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Cherry's Body Dilemmas: Who would like to change something about their body?

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Cherry Healey Cherry Healey | 14:03 UK time, Monday, 22 August 2011

When we decided to make a programme about body image, I was excited. It's something I've really struggled with so I felt that I would, perhaps, be able to understand the stories I was going to hear but that I would, definitely, learn a huge amount.

Cherry Healey in Cherry's Body Dilemmas

My worst period of body consciousness was at university. I was heart broken for the first time and spent six months eating the chocolate bits out of my flatmate's cereal, moping on the sofa, watching box sets until 4am - putting on two stone in the process. A classic break-up recovery method. When I recently re-read my diaries from those years I was horrified to see what I'd written. As I read them out loud, with the director listening wide-eyed, I was both extremely embarassed and deeply sadden at what I'd been feeling. I had forgotten how bad my body neurosis was at that time.

And, whilst I have become much happier in my own skin over time, there is still a hang-over from those years of negative thoughts. And at the age of 30, and now a mum, I decided that it was time to face them head on. Enough of desiring a body that I'm never going to have. Enough of looking at beautiful, leggy women and wishing I looked like them. Enough of unnecessary, exhausting and time-wasting negative comments.

So I wanted to meet women who were on their own journey of physical liberation or change, in the hope that I would learn from them how to have a healthier relationship with my own body and I hope the film begins a bigger discussion especially amongst the body conscious young women.

Cherry Healey in Cherry's Body Dilemmas

So, what did I learn whilst making Cherry's Body Dilemmas?

Women need to question what a normal body is
I tweeted the question "Who would like to change something about their body?" and had an immediate explosion of responses. It wasn't a surprise and the fact that so many women worry about their body, to some extent, is not revelatory. However, I think women should start questioning how much time and emotional energy is given to these thoughts and whether this is something they are prepared to put up with. For me, once I started being really honest about how much I think about it, I realised that I was not prepared to give any more of my life to this wasted exercise. In fact, it made me feel quite angry that I'd allowed it to take so much mental energy already.

Cherry Healey in Cherry's Body Dilemmas

Body neurosis doesn't discriminate
The first girls I met in the programme were two sisters in their early 20s. They were the kind of girls you'd look at in a bar and sigh a little sigh of jealousy. And yet when I asked them what they'd change about their bodies, out poured a list as long as my arm. Thinner thighs, bigger boobs, toned tummy... you name it, they'd change it and they meant it. When I met a group of their friends later in a bar it was the same story for them. I also met a gorgeous girl called Princess who had a bottom like a cheeky peach. Yet she felt it was so unattractive that she wanted surgery to change it. It's easy to look at some girls and think they're silly or stupid for having body neurosis but, the fact is, the media image of perfect beauty is so powerful that only very few remain immune to it.

There is light at the end of the tunnel
At the beginning of this process, I suppose, I secretly felt that body liberation couldn't truly exist in a culture with such intensive exposure to images of airbrushed women. But much to my surprise Sandra, a naturist from Gloucester, proved me wrong. Ok, ok, so I know that being a naturist isn't exactly a standard hobby but once I'd acclimatised to seeing people in their birthday suits, I realised that Sandra had a nugget of gold to share. She had taken personal responsibility for her body worries and had decided to change the way she felt about her body. It wasn't a lightening, overnight moment but it was a gradual, conscious decision to feel happier with her body. She chose to see her body in a new light: as an amazing vehicle that had produced six children and was hers and hers alone. She had stopped comparing herself to other women and, in doing so, she had found a happier, more peaceful relationship with her body. I want me some of that.

This is a huge subject that affects millions of women all over the world. I think that sharing our experiences candidly is absolutely key the to moving forward - I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this subject.

Cherry Healey presents Cherry's Body Dilemmas tonight at 9pm.

Join in the conversation and get tweeting, the hashtag is #bbc3cherry.

- BBC Health: Healthy Weight
- BBC Health: Your Weight
- NHS: Lose weight, Live well
- Watch Cherry's Parenting Dilemmas on iPlayer
- Cherry's Cash Dilemmas on iPlayer
- Visit Cherry Healey's blog


  • Comment number 1.

    Hi cherry i have just watched your programme on body dilemmas and i was really surprised. Looking at you i couldn't possible see where you needed to lose weight as you were very slim. However i was deeply depressed to feel that so many women will go to extraordinary lengths to be stick thin. I am 28 years old and weigh just over seven stone which is not a good look for someone who is 5ft 8inches tall. I think people who want to be really skinny should stop and think of the down side of being thin. I am tired all the time and barely having enough energy to play with my 4 year old son. I think your documentery was amazing but i think it lacked the poseption of someone who is having problems with being so thin. Be happy with who you are you are a beautiful young woman and i would give my right arm to look half as good as you. Heather Smith Scotland

  • Comment number 2.

    What a fantastic programme! It was so nice to feel that I am not the only person who feels like Cherry. Media has a great deal to answer for, and has in effect contributed to many women (and men) feeling insecure about how they look. Cherry was very brave to strip naked but has opened up many questions as to why we feel neurotic about our body image and the constant need for perfection. The programme has inspired me to take a look at why I refuse to eat out in restaurants, weigh myself constantly and count the calories and to actually start to focus on a healthy but happy lifestyle!

  • Comment number 3.

    I would just like to say that I feel for all you girls in particular, to be honest you are all beautiful and it is just the media's perception that programs us all to think we all have lots to improve. Many years ago I was a bit brainwashed by the media on the perfect girl but my ex unknowingly changed my thoughts on that. My honest thoughts are that 'Nature is perfect in everything but human endeavour is as much as it tries to be, is not'

  • Comment number 4.

    Loved your programme Cherry! Me and my sister have just watched it and found it really encouraging to know that we are not alone. We're both in our early twenties and when you read your diaries out (which we have draws full of similar ones) it gave us a real slap in the face to think that actually its not healthy to think so negatively about ourselves and that we should start to be happy with who we are so we don't waste anymore time on trying to reach perfection. Thanks again x

  • Comment number 5.

    I watched the programme last night and I can't stop thinking about all the positive messages coming through to me when I watched it. As a recovering Anorexic and Bulimic it actually helped me a lot to know that everybody has hangups, and you don't have to let the scales control your mood for the entire day. Cherry, I've always thought your body is perfect, I would love to look exactly like you. But after watching the programme I've changed my thinking. As much as I would love to change myself, your body and my body are different, and we should embrace them rather than wish to change them :) I refuse to let my life be dominated by my Eating Disorder and the constant feeling of inadequacy. It has been the biggest thing in my life for nearly 8 years, I do not want to go into my twenties still feeling like I have done for so long. I'm bored of having an Eating Disorder and I want to change, and it gets incredibly hard to keep going when you want to stop, but last nights programme is exactly what I needed to give me an extra boost. So thankyou Cherry, and thankyou to the production team and everybody else involved in the programme.
    Vicki xxx

  • Comment number 6.

    Hi Cherry. Enjoying your series. Feel like you're a friend - a dippy friend - but a friend! Here's an alternative to using your scales. Get a thin gold chain and put it round your waist. Leave an inch between the skin and the chain. If you start to near the chain, you're gaining weight. If you find it draping elegantly on your hip, then you're losing it. Easy. No scales.

  • Comment number 7.

    I've enjoyed the series so far, the money episode was brilliant! I think part of the body dilemmas could have been about male body issues though. As a male BDD sufferer I can really identify with the issues in the show, but at the same time it does feel more difficult to accept oneself as there's less of an awareness about male body image issues. I think the pressures are out there just as equal for men, albeit in different forms (you can't be too skinny, too pale, too short, too ugly etc). One main difference between the genders though is that men have an added (if hypocritical) pressure in that you are expected to look a certain way (groomed/tanned/buff) naturally and without any expended effort (which is dismissed as "metrosexual" or unmasculine). For example whilst Daniel Craig is hailed as a return to a "natural" rugged masculine look by women, in reality its not a very natural look at all.

  • Comment number 8.

    cherry healy ,thats how i spell healy cos im irish,anyway i love the programmes u do ,and u hav notin to worry about ur body,.and mine,,im a bloke by the way ,,a man in case u dont know..we hav to live wit wat we were given ,and i think im a stud till i go out and never get a chat or look ,,,im not the elephant man but might aswell be...anyway u are a lovely lookin girl,,and ur baby is to ,,love the show,,keep it ljason,,xxx.IRELAND..

  • Comment number 9.

    hello im sarah i've just watched your programme and i relate to it alot im 17 and i have a 7 month old son and i cant stand to look at the way i look i'm very skinny thats not what bothers me but i got alot more stretch marks than most people and i cant stand to look at my body especially my belly its the one thing that i think was missing from the programme but i think you were very brave to go skinny dipping and i love all your program's xx

  • Comment number 10.

    Hello Cherry
    I was entranced by this program and thought it made some great points. However, it has left me quite confused between the boundaries between an Eating Disorder and body Dilemma/ Neurosis. I am very similar to yourself in obsessive calorie counting, poor body image, obsessive weighing to the point of depression. Consequently I am very aware at the age of 26 that I don’t want to be like this any longer as it is detrimental to my mental health and happiness and leaves me feeling unable to start a family (/get pregnant) for the fear of gaining weight and having to reveal my body in any way. Therefore, I am presently undergoing eating disorder therapy....

    …Yet I’m unable to understand how you and many others can feel like this but keep it in control to the point of not been labeled with an eating disorder and I guess maintain control over the feelings even though they can be so similar to my own and have it as a body ‘dilemma/ Neurosis’ rather than a disorder. Where are the boundaries? Or… is this program edited away from eating disorder labels but in fact most of the people on the program display signs of eating disorder thinking but rather being portrayed in a more ‘normal’ positive way. Therefore, I’m slightly saddened by this programs inability to clarify this when it borders around such a serious subject for many people who have disordered thinking (diagnosed or not). I makes it look ‘normal’ to think like this because a lot do but this is not right this is in my opinion disordered thinking regarding body image therefore not ‘normal’.

    Anyhow, despite this lack of clarity I thought this program help raise awareness of a huge problem our society faces and it is sad to see and realize the mass of people burdened by this topic.

  • Comment number 11.

    Hi Cherry,
    I liked the program, it's good people are talking about body image. I wanted to float the idea that body building competitions are - for some guys - similar to the beauty pageants that you showed earlier in the programme. Also, I was wondering what you think of Viv Groskop's recent article (Guardian online). Maybe what we need is just to stop taking beauty (and sex perhaps) so seriously..

  • Comment number 12.

    I really enjoyed the programme. However, like a few of the posters above I do worry that our obsession with body image is getting out of hand. I am 24 and weigh just 7 and a half stone. At 5'8" this is way too skinny and I feel like I have a child's body. While in my normal clothes I just look like a very slim person, put me in swimwear or a vest-top and I look very bony. I often feel like people are judging me, assuming I'm anorexic, and I feel uncomfortable about going to the gym as I often feel instructors have an eagle eye on me (I don't think this is just the poor self image making me paranoid, either!).

    Watching the scales when Cherry stepped on, she is exactly the weight I would love to be and she looks fab. Trying to put weight on is really difficult when the messages out there are all about fighting obesity. In my head I know that out of the 350 calorie sandwich and the 550 calorie sandwich, the more unhealthy sounding one might do me good, but it just seems counter-intuitive to go for the fatty option! Perhaps a documentary on what it's like being skinny should be next on the cards....

  • Comment number 13.

    Just an idea but one method that could be used is if a person is overweight and is has ordered food which clearly they should not be consuming a klaxon could sound or warning warning like in space family robinson advising them that in their interests choosing the salad is probably a better idea


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