of achieving a ‘Barbie body’ when I was a mere five years old, I simply locked myself away in my bedroom and found myself a little bewildered and yet intrinsically envious of her voluptuous feminine physique.
    I played out my wildest childhood fantasies of becoming a super rich pop-star or a world class gymnast through this plastic beacon of hopes and dreams and this led me to believe that Miss Barbie only achieved these wondrous feats because she was so physically irresistible. I mean it wasn’t like her limited vocabulary was going to get her anywhere, I had one talking Barbie doll who simply stated ‘I like shopping’ ‘lets have a sleepover’ and ‘what shall I wear today;’ hardly a candidate for orator of the year. I remember watching an episode of The Simpson’s within which little intellectual Lisa was devastated by the same stereotypically gendered chatter of her eagerly anticipated talking Malibu Stacey doll. I felt her pain as she realised that these dolls were simply created to project an image of beauty, not to encourage women to progress in more substantial areas of life, such as their career; let’s be honest, teacher Barbie was never as popular as braided hair Barbie.
    Unfortunately, I was always the kid that ended up with teacher Barbie, as I began to see a conflict between my upbringing, wherein my parents taught me to strive high and to be ambitious in my goals, in comparison to society’s portrayal of women who were expected, like Barbie, to shut up and look pretty if they were to succeed.
    This idea of beauty as the key to happiness stayed with me through my Barbie years and was reinforced by the other elements of the media that I was exposed to during such a developmentally crucial time. Beauty was everywhere; MTV flaunted music videos of scantily clad female figures who danced alongside the pretty boy-band members whose posters adorned my walls, and whose boyish good looks alerted me to the world of sexuality to come. Whilst I saw the boys at school as creatures from a less hygienic planet, I became an aficionado of these pop princes. They represented a higher form of masculinity than the banal boys of my community and I quickly began to associate the notion of ‘bagging’ one of these handsome creatures with the notion of making myself beautiful, and although I was simply a child, I was already beginning to feel the need to leave behind my play-days and fall head first into the scary world of sexuality.
    Through a constant exposure to beautifying advertisements, all laden with catchy lines like ‘maybe she’s born with it; maybe it’s maybelline’ I began to wonder if natural beauty was itself a construct. At this point even icons from my most innocent of days began to look ever more like sexualised, media constructed figures. For example I began to analyse the Disney Princesses in a whole new light; I realised The Little Mermaid made up for a lack of perfect pins with her perky breasts and tiny waist, and I wondered how Seeping Beauty kept her hair so shiny whilst she indulged in her slumber, not to mention the makeup skills of Snow White and those fantastic red lips.
    As time drew on and I entered primary school, I became the victim of bullying, as my mother refused to relent into buying me the latest fad toys as well as the most expensive designer clothes. Kappa tracksuits and Yo-Yo's which lit up and made sounds as you did tricks were the dish of the day, and so going to school with my mother’s wooden Yo-Yo whilst wearing a woollen jumper knitted by my grandma was a recipe for childhood disaster. I remember the day my grandmother died; I wore that jumper for three weeks in a row, refusing to take it off due to the guilt I felt for resenting it so much at the time. It strikes me that in this time of great personal sorrow I shunned off the expectations of a society driven crazy by consumerism and forcibly reverted back to my truest nature as a child, wearing my jumper as a protest against growing up too quickly, whilst ironically and unconsciously dealing with the maturity of emotions that death entails.
    However, as I continued on my destructive mission for beautification I quickly realised that although as a child my mother could indeed control my clothing, my schedule and my access to that ever elusive Yo-Yo, there was one thing she could not reign supremacy over; my body, and so food quickly became my newest foe in the quest for unrivalled beauty. I became disillusioned at a world which stated ‘thin is in’ yet in contradiction to itself, fed me on a diet of adverts for the latest meal at McDonalds.
    I watched as a character on one of my favourite television programmes, Friends, would reminisce over how unhappy she was as an obese child and teenager, only gaining happiness and the admiration of her future husband post weight loss. Instances like this became influential to me as I began to tread a slippery slope into the realms of an eating disorder, justifying my behaviour by the examples the media had set for me.
    My dedication was constantly tested, especially as my friends succumbed to the figure I saw as the evil clown of impending obesity, yet was more commonly known as Ronald McDonald, or as the temptation of a takeaway pizza was presented at a girly sleepover, through which my gal-pals bonded as I became increasingly withdrawn. I was an anomaly, I should have been too young to care, and so my friends were too young to understand the traumas I was facing on a day to day basis. However I became a martyr to my task, reminding myself of the images of successful thin girls in the media; models, actresses, my favourite being Calista Flockheart who represented the epitome of my goal, a successful star, with a superstar boyfriend, in the role of a successful lawyer. Yes, I truly believed that being thin was going to rake in the rewards for me.
    Except it didn’t, at all. As my friends began to get their first crushes and boyfriends, I was left on the sidelines. My gaunt face, sullen expression and emotional instability was intimidating to the young boys who simply wanted a game of kiss chase and a hand to hold at the local disco. Furthermore, as the girls grew wiser to my eating habits, they began to alienate me, it became apparent that no one wanted a friend who didn’t have the energy to dance to the latest Spice Girls track, or who couldn’t go to Tammy Girl to look for clothes on a Saturday because she was too petrified of having to try things on. My quest for success through beauty had failed, and by the age of thirteen I was in weekly counselling, monthly doctor’s appointments and daily arguments with my heartbroken mother. This illness had robbed me of my childhood, and had forced me to enter the world of adulthood before I was even nearly ready. The fact that I had become so thin but was still so unhappy meant that I began to take my disappointment and frustration out on myself through other vices such as self harm, and I had also become addicted to the diet pills that were advertised as the answer to all my problems.
    Despite this, it was a form of new media technology which possibly saved my life. As the internet found its place within my home, I came across a daily diary site dedicated to teenagers. I had been encouraged to write down my feelings as a form of therapy, and so I began to utilise this media outlet to my benefit. Over the course of a year, I wrote daily, following my struggles and helping me to reflect on my emotions in an outward way. Through the site I was introduced to people who were suffering the same problems as me, and this helped me to feel, for the first time, part of a community who understood my predicament and could help me recover. I left the site after a year, realising that it was time to pull away from my emotional crutch and survive in the real world, but I still keep in contact some of the people from the site, people who are now more than usernames to me, but real friends.
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