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.

 

“If not me, who? If not now, when?”

It’s only in recent years I have been identifying myself as a feminist. Not because of a lacking belief beforehand but simply because I was unaware of how oppressive some ideals in society still are; how certain limiting expectations of gender have become so normalised only a small proportion feel the urge to question their effect.

When I went back to education at 23, I really began to open my eyes. Perhaps I was ‘maturing’, perhaps it was that I felt stronger for getting through some tough times, perhaps it was that I was nurturing a healthier view of myself and an appreciation of what I have. Whatever it was, I began to crave that sense of inner strength and empowerment.

 

What really got the ball rolling for me was watching a clip from the 2011 documentary Miss Representation in a contextual studies class. It aims to disseminate issues of gender inequality, particularly towards the media’s portrayal of women but also how this affects men and boys. This is something film maker Jackson Katz highlights:

“We are socialising boys to believe that being a man means being powerful and in control.  Being smarter than or better than women. That our needs get met first in relationships with women. That’s not genetically pre-destined. That’s learned behaviour.” (2011)

 

It made me realise just how important feminism is for both sexes. The choice to be free to be yourself without the restraints of gender roles and expectations which are enforced for power and profit.

I read up on the subject, focusing first on attitudes to appearance and beauty, because this is where I have felt personally effected most in the past. It even became the focus of my dissertation.

I felt very privileged to be able to spend so much time writing about something I felt so passionately about and it only fuelled the fire as I delved deeper into this arena of struggle and triumph.

It changed me. Those books and articles cannot be unread, the videos and documentaries cannot be unseen. And it’s when you start speaking up and tuning in to all the daily occurrences that would come with the hashtag #sexism that you start to feel the boundaries, suddenly they become acutely visible. Certain off-hand remarks would have gone over my head years ago but now they knot me inside because I know comments like “You know what women are like” or “Man-up and don’t be such a wuss” only serve to reinforce gender imbalances that are systemic throughout all cultures and lead to much bigger issues like mental health problems and violence. I notice it everywhere from overhearing conversations on public transport to my favourite TV shows.

But with this new-found cause in my heart I’m often met with the same responses:

“Don’t you think you’re blowing it out of proportion? It’s just one little comment. Chill out.”

“Just calm down. It all sounds a bit aggressive for a woman.”

“You’re overreacting. It’s just banter.” …when stating how much I HATE rape ‘jokes’.

 

Suddenly you’ve become the killjoy. “Don’t tell that to Jenn, she won’t approve.” If I had a pound for every time I’ve heard that whispered…

Well you know what, that’s fine. Because I believe that women have to right to decide what they do with their bodies, that men should be allowed to cry without the fear of judgement, that sexual assault and violence against either gender is wrong and not great comedic material. I believe in equal pay, that pitting women against each other for economic profit is wrong, that cat-calling is abusive and not something to ‘be grateful for’. I believe that women should not be asked “what were you wearing?” when reporting an attack, that men should not be forced into hyper-masculinity to prove themselves worthy of their sex, that women have the right to be comfortable with their bodies at any size. I believe that men can be incredible allies in the fight against gender inequality and that feminists are not ‘man haters’. And a whole host of other things. And if that has made me a killjoy then so be it.

It’s true that once you become more conscious of these things, these systems, these social structures, they have less power over you. And for a while I considered just going about my life ignoring the foolish things that try to undermine our choices. I could do it, stop reading the articles and just live my life not noticing these things (even though they would still inadvertently affect me). But I am blessed to be in a position to make that choice…a choice that not all people have because of inequality. And THAT is why it matters. Those people who say we “don’t need” feminism anymore or that it “doesn’t effect men”, you are wrong.

Feminism, gender equality, they are such multi-faceted terms. I’ve seen many debates online about the importance of one particular topic over another; that aiming to change perceptions of beauty is ‘shallow’ and that media literacy classes for children are ‘unnecessary’. What I have learnt is that all aspects are intrinsically linked and all have important roles to play in creating a more balanced world. It is a vast topic and subsequently could never be covered adequately in a post like this. But just to start participating in conversations and changing attitudes should not be played down as each positive step is advantageous.

 

When U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson spoke this week about launching the HeforShe campaign, I can’t deny I had a lump in my throat. From all I have learnt in researching and participating in my own small way to this cause, I know how incredibly important this work is. How there is so much need for change still. We can each find our own way to respond to feminism in a positive way. Despite what the media is attempting to churn out, there is no wrong way to be a feminist because at its heart it is simply a belief. A belief that gender is not a limitation and that we all matter. Equally.

I urge you to watch this. I thought she was incredible.

Bare faced challenge.

Back in November I set myself the challenge to go make-up free for 3 months. I have worn make-up since I was about 14 or 15; it started as most stories do, to make me feel more confident and hide bad skin. But as a clueless teenager I was actually highlighting my problems by applying too much…and then there was that awkward stage where no powder was thick enough for me so I resorted to patting on a layer of natural eyeshadow. Yes, you did just read that.

I’ve continued to wear make-up (no eyeshadow as foundation anymore) pretty much everyday over the years just as part of my daily routine, I wouldn’t think twice about going to the mirror to apply it. And because I had become complacent about this everyday task, I wanted to address my relationship with cosmetics.

Why do I wear it? Is it to do with confidence? Am I thinking about the products I’m using? How do they effect my skin?

Before I undertook this challenge I was very sporadic about skincare, all I cared about was looking smooth and *cringe* ‘perfect’. It seems very foolish now.

The first morning I was really excited, but then I got dressed and went downstairs looking and feeling ‘unfinished’. When I stepped outside I had a moment when I wasn’t sure I could do it…but that is what made me carry on. That moment of worry about what other people might think was an indication that it was still perhaps something I associated with my confidence. And in my on-going quest to find true contentment with myself by challenging and questioning societies portrayal of appearance, I knew I had to grit my teeth in the name of research!

It was a strange few months. I very quickly got used to not wearing anything on my face and soon completely forgot that I was bare faced on all occassions. I went to a couple of functions and went through the whole Christmas/new year season (with one very red nose…how foolish of me to pick the coldest months). It was empowering because I knew a few years ago I couldn’t have done it. Some people commented on how ‘brave’ I was for doing it, which is where the discomfort started setting in and the realisation of how ingrained our expectations are for women to look ‘beautiful’ and like you’ve at least ‘made the effort’.

But lets get this straight before we go any further…

I am not saying there is anything wrong with wearing make-up. But I think it is important to evaluate why you wear it. I’ve gone back to wearing it, but the experience was invaluable because I was able to measure my confidence without anything to hide behind. When we live in a media driven society that sells the attainment of beauty and perfection as a commodity, it’s good to strip it back and check in with yourself that you’re still ok with you under there. That your confidence isn’t set in your appearance and that you know your worth is not tied to it.

Now lets talk about the amusing downside to the whole thing.

A few people thought I was ill.

I was asked for ID for EVERYTHING! At 26 I was refused sale on a Euro-millions ticket. You have you be 16 to buy those.

A school boy flirted with me on a bus.

A lot of people nervously asked me “Are you ok?”

But all you really want is some pictures right?

BEFORE

AFTER

 

So the ‘before’ was taken November 2013 after I had removed my make-up with a branded face-wipe and face wash. That’s one red face eh!

 

 

 

This one is taken end of January 2014. I have done my eyebrows in this one but my skin is completely clear of product.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have always had red pigmented/slightly blemished skin but I’m certain the constant make-up use and not considering the best products for my face contributed to this. I haven’t got many selfies to document this period, simply because I always looked the same so it got a bit boring.

Anyway I would urge anyone who wears make-up a lot to try the bare faced challenge, you don’t have to do it as long as me, perhaps try a few weeks? It’s a great way to evaluate your relationship with your appearance, see how others react to you and simply to give you skin a bit of a break. I had to start looking after my face properly when I had nothing to cover it with which meant making sure I always drank enough water and tried to balance my sweet tooth with more fruit and veg. I’m also much more relaxed about myself now, because I know I’m confident in what’s underneath. On the whole it was a really positive experience. I went back to make-up gradually (much less as my skin felt too caked otherwise) simply because I enjoy putting it on. I learnt a lot about the cosmetics industry as well….but that is for another post.

Now go on, get naked.

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

 

Joe Cornish Interview 2012

When I first started at Plymouth College of Art it was fascinating to be introduced to all these new sources of inspiration and photographers, out there making a living doing what they and I love.

Although I myself do not shoot many landscapes one of my first real inspirations both through his imagery and his passion for work was Joe Cornish who I discovered in a lecture and in his book ‘First Light’. When I found out he was going to be in the local area running workshops I contacted his gallery, crossing my fingers someone would get my message. Joe himself replied and was kind enough to meet me one morning, giving up his spare time before starting his workshop to chat to me about his journey in photography.

Thank you for setting aside the time to meet with me, it’s much appreciated. 

I’d like to start with how it is that you got into photography? In terms of the route you took professionally and also what sparked your passion.

Well I first started using a camera, 35mm at University when I was studying Fine Art. Nearly almost straight away, the moment when I picked up the camera I knew I love it. I started off using it in my first year and then started to get more creative throughout the second, third and fourth years, so by the time i graduated I was quite experienced and was taking pictures all the time.

When I graduated I really only had one thing on my mind: how could I get into professional photography? I had no idea and was very much on my own. I knew one photographer who was in America, Mike Mitchell in Washington DC who I had met before on a trip to the states. I knew his sister in law who was an old University friend of mine and after I graduated I got in contact with him. Luckily he wrote back and said that I could come over and if I was in Washington we might be able to find you a job. And that is how I started in photography; as an assistant to an American photographer. I twas a lucky break but of course it wasn’t easy but nothing is and it was worth it.

That leads me nicely on to my next question. When you were starting out, how did you go about generating work for yourself?

It’s very different to having a structured job, employment where a lot of the decisions are made for you; most photographic work is freelance which is still true and probably even more so today. I think the most important thing is you must exploit any contacts you have but you also have to be very imaginative within your work and where you look for opportunities.

In my case I was chronically shy and I still am quite shy strangely enough, but you’ve got to do it, got to push yourself. You put on your best smile and go out and talk to people.

In my head I had this vision of being a landscape photographer but I didn’t know how to do it, I mean there’s relatively little work in nature photography, well that’s paid anyway.

So in my case I started out taking pictures of people, portraits for actors for the actors book. My brother was a young musician so that lead me into the area of photographing musicians. Any opportunities that arise you really have to take and for a long time it wasn’t really making me any money and you have to be prepared for that.

I’m interested in your focus on landscapes in particular; what is it about these open spaces that keep you motivated to continue to photograph them?

That’s a really good question, quite a human question when you thin about it, I mean why do some people prefer to be outdoors with nature and others happy milling around in the city? It’s simply because I love being outdoors, I love the fresh air and I’m an active individual. Also that I’m very inspired by light, colour and texture. I have an art background and I think the things I just mentioned are the greatest source of inspiration for artists.

To be outside is a natural thing to do for me and especially being shy when I was younger it was the natural thing for me to do to avoid much contact with people [laughing].

Recently after working for many years with film you’ve made the switch to digital. What made this decision for you?

I should state I haven’t given up shooting film. I’d like to regard myself as a photographer, not a digital photographer or a film photographer. I’m shooting digital at the moment having made the investment into a digital medium format back. The beauty of making such an investment is after the initial cost of the equipment the costs are relatively low and all you are paying with is your time. Whereas with large format film it can be £5 per exposure with 5×4 and even more with 10×8.

The digital is a nice change after all those years of expense, although I don’t resent or regret them. I have a wide range of shooting methods all of which I fell are still relevant and therefore use particular ones for what I feel is appropriate for the style of shoot.

I feel that I am working towards using digital and film so you can’t see the difference, you shouldn’t be able to see the difference. To me  capturing light and composition, yes the process of arriving there is different but the intention is exactly the same. It is how you capture it and how you print it and whether it’s film or digital it really is very important to get the best results you can in camera.

Then you have the element of interpretation, if you choose to make very subtle changes within post production and how you choose to print. All these elements and stages should combine to ensure you get your artistic interpretation across as best you can and to the highest standard.

What are your views on contemporary landscape photography and how the critics tend to favour the dead pan aesthetic over the picturesque?

Having come from a Fine Art background I’m always slightly uncomfortable being characterised as a picturesque photographer but I completely understand why people would say that.

The art world sneers at the picturesque which has a lot to do with intellectual snobbery. Why there is this distain for the beauty and inspiration of nature I’m not sure, I really don’t understand. Of course we must challenge creativity but like I said the distain seems incredibly short sighted.

I don’t see dead pan as being a directly negative towards nature, I just see it as another style which is how some people approach nature with. Like Gursky and Burtynsky, but I love that work, absolutely fantastic.

It’s a more cool and clinic way of exploring something whereas with light I feel it’s more of an emotive language.

I enjoy many different styles of photography, dead pan is just another preference. Essentially what I think is, that it is important to be true to yourself and indeed your own styl

What advice would you give to students such as myself starting to find their way in the photography industry?

It’s about working hard and I expect you’ve heard a lot of that. It’s difficult to make a living as a photographer but then it’;s never been easy to make a living as a photographer but people still do it.

There is work out there but like I said you have to be prepared to work hard and always develop your photography, don’t get good at something and become complacent. This also means developing the business side of it as I’d say 90% of it is based on human relationships, your client, customers, models and so on.

You have to been incredibly adaptable, very diplomatic, sometimes tough but fair and sensitive to the people you work with. This is part of your role as an artist; to exercise emotional intelligence.

Be prepared to go out, be pro-active, smile a lot and do the things you need to to do get work.

Thank you very much for your time, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you.

All images ©Joe Cornish 2013. Visit the online gallery.

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.