Many women are all too familiar with the feeling of seeing an Instagram or Facebook memory pop up from their teenage years and wishing they still looked like that now. As we get older it becomes easier to forget that a picture does not tell the full story of how we were feeling at the time of the photo. Not only that, but society has conditioned us to celebrate the teenage versions of ourselves by using young catwalk models and promoting youthful beauty in campaigns. Youthful bodies are fetishized in porn to the point that there are popular ‘teenage’ and ‘underage’ categories. It’s about time that we start to celebrate and accept the physical changes to our bodies as we get older and focus on how much we have grown emotionally and intellectually, instead.
Jen Harwood, a personal trainer based in Leeds posted on Instagram about how so many of her clients in their twenties tell her they miss how they looked in sixth form. Jen’s post, where she spoke about how changes in our body as we become an adult are natural and are something to be celebrated, gained nearly 8,000 likes.
Jen told me: “Often in consultations, when discussing goals and where clients would like to be, I often get shown photos of themselves at age 16,17,18 when they’re 23, 24, 25 plus. And then if any memories on Instagram or Facebook show up, they get discussed.”
Nostalgia for our younger bodies is only heightened by society idolising teenagers’ looks; the porn industry sensationalises youthful bodies, making no body hair the norm, on-screen there’s a cut-off age for women, where they stop playing desirable characters and get cast into the ‘mum’ roles despite being in their 20s. This is not a new trend. When looking back at The Sun’s infamous Page 3 models, countless girls were aged between 16 and 18 and the paper often featured countdowns to the model’s 18th birthday.
Whereas, in the media, men may look back at their younger selves and realise how immature and selfish they were compared to the successful man they are today. There is little discussion across our society on how men looked when they were teenagers. There is a stereotype that men ‘age like fine wine’. Men’s looks are often celebrated as they get older, yet women are stuck obsessing over their younger body even though changes, as we get older, are natural.
We need to reconsider how society tells us to glorify our younger selves. As we become women, we gain incredible life experience, form valuable opinions on the world around us, and grow vastly mentally. We should all celebrate the person we are becoming instead of agonising over how these experiences attributed to our bodies’ physical changes. There are so many reasons our body changes as we age, and it’s unrealistic for us to feel we should have to maintain a prepubescent body. Jenreiterated “It is perfectly normal for body weight to increase slightly, year on year in women during their 20s”.
“This can be due to natural body fat increases as your hormones settle post-puberty, lifestyle changes, such as having a more sedentary job, or even bone density which increases during your 20s! Muscles mature and become denser, fat redistributes, generally to the hips, bum, and stomach and it can be really overwhelming if you’re not expecting it!”
Seren Kiremitcioglu, a 23-year-old mental health and disability blogger, told me that as a teenager she was incredibly carefree with what she ate. Seren since became chronically ill and disabled, she has never been able to get back to the size she was as a teenager. As an adult, her relationship with her body is still “a work in progress” and she still longs for her body aged 17.
So many of us compartmentalise our physical changes and our mental growth when we should be examining both in relation to one another. I never thought that in my 20s I would be looking at Instagram photos from when I was 16 and wondering how I was ever that skinny. In the photos, I look happy and slim – but I wasn’t happy, and at the time, I doubt I felt slim. Just as photos on Instagram can lie to us, our own photos can too. We all need to focus less on these slight physical changes and celebrate the powerful women that we are today.