The Ultimate Diet.

Apologies for the lack of posting; new job means getting used to a new routine in a new phase of my life.

As I’ve said before it has been my own journey through body image issues and self-discovery that has led to me to this new place of positive body image activism. I only recently noticed that an old triggering point had arisen once again: gaining weight. I spent too much time in my teenage years and early 20’s battling my own mindset about how I looked, how I should look and struggling to disassociate my worth from my weight. So this now felt like a great time to test whether I could walk the walk, after I’ve spent so much time and effort on here talking the talk.

A UK size 14-16 is where I have averaged out throughout my adult life; I used to be positively ecstatic if I fitted into something smaller as the numbers meant a lot to me. Looking back now I can see just how much they dictated how I felt about myself at 18 years old, even though it’s so clear I have always been an average or below average size. But I was cross with my body because I felt it didn’t allow me to be the person I wanted to be.

I tried to stick to the ‘rules’ of how women considered ‘curvy’ should appear. Try to keep your hair long and full, it will hide excess chins and it’s more feminine. No boots, we don’t want to make those legs look bigger do we? Try a flared jean instead to balance out those proportions. Accentuate your waist as it’s the smallest part of your body, we need to see how small you can be! Try an A-line skirt to skim and cover your hips. Three-quarter length sleeves will hide any unsightly bingo wings. PUT DOWN THAT TANK TOP!

This kind of thing really annoys me. I’m not a piece of fruit.What it should say is: Are you human shaped? Then wear whatever the hell you want.

 

I was lucky I have family who tried their best to balance out the negativity I was picking up from outside, but those external influences are strong at a young age. The message I received from the media was that we must always try to be smaller, more fragile…

Women should aim to take up less space.

Confused?

Are you confused?

 

When actually, if pinterest had been around then, mine would have been filled with cropped hair, mini skirts, doc martin boots and skinny jeans. Now this isn’t to say I NEVER wore any of these things, because I did. But the point is how I allowed myself to feel in them, and if I had been brutally honest, I usually felt uncomfortable. Thankfully, nowadays I’m way more relaxed, so much so that I almost missed the opportunity to write about this, simply because it didn’t become a ‘thing’ in my life.

Until summer I’d spent a period of time being at the smallest I’ve ever been at a 10-12. It wasn’t something I’d taken much notice of because I no longer weigh myself or particularly pay much attention to what size I’m buying. I was eating on the go and exercising 6 times a week as a way to de-stress my way through my fourth and final year at college. Although I had no time to socialise and was in bed by 9 most nights; I wasn’t obsessive, I wasn’t restrictive or negative, it was just my life and routine at that time. The only other time I have been that size was in the end stages of my time living away from home; when I was devastated by bereavement and possibly suffering from a mental breakdown. Nevertheless, at this present time I was casually applauded for this change in all situations; at college, at the gym, at church and when I was out socially. Years back this used to make me feel really good; but now I just smile awkwardly so as not to be rude, but know that on the inside I’m eye-rolling. When one girl noticed my disdain for the ‘compliment’ of “you’ve lost weight, you look amazing now” I was told to “enjoy it” and that “you love it really, everyone likes to hear they’re thinner.” I’m at a point now where if that’s what you think I’m thinking, you really don’t know me at all.

 

Smaller, earlier in 2014. That skirt might not fit now…but it is JUST a skirt.

 

When I finished college everything changed. I had kept my head so focused on that end goal for 4 years, I really hadn’t thought of life beyond getting that certificate, because if you had told me 5 years ago that’s where I’d be, I wouldn’t have believed you. My routine changed; I was job hunting, writing, not working out much, happily spending time re-focusing on what the next journey could be. The whole rhythm of my life changed again. I wasn’t sad to leave college, I had gained everything I wanted out of the experience. It wasn’t all easy, as change seldom is but I’m focused on all the privileges I am blessed with in my life that some people don’t have, one of the biggest privileges of all: choices.

And as I contemplated all the things I have achieved so far that I am actually proud of and all the things I still hope to achieve, I wondered how they could link in to my blogging experience. I got my answer when I was getting dressed later that week; a proportion of my clothes no longer fitted and I found myself just casually tutting instead of blind panic. Sure, it was annoying, those skirts my mum had taken in would need letting out and still might not fit, I even hulked out of one of my favourite shirts…

I lift weights at the gym to be strong not to make myself small, so feeling a bit she-hulk was kind of awesome.

I lift weights at the gym to be strong not to make myself small, so feeling a bit She-Hulk was kind of awesome.

 

But I didn’t freak out. I just adjusted my diet a bit and aimed that I’d stick to 2/3 workouts that I enjoy a week whenever they fitted into the rest of my life…but my size didn’t change. And I finally got it, that this is my natural shape. The thing that so many women fight a daily battle against. Because you can never win when you make yourself the enemy. As long as you’re healthy (whatever that is for you as an individual) and happy you are winning. I may have gained physical weight, but I realised I’d finally lost what I had needed to all along, I’d lost the emotional weight. Don’t underestimate it, that’s a lot heavier than you might give it credit. You’ll be so much lighter to do all the things you want to do, to dream all the things you might do. Lose the guilt associated with taking up more space in the world. Lose the shame that you’re ‘letting yourself go’ if you skip a few workouts. Lose the fear of being less attractive because in real life you can’t Photoshop yourself to perfection. Lose the hate that you will be worth less because you weigh more.

That is the only diet you will ever need. Lose your emotional weight.

This will mean so many different things to people, that I couldn’t begin to cover it here, but start the ultimate diet by focusing on the achievements in your life that have nothing to do with your weight and appearance. All the positive things and things I am most proud of: finishing school, travelling, always working at any job I could find, re-discovering my christian faith, having wonderful family and friends, overcoming depression, supporting gender equality and gay rights, getting my degree, appreciating what I have, always keeping hold of my dreams…you wouldn’t need to know the number on my scales or the number in my waistband for any of those things.

 

 

So what have you done?

Found out who your true friends are and cherish them?

Made peace with something or someone in your life?

Studied towards something that means a lot to you?

Fallen in love?

Have a wonderful family?

Got a job you love?

Left a job you hate?

Travelled alone?

Faced your fears?

Stood up for what you believe in, at all costs?

Always remember those things. The positive and negative, the light and shade in your life is who you are; your spirit, experiences, memories, choices and changes. Not your physical body.

 

We will all be smaller and larger at different times in our lives but we must never let it dictate our worth. I will keep saying this, over and over: your weight has NOTHING to do with your value in life. If you’re a size 6 or a 26; you can be whatever you want, your dreams are just as valid and attainable as the next persons and you can be beautiful and sexy. So don’t wait to lose weight, or gain it, before you start living your life and being you. It goes by so quickly, there’s only one you, there will only ever be one you. So make it count.

Oh and stop being an apple, rectangle or pencil and wear what you want. Your ‘bony’ legs or your ‘spare tire’ aren’t going to kill anyone. And just FYI, I recently graduated, bought more miniskirts, now own multiple pairs of boots and chopped my hair off…and it feels great.

Thanks to Beauty Redefined for the celebrity quotes.

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Change your world, not your body.

It’s a misconception that confident people have always been that way, or that they hide some terrible ‘flaw’ behind the mask of confidence. Although both can be true; sometimes you just need to find your feet and blossom into a truly confident person, usually through your perception of the world and your interactions within it. And more often than not, this requires change. A change of perspective and an open mind.

In my previous post I wrote about how I became interested in feminism and equality, and it was during this time my interest bought me to many sources of inspiration.

Throughout my school years I was bullied because of my weight and appearance, something I know unfortunately too many of us can relate to. I was the ‘fat’ one, even though I’ve never been above a size 16. It never made sense to me. I come from a home where I have always been told I am smart and beautiful, so although the taunts were hard to bear and sometimes it was exhausting, I trusted my families judgement better. I know others who weren’t so lucky.

I feel I grew up not seeing a diverse enough range of bodies in mainstream media. I had people I looked up to, sure, but I wish I had seen more fabulous curvy ladies like me. I loved Dawn French because she was so unapologetically herself but that just wasn’t enough.

My weight has always fluctuated; I really really LOVE food, I put on weight easy but I exercise regularly and enjoy it. I spent years never fully being myself, holding parts of myself back or not doing things until I could ‘lose some weight’ or change in some way. It seems madness to me now, when I not only like but appreciate what I see in the mirror. But a lot of people never emerge from that negative cycle.

So I offer up to you now some great resources of inspiration for me personally and hope it encourages you to find your own. This post tends to veer on the curvier side as that is a body type I feel is not represented well but hopefully there is something for everyone. I know I have some male readers so apologise for the distinct lack of men but I’m only just scratching the surface with this, so in time I will develop a broader knowledge base . In the meantime perhaps, as a starting point check out Jackson Katz an anti-sexism activist who was featured in the Miss Representation film.

But this is for all of you, male or female. To remember that all different shapes and sizes are amazing and those inside deserve respect.

Laura Wells

An environmental scientist with an extreme passion for our oceans and protection of biodiversity, international plus size model and a promoter of positive body image. She is one of the first plus size models I came across during my research. ‘Plus’ size causes a lot of debate when models like Laura state they are only a UK 14-16 but the industry starts at an 8-10 and at the moment that is just the way it is. She doesn’t gripe about this: an industry that has given her so much. Instead she talks a lot about healthy body image and also being more than just your appearance, highlighting the importance of education and global causes.

check out her Facebook page for links to all her projects and other sites.

 

HILDA

The creation of artist Duane Bryers, ‘Hilda was one of the only atypical plus-sized pin-up queens to grace the pages of American calendars from the 1950s up until the early 1980s, and achieved moderate notoriety in the 1960s.’ Full of fun and not shy about her body, she’s out living life through fabulous illustration.

See more at ToilGirls.com

 

GABI FRESH

OH this woman is stylish! She runs a personal style blog aiming to showcase high fashion is for all sizes and has collaborated with swimsuits for all on a range of diverse sized swimwear. It was this picture that first caught my eye…she is so right.

Go to her website for great posts and beautiful clothes.

 

NADIA ABOULHOSN

Another wonderful fashion blogger, Nadia is also a brand ambassador for boohoo.com. She is one of the people featured that encouraged me to just GET OVER myself and my fear of wearing shorts.

Go to her website for diverse style and ways to wear the newest trends.

 

CHERRY DOLLFACE

I’ve previously interviewed Cherry on her involvement with the modelling industry and her struggle with body shaming due to being smaller. It’s important to highlight that although smaller body types are better represented, this kind of image based bullying goes both ways. Cherry has many fashion and beauty collaborations and supports the Bombshells Against Bullying campaign, all of which are all mentioned in the interview ‘A bite of the cherry’

Her Youtube channel also has great hair and beauty tutorials.

SAFFI KARINA

A former ‘straight size’ model who instead of suppressing her natural figure to fit the industry decided to embrace her body and switched to the plus size industry. One of her former agencies dropped her for being ‘too big’ at a size 10 (yes, really!) but she didn’t let this stand in her way. She has launched The Curve Project in London, the UK’s first plus size model workshop, offering advice, inspiration and body confidence masterclasses.

 

TESS MUNSTER

I found out about Tess through Cherry as they have done various events and videos together. She always wanted to be a model but struggled with bullying and rejection from the mainstream agencies. Following a passion for beauty she became an amazing makeup artist and began blogging, through which she built up a strong fan base. Recently named one of the world’s top plus size models by Refinery 29, Huff Post, & Vogue Italia, her career has really taken off in the last couple of years. She has fulfilled her dream of modelling and uses her platform to be a fierce ambassador for women’s empowerment.

Founder of the #effyourbeautystandards movement, more images and links can be found on her website. I spend way too much time following her updates!

 

DENISE BIDOT

In the last month Denise walked the runway at both New York and London fashion week with elle.com naming her this seasons break-out plus size model. She has been the face of Levi’s, Forever21 Plus, Target Plus, Kohls, Macy’s, and stars in Nuvotv’s series Curvy Girls. I’m sure we’ll be seeing much more of her in the future.

More of her editorial work can be seen on her website.

 

ASHLEY GRAHAM

American plus size model Ashley is also making waves in the industry by spreading the message of positive body image. She recently walked the catwalk for the SS15 Evans Design Collective which was full of beautiful pieces and a breath of fresh air to see a variety of different body shapes wearing the clothes. She also has a lingerie collection with plus size retailer Navabi. And like many of the women featured in this article she encourages those who can to exercise with the #curvyfitclub.

vogue.co.uk recently named her as one of ‘the new role models’.

Ashley Graham website

 

THE BEAUTY MYTH. NAOMI WOLF 

This book was essential for my dissertation, I have read and researched both praise and criticism for it and highly recommend you read it.

 

HEALTHY IS THE NEW SKINNY

At first I found the HNS title a little problematic, however it is not stating there is anything wrong with being skinny, as for some of us this is a natural body shape. It is simply a comment on societies ability to make certain body types ‘fashionable’ and desirable over others. They have turned this on its head and suggested ‘how about we make health the priority, the most desirable thing’. Now I’m a believer that ‘healthy’ is different for everyone, not a one size fits all deal, so I always just take what I need from healthy living resources and apply it my own way. HNS is great for this as there are plenty of good recipes, workout tips and messages of positive thought!

You can find out more about founder Katie (above) and her husband Bradford on the website and facebook

“Healthy is the New Skinny is about revolutionizing how we think about, talk about, live in and love our bodies.”

 

JESS BAKER

When the news broke that Abercrombie and Fitch CEO had stated that he didn’t want ‘fat’ or ‘not so cool’ kids wearing his companies clothes I felt like face-planting my desk. However Jess Baker had a much better response which I found through Huffington Post. This lead me to her unique brand of awesome-ness on her website The Militant Baker where she describes herself as:

“A mental health professional, pastry chef, ex-art major, crazy cat lady, fat model, fiery advocate, and total pain in the ass.”

She has very recently given up her 9-5 in pursuit of becoming a full time international body advocate and I wish her every bit of luck, she’s already doing a fabulous job. Her website has a great selection of intelligent and funny articles to check out, as well as her Ted Talk!

 

 

she also had on one of her posts this awesome quote (via tumblr)

And that is right, being a Body Image Warrior isn’t always easy because it can feel like a battle. But every time I think it’s too hard to fight such a huge industry and ingrained societal ideals, I remember what it was like to be 14. To be a teenage and to be taunted for simply looking like you, and I remember is it so worth standing up for what you believe in.

Yes there are more terrible things happening in the world but as Jess Baker says in her Ted Talk; it is not superficial, because how you perceive yourself on the outside effects the inside and your whole participation in life (watch it, she explains it in more depth). Happiness and health start from within, they are things that are different for everyone and look different on everyone. But more acceptance and respect means more happy people, which makes a better world to live in. And to me, that sounds far from superficial.

So go, get searching, take these few inspirations and use them as a springboard to find your own positive body image warriors. But remember it all starts with YOU.

 

Your ordinary and magical life.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the ordinary and the exceptional.

I read about this speech David Mccullough had given at the commencement for high school students, boldly reminding them they are ‘nothing special’, you can read about it here. And also thinking about my only encounters since graduating; the countless  uncomfortable looks given when I state I’m ‘just sticking around here at the moment’ when asked what I’m doing next. “Aren’t you going to set up your own business and become a professional?” Umm….no, no current plans for that. Always followed by a big grin to ease their unwarranted disappointment. Thankfully though I was not bought up in a house that measures success only by accolades.

There seems to be this unspoken desire in our culture today that we have to aspire to be remarkable individuals, but that ideal is measured on a skewed scale.

We have such a limited, blinkered view of what we perceive to be an accomplished life. Money and notoriety are presented to us as things that are synonymous with happiness. There is this idea that we should always want more. The problem is that no one really knows what they are chasing, this thing that has no tangible form, nobody knows what it looks like or what it feels like. Therefore this desire to do more, be more, achieve more can be manipulated, packaged into countless forms. And sold as solutions and ideals for those hungry for reassurance to devour. But it can never satisfy.

I think there is a lot of misconception about settling for an ‘ordinary’ life, not constantly feeling that urge to fill your life with ‘more’. As if it means you should give up on all your fantastical dreams. That should never be the case. You just cannot live off delusions of grandeur based on other people’s sense of success if you want true happiness. You cannot strive to be the best at what you love, just so society will give you a pat on the back for trampling over the competition, triumphing over thousands of others with your same dream. Your dreams must be rooted within you, to be fulfilled because they bring you contentment and peace. The outcome is sometimes superfluous, it’s the journey, the enjoyment of the present that counts.

I love to write. I have been writing my first book for a few years and I have no idea if it will ever be a ‘bestseller’ but I HAVE to write it because I couldn’t live with it inside me forever. It would be wonderful if a lot of people eventually read it…but it’s not why I’m writing it.

tumblr_n6anu7SXBZ1qz9z1no1_500

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do something huge to change the world for the better…but do it for that reason. A successful life is not just about getting on the rich list or having your picture the newspapers or hitting 10k followers on Instagram. That’s great if you have arrived there through a lot of hard work, with a happy heart; not needing anything more, but taking opportunities graciously as they present themselves. A successful life is full of friendship, love, simple acts of kindness to others, loss, strength, hope and happy memories.

Getting average grades at school makes you no less worthwhile than the straight A students. Leaving college and working in a local shop (like me) doesn’t have to make you feel any less successful than those who moved to the big city with the high paid jobs. Staying in the same town all your years and leading a quiet life is no less remarkable than someone who worked all over the world and regularly attended ‘prestigious’ events. Comparisons make people miserable and don’t think there aren’t powers beyond some of our control that don’t know that.

So don’t measure yourself against industries that seek to extract money from you, society standards that seek to make you feel inadequate or people who seek negativity and woe in every corner of life.

Watch the seasons change, take pictures, see your loved ones grow and change, comfort the sick and those in need with love, listen to the birds sing and see them fly, feel the sun on your face, the wind in your hair, remember your dreams and hold tight to them or adapt them through the years.

There is no doubt there is a lot of suffering and hardship to be seen, but the Dalai Lama says that if each of us simply strives to be happy, it’s one of the best ways to change the whole world.

I saw this advert on Facebook a while ago and though I knew it was a commercial I thought the narrative was beautiful.

 

Your life, can be extraordinary. Just give yourself permission to let it be so, on your terms.

Interview: Endangered Bodies

I have always been interested in women’s representation and ever since starting my degree I have had the opportunity to explore these ideas further. Over the past 6 months I have been researching this and related topics for my dissertation which questions ideals of female beauty.

I came across AnyBody UK and was fascinated to find such a fantastic resource for the types of issues I was looking into. I was lucky enough to get an interview with the London team to discuss their work.

Tell us about Endangered Bodies and how it all started:

Endangered Bodies is an local-global initiative launched by the international Endangered Species summits in March 2011, held in LondonNew YorkBuenos Aires, Sao Paulo and Melbourne.

As of April 2013, Endangered Bodies has chapters based out of London (also known as AnyBody), New York (via The Women’s Therapy Centre Institute), Buenos Aires (AnyBody Argentina), IrelandSao PauloSydney (run by Body Matters Australasia), Germany (AnyBody Deutschland) and most recently, Mexico.

We, the London team (along with Argentina and Germany due to the translation issues of Endangered Bodies) identify as AnyBody UK, which began as a blog convened by Susie Orbach in 2002 as we have a strong following using this name, it can get a little complicated at times!

We are a society that are more visually literate than ever before yet we still buy into the marketing strategies that sell us the belief that we are “not good enough”. Why do you think women have become so disillusioned with their bodies and how has it become accepted as ‘normal’ to dislike ones appearance so much?

Well there are a few factors that have sadly converged to help along this ‘normality’

As we all know a great deal of money can be made from manipulating insecurity and desire so aggressive marketing strategies have capitalized on this very cleverly, advertisers are using the rhetoric of the body acceptance movement to cajole, comfort, guilt or shame potential customers into buying their products.

Then there’s the rise and rise of celebrity culture and cheap gossip magazines pitting women against each other constantly with their school-bully mentality, heaping praise one minute and shaming the next.

There’s also the filtering of a commercial porn-aesthetic into the mainstream further cementing women as a passive object, often with a body quite removed from natural reality.

New technology and social media have also had an impact, as the numbers of manipulated images we see on a daily basis is in the thousands for the average person with a smart phone and access to the Internet on other devices

However ‘knowing’ we might all be about advertising and even how images are manipulated, the sheer volume of visual media we are exposed to and that we also process very quickly before reason has a chance to kick in, is staggering.

How and in what ways is this enduring negative mindset affecting women?

It’s affecting women and girls (and ever increasingly men and boys) in pretty much every aspect of their lives to greater and lesser degrees, depending on their resilience and confidence about their bodies. The statistics are extremely worrying, 72% of girls will avoid ordinary activities like going to school, to the doctor or voicing an opinion because they do not feel they look good enough, they feel ashamed. Shame is an extremely powerful emotion and the use of it by the fashion, beauty and diet industries and even the government who are weighing school children with the discredited BMI as a guide to their health, is disturbing.

Your ‘Ditching Dieting’ information is very interesting and along with other resources has finally cemented my view that the so called weight ‘crisis’ we are apparently faced with is nothing more than a business model constructed to induce fear and make money. Do you think we will ever be able to break the cycle, how can we tackle such a powerful industry when it holds such influence?

Such a tough question, there is huge potential to break the cycle, but you’re right, the diet industry has so much money and power at its disposal and, crucially for companies like Weight Watchers for example, they have passionate advocates who are emotionally invested, people who are Lifetime Members (if it was so great why would you need to be a member for life?!) and despite having to keep returning will defend their chosen programme. Weight Watchers and other diet programmes do have some good points, mainly the regular meetings for mutual support, many people rely on these meetings, bond with others and even make friends. The fact that these meetings could be free of charge or virtually free of charge and even better, free from weight stigma and a space for discussion about food, well-being and dealing with emotional eating, is something that would be great. Great for those who feel they want to get healthy and share the burden of how society and the media make us feel about our bodies, but obviously not so good for the diet industry.

But also there are huge issues around health which do need to be addressed: sedentary jobs, stress, mental health issues and poor nutrition resulting from low income are factors that need to be taken into consideration. What many people misunderstand (because it profits so many that there are such misunderstandings) is that you can be bigger and still healthy, in fact many of the practices people follow to lose weight are extremely unhealthy. Thinness at any cost is destroying many lives. Really what we need is to help people understand, care for and occupy their bodies, rather than seeing them as something troublesome that does not conform and that needs to be flawless and thus over-hauled, made-over or fixed. To single out one thing is to miss the point, health is holistic and we need to tend carefully to our minds and bodies without the intrusion of shareholders’ interests.

Your work links a lot with feminism; the connotations of which are constantly being redefined. Through its evolution it has been marred with the assumptions of needing extremist views and hatred towards men, causing a reluctancy amongst some women to declare themselves as such. But what is it really to be feminist today?

Yes, absolutely, feminism is inextricable from what we do partly because I don’t think there’s a woman on our LDN team who wouldn’t identify as such and partly because we see ideas around valuing oneself, diversity, positive representation and equality to be inherently feminist. We follow and share all sorts of feminist resources online and try to all stay as informed as possible around gender debates and related issues.

Also it’s not a women vs. men thing, that’s far too simple and aside from it painting a horrible stereotype of us all as man-haters, it also ignores the fact that men can be wonderful allies that benefit as much as women from feminist achievements as women and such a simplistic explanation forgets that some women can be fierce misogynists because they feel they would benefit more from patriarchal ideals than a balanced world.

To be a feminist today could in some ways seem more complex than it was historically because of the co-opting of the language of liberation by profiteers and also because of the different kinds of things we need to do throughout the world and in our own lives. How do we help? What is most important? We know about so many more social and political ills thanks to technological communications, sometimes being worried about where to start is a huge task. Ultimately the achievements of feminism, civil rights and human rights and rightful challenging of various prejudices, means that feminists must be more inclusive and thoughtful of potential discrimination. Feminism is about challenging the idea of a binary split between the genders, that we recognize ambiguity, imperfection, fear and vulnerability for what they are, part of human experience and accepting these things and accepting ourselves and others. Believing we should not be discriminated against because of our biology, gender, race, abilities, sexuality, class or geographical location. Being a feminist in a nutshell means understanding that we are all human with strengths and frailties and we all matter as much as anyone else.

How do your campaigns aim to target the self-loathing epidemic? What changes does Endangered Bodies want to achieve as short and long term goals?

Our Ditching Dieting* Campaign aims to give people a voice and speak out about their experiences of dieting, so many people feel ashamed that they’ve ‘failed’ even though the diet industry sets everyone up to fail as they need the repeat custom, if the diet industry really cared about their customers’ well-being they would become victims of their own success and rightly so, any business or organization who wants to help people who are struggling should really hope for a time when they are no longer needed. This campaign has been dormant for a while as we are quite stretched for time since we are all volunteers.

*When we use the term Diet (to be ditched) we do not mean a person’s diet i.e. what they generally eat day to day ‘a balanced diet’, we mean a programme that is finite and centres around restriction, deprivation, points, calories, measuring, indeed anything advocating an unnatural way of eating that ignores ones bodily cues in order to lose (or even gain) weight.

Our Shape Your Culture project, has been, and hopefully will continue to be, fantastic and effective. It is part Media literacy, part consciousness-raising and part activism. We work with young people to unpick the falseness and bias of mainstream media, we ask the groups we work with to question what they see, hear and even say themselves in relation to bodies and body image and ask them what they’d like to say, do or change and then help facilitate their completion of a project.

We have seen confidence, friendships and support networks grow over the first nine month project and couldn’t have been happier with the outcomes.

In short, with our campaigns we want people to feel they have a voice, that they are agents of change in their own lives and potentially the lives of others. We hope that we can help people feel more at home in their bodies and not be so desperate to change something if they can learn how to understand and care for themselves. We believe that DOING and getting engaged is the way to help facilitate such changes and we hope to continue to do so.

How can like-minded people get involved with Endangered Bodies?

At present we’re not able to manage volunteers as we’re all volunteers ourselves and are a bit swamped searching for funding and various other projects. But, we have created an online Activist Pack which is free to download from our website and contains all sorts of resources, from an intuitive eating guide, to tips for hosting a Ditching Dieting Speak Out to images to circulate and raise awareness, so for now we’d love for people to use those resources, spread the word and get inspired and as soon as we’re able we’ll be taking on volunteers to push everything further!

A huge thank you to the team for their response. They are very busy individuals doing a great job. Spread the word and get involved!

Follow on twitter: @Anybodyorg @Endangeredbodys

 

Life is a balance…

…of holding on and letting go.

I read this the other day and thought how true it was. Balance is so key to all of us and how we experience the time we are given. We make choices of what we hold near to us and what we let drift away or even push, so it’s important to know that you’re doing either for the right reasons.

My personal journey has seen me cross paths with this idea recently; emotional de-cluttering is more cathartic than you could believe! In the last couple of months I’ve felt a great increase in pressure of Uni work, attempted to deflect the ever persistent questions of “What are you going to do after you graduate this year?” and also, sadly suffered a personal bereavement. All events which are common and relative to us all in some way. It is our reactions to these situations that determine how we move forward, how we attempt to stay balanced.

Now when I say ‘balanced’, I think that can often conjure some misconceptions. An image springs to mind of a juggling act or a plate spinner, both of which are skilled to keep so many elements in play at the same time but it does not evoke peace, more like underlying tension. And perhaps in our increasingly chaotic culture the meaning of balance has shifted. It is seen as the achievement of spinning more and more plates at the same time and still being able to move. At some point though your arms will get tired, you might start to lose focus and the balancing act becomes more of a stress-managing act. True balance is being able to put down a few plates every now and then, even the lot and not beat yourself up about it. We all do it in different guises; I did it about this very blog, set up as an addition to my college work and an outlet for my writing but when other things had to take higher priority I felt guilty about not writing and that’s when moments of enjoyment become ‘tasks’. When enforced expectation takes over.

There’s always lots of discussion about not living up to cultural and social standards but what I’ve found the hardest is measuring up to the ones you set yourself, disguised as someone elses’ so there is someone to blame when you’re not hitting the mark. But they aren’t stone pillars, they’re just stakes in the ground that can be moved whenever they need to be. And that’s where real balance lives, in between the ever-changing guidelines. Really look at what you hold on to and make sure it makes you smile.

You don’t have to stop ‘wanting it all’ to achieve balance just don’t have it as your life goal. Accepting the transience of all things will help expose your enjoyment and appreciation of what you have already and the importance of the present moment. Holding on and focusing on what is now and letting go of expectations, negativity, of past and present.

Balance is much like contentment which I have mentioned before. Although it is intrinsically linked with happiness, that is not all of its story, it is much more about acceptance.

Acceptance of highs and lows, light and dark. We can’t be balanced with one foot in the past and one in the future, you have to be rooted in the presence.

So what’s the moral of this psychoanalytical waffle?

Well, when you’re feeling like it’s all too much and you need a time out perhaps you should…

check your feet and put down those plates!

And here’s a nice little story to round this up, taken from The Buried Life:

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full.. The students responded with a unanimous ‘yes.’

The professor then produced two Beers from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand.The students laughed..

‘Now,’ said the professor as the laughter subsided, ‘I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things—-your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions—-and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car.. The sand is everything else—-the small stuff.

‘If you put the sand into the jar first,’ he continued, ‘there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life.

If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness.

Spend time with your children. Spend time with your parents. Visit with grandparents. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and mow the lawn.

Take care of the golf balls first—-the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the Beer represented. The professor smiled and said, ‘I’m glad you asked.’ The Beer just shows you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of Beers with a friend.

Sticks and Stones

With all this research into body image, I’ve been focusing a lot on the ‘right now’ and how it affects people in adulthood, but that focus needs to be aimed also at younger generations where negative self-image is becoming systemic.

How can young minds develop into secure, happy individuals when they are constantly bombarded with the message that natural appearance is flawed and to strive for ‘perfection’ one must aim to change; this is not just from the media but also from sources closer to home. How is a young girl supposed to react when she has grown up seeing her mother, sister, standing in front of the mirror telling herself she is fat or ugly. If our own behaviours are learnt and conditioned from what we have been exposed to then what hope does she have?

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This intolerance for varied sizes, shapes and looks affects young people and the way they behave towards one another. Deep seated insecurities begin to manifest themselves in disturbing patterns, often then released as physical or emotional abuse; a term many of us will sadly be well acquainted with: bullying.

Most schools do have ‘Anti-Bullying’ policies in place, but  you can’t kill the weed if you aren’t attacking the roots.

With the deregulation of media and more and more independent outlets having to compete to be noticed there has been a steady increase in companies resorting to explicit shock tactics. This results in a huge media bias of what sells and not necessarily what is healthy to promote.

As adults we have the ability to take in or dismiss this information but children and teens absorb what is presented to them, often accepting it as truth. And at a younger age they are being exposed to countless media sources, more so than ever before; hounded with over-sexualised messages of ‘perfection’ and offered extreme and often aggressive solutions to deal with their issues. It of course in no way excuses bullying of any form, but we are constantly blurring the lines of what is considered acceptable to us as within society and this in turn will inevitably filter down to the next generation.

The issue of body image and what is desirable is also becoming harder to separate from the notion that equates success with notoriety and fame. The younger generation I personally feel are being slowly poisoned by the lure of reality TV and quick fixes to achieve their dreams; only to feel failure when everything does not materialise at the speed of an X-factor series. Hard work and paying your dues is packaged as secondary fall back, but it’s what the vast majority of us have to do to get to where we want to be. And more to the point you will hopefully become a more rounded, wiser person for the experience your journey takes you on.  Perhaps I just have a rather old-fashioned perspective, though I think not.

What can be done?

It’s not all doom and gloom, already through my investigations I have found great sources that hope to provide change such as Body Gossip who run self-esteem classes in schools throughout the UK.

And what can YOU do?

Get involved, get your voice heard. Teach those younger than you that what is presented to them through the media isn’t necessarily the truth. Make no mistake there is a long way to go and a lot of work still to do before this issue is truly taken seriously because a lot of companies make big money from our insecurities.

Yes this is American but the effects are same in the UK. Take the time to watch the trailer…better yet watch the film! Miss Representation

Instead of fame and beauty, lets encourage equating success with happiness and well-being.

And most of all make empowering others a priority; alongside kindness and love it’s probably one of the best gifts you’ll ever have to offer.

Think ‘Unlimited’

I have been lucky enough in between work this week to travel up to London for the career advice and inspiration sessions hosted by GoThinkBig.

I applied way back at the beginning of the summer and booked my accommodation and travel straight away because I was determined I would be going; luckily that paid off!

Entering into the final year of my degree *sobs* seemed like a fitting time to hear from people experiencing success in their chosen fields. You were able to select two of the four talks to attend and I was pleased to find I had gained a place on the fashion and media (sport and music were also available). It was clear when I arrived that I was in a very small minority of those above 25 but my old anxieties are now replaced by a quiet contentment that I already posses a certain level of ‘life experience’. And when I sat myself down next to a lovely young girl named Amy, 17,still at school and figuring out what to do with her life, it got me thinking about my own path.

I can barely believe it has been nearly 10 years since I left school. I spent a long time feeling like I hadn’t achieved enough and wasted too many years but I can now look back and see how all the experiences both positive and negative have shaped the very determined and ambitious person I am today. Now that all sounds a bit self-congratulatory but I’m not ashamed to say I’ve worked very had to get myself where I am now both physically and mentally. Soon to graduate and to start finding a career, to the outside it seems like I’m only at the start. It’s true I have spent a lot of time fumbling back and forth through the beginning chapters of my story before realising the absence of any clear plot; but like any good novel it has to be edited and re-drafted before it’s ready to reveal a synopsis.

The key is to know when to stop re-drafting and move on

..which takes me to the present.

Now in the grand scheme of things, being 17 wasn’t really that long ago for me, although it seems like decades ago. Perhaps this is because during that time in between you do the vast majority of developing who you are.

What they don’t tell you at school is that often you will be a completely different person heading towards your thirties than you were as a teenager. The decisions, loves, hates, aspirations may all completely change too. And that’s ok. It’s also ok I might add to know what you want to do from and young age and stick to it. More power to you!

Because of financial, social and just general stability factors, most schools tend to push a single focused career agenda instead of the ‘have a go at a bit of everything until you find your niche’ route. In theory I guess this makes sense but sometimes you’ll be better off for following the latter.

Make no mistake, I do not mean for people to drop out of school and be a bum until they have a light bulb moment; those only come from already engaging in something and stimulating your brain. Education is such a wonderful privilege and should be taken full advantage of. What I mean to say is, be driven by your passion and not what career you or others think you should have.

Because if you have passion, you will make it work.

This was the underlying notion put forward by all the GoThinkBig speakers yesterday. A special mention to Sabina Emrit, founder and editor of Access-Fashion who was kind enough to stay after and answer even more questions from me and impart some invaluable advice.

It was reassuring to hear everyone on the panel’s individual paths; how their career journeys were never linear, involved a lot of hard work but essentially bought them to a successful outcome. These are not people who then just sit back and rest on their laurels, you could sense the relentless desire to harness creative energy and ideas. What I really took away from the session is that qualifications do indeed help your chances at employment but enthusiasm and happiness are the qualities that are always remembered.

I also picked up the importance of not to ‘pigeon hole’ yourself with what you do. That’s one of the main reasons I chose a photography degree; I’m so used to the uncomfortable and worried expressions I’m met with when I say may not actually become just a straight photographer after I graduate. Why? Why, they ask me did I do it at all then. The answer is simple: because I love it. But I’ve never treated getting a degree as a subject specific, blinkered experience. I chose a degree I knew I could stick at for 4 years and not tire of it and one that would give me transferable skills so I would be able to branch out further into the creative industry.

When I think back to all the changes I’ve gone through in terms of who and what I want to be, I’m grateful for them. You can look back at things and see them as a ‘waste of time’ or you can realise the value of them, the key is to find what lesson you learnt from each of them and how it informed you to be able to move forward to what you do want.

At one point in time I have wanted to be one or more of these things…and I was very serious about them:

Mermaid

Fashion Designer

Vet

Storm Chaser

Swimmer

Opera Singer

Guitarist in a band

Wedding Planner

Creative Director of a magazine

Interior Designer

A character from Animals of Farthing Wood

Visual merchandiser

Gerard Way from My Chemical Romance’s wife (yes that IS an aspiration!)

Actress

Photographer

Curator

Author

Only a few will always remain unchanged and those are the ones you need to follow. Some are just physically impossible.

But inevitably change is what leads us to success.

Humans have been adapting since our beginnings, it is how we progress and grow individually and as a whole. So, if you get to 20, 30, 40 and beyond and feel the pull of a need for change, well there’s certainly no shame in that. It could be just what you need.

And if you’re doing something extraordinary, it may even be just what the world needs.