No such thing as ‘ideal’: why loving ourselves will create a greener world

We’re all familiar with fashion trends. With every season that passes, we’re introduced to the so-called most sought after silhouettes, shades, fabrics and more. So, due to this endless cycle of overproduction, over-consumption and excessive waste, fashion is one of the most unsustainable industries on the planet.

And where there are fashion trends, there are ‘ideal’ beauty and body standards. Each feeds into each other and each often preys, either directly or indirectly, on our insecurities. With that in mind, the connection can be made that our internalised insecurities have an outward impact on the health of our planet too - this is the core of what we want to explore a bit today.

In our society today, we are obsessed with how we appear publicly. It’s not a new phenomena, in fact, most of us subconsciously will make judgments of physical appearance alone and may even determine how we treat different individuals. It is the age-old stereotype that beautiful is good and ugly is bad [Source]. So, how do we determine what’s beautiful?

From the 80s to today

Throughout recent decades, we have seen the distinct rise and fall of fashion trends that also coincide with the ‘ideal body type’. Outlined by this CNN article, the 1980s through to the 90s saw the rise of the Supermodel and the ideal being thin and toned, then, nearing closer to the 2000s, waif-like figures that models such as Kate Moss were known for. At this time, the World Health Organization was also sounding the alarm about the growing global obesity epidemic, and so, not so coincidentally, the 90s saw anorexia nervosa associated with the highest rate of mortality among all mental disorders.

In the 2000s, this social condition continued and seems to worsen. This Common Sense Media report published in 2015 “found that between 1999 and 2006, hospitalizations for eating disorders in the US spiked 119% among children under age 12.”

As we move into the 2010s and in the aftermath of a few decades of collective low self-esteem, we see a positive shift, one that embraces more diversity. 

“That trend appears to correlate with the use of social media, where diverse types are represented by everyday users online. Of course, social media can also give some teens a negative body image. A Common Sense Media survey found that more than a quarter of teens who are active online stress about how they look in posted photos. On the other hand, the rise of social media has allowed for real women to celebrate real body types.”

But this doesn’t mean that social pressures became non-existent. Yes, there certainly became more diversity in our media and we began to see all sorts of bodies on TV and on the runway, but we still are told that that body still needs to be pretty. The Kardashians, for example, may have popularized a more curvaceous slim-thick figure, but that figure still requires a thin waist and fat in the ‘right’ places, which offset the rise of the infamous BBL surgery, one of the most dangerous aesthetic surgeries to undergo - since 2015, the number of this surgery grew globally by 77.6%.

And finally, we come to today, where, as cycles usually do, we have circled back to idealizing the ultra thin body type of the 90s. The “micro-mini” skirt is back; Bella Hadid closed out Paris fashion week at Coperni by getting a dress spray-painted onto her skin; the Kardashians seem to be turning away from their curves to embrace slimmer figures; and the hashtag #thinspo became popularized worldwide on Instagram and TikTok to the point where the platforms banned it to dissuade dangerous ideals.

And so, with these ideals coming in and out of the mainstream, it’s not surprising to find that we treat our bodies with as much care as we treat our clothing - something to be changed regularly, never satisfied with what we already have.

Why should we be aware of how we view our bodies?

Body ideals affect fashion trends and vice-versa, and it simply just isn’t sustainable. With the way we rapidly cycle through trends, we are producing an immense amount of clothing all over the world at an incredibly rapid rate with the industry producing more than 100 to 150 billion items of clothing per year [Source] while also wasting 92 million tons of textiles annually [Source].

There are many ways we can battle against this, choosing better; using our voices loudly to ask for better from governments and brands; being smarter with the current clothing we already have; but what we think would certainly cause a large conscious shift is loving the bodies we’re in so that we’re not swayed by what’s in-trend. Once we do so, we can choose silhouettes we actually love and flatter us and have a better attachment to the physical things we bring into our lives.

Thoughts from conscious minds

Recently, we had the pleasure of meeting the makers of the Changing Room project, a film that explores the theme of insecurities and how it impacts the planet.

Thammika Songkaeo, the film’s Creative Producer, goes more in-depth about the purpose of the project, “This film is a collaboration with dancers and those that might not necessarily self-identify immediately as environmentalists. And we did that on purpose because we felt like it makes no sense to continue preaching to the choir. And it was very clear to our team that no matter where we are as people as individuals all of us do have a through-line with environment… So, even if you're not a self-professed environmentalist, come to Changing Room because you have a place in it, come via the lens of body image, come via the lens of self-love."

She also told us more about her journey of self-love:

“My tipping point with fashion and sustainability intersected with the moment that I really found how much I loved and respected myself. And I would say that now that I'm in my mid 30s, I've gone through a lot in life, and when I say a lot, I really mean a range of problems, from financial to romantic to friendships, and I think at one point in life, a few years ago was when I realized that what makes me up is my incredible ability to respect myself, coupled with my ability to continually love and show love to other people. Even those that people say don't deserve it. So for me, I realized that what made me up was something very deep down at my core and whatever I wore as clothes was really just a way to take that body and that mass of awesomeness somewhere. So, it stopped mattering what I wore in the sense that I felt like my clothes just brought my core to somewhere else to present itself rather than my clothes made me up. So, my clothes became a lot of thrifted stuff, a lot of second-hand stuff, a lot of hand-me-downs.They basically stopped defining me and they allowed me to think, who am I underneath all of this? Because all of this on the outside can and will change anyways.But who am I in a sense that cannot be changed?And after I found out who that person was, I realised that I don't need to buy new fast fashion items to continually look like I want to present myself in specific ways. I'm just me always anyways.”

Adelene Stanley, creative director & choreographer, and Ahilya, dancer and collaborator, both of whom helped conceptualise and star in Changing Room, described the film as a means to share the message that self-love translates to care for the planet, that once we better love our bodies, we're able to connect that to our surroundings and be better at taking heed of our outward actions.

“For me, I used to be the girl that had wardrobes of clothes. I only wore pieces once or twice, and I'm very guilty of just kind of buying a lot. It got to the point where I felt it was just too excessive. And I had more and more conversations with people who are really close to me and dear to my heart, people like Thammika, and it really got me thinking of being more conscious about the environment and the clothes that we wear, the materials that we wear. It's not just about our bodies, but it's about the planet. So, I think it's important to challenge this idea of the ideal body type because it’s something that the media portrays and instills and it's something that can be very damaging for people. I think the ideal here is ‘as long as you are happy’, and that is as simple as that. I think everyone has an ideal body type, and the definition here of ideal is ‘if you're happy.’” - Adelene


Check out more on our Green Journal for stories about our craft, as well as what’s going on in the world of sustainability and fashion.

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