The currency we place on our bodies: Mental Health Awareness Week.

The currency we place on our bodies: Mental Health Awareness Week.

This week marks the annual Mental Health Awareness Week, and this years theme is a topic which effects most of us, across all ages and gender- Body Image. Body image is the way we think and feel about our bodies.

Recent statistics show that 1 in 5 adults have felt shame over their bodies in the last year (MHF, 2019) and over a third have felt anxious or depressed because of concern over their body image (MHF, 2019)


Last week gifted us the hotly anticipated MET Gala, and after a Twitter Moments feature showed up on my feed of model and activist Emily Ratajowski’s appearance at the event, it also blesssed me with a Twitter exchange which got a few of us hot under the collar, for all the wrong reasons. Ending in damaging hashtags such as #aimfortheconcave in reference to Emily’s stomach being thrown around as a ‘joke’ and accusations that I was tweet shaming (is that a thing now? I’ll take it) it was clear to all that this women’s body got us all fired up. But I’m not here to psycho-analyse and breakdown each tweet- Lord knows I’m not perfect when it comes to my views and we’re all welcome to our own opinions and being able to share them online, I mean that’s the beauty of Social media, right? – but instead of hide this exchange under a bed of RuPaul’s Drag Race retweets, I wanted to sit in all it’s uncomfortableness and explore and explain why these words offended me, and Why, when it comes to validating- or criticising- women’s bodies, we shouldn’t all have to ‘ Calm down, sweetie‘.

The initial tweet was one of thousands, and I mean thousands, referencing Em Rata’s body at the Gala. Sure, she was wearing a stomach showing dress so I’m sure she was well aware of the attention it was going to garner. Tweet after tweet queried how hungry she must be, how she’s probably never ate, how is she human, how do her organs fit in her body. All remarks that aren’t that offensive, right? I mean, people are saying how skinny she looks! They want to know her secret! Who would get offended by that!? But slim-shaming, or perhaps even more damaging, slim-praising, is just as unhealthy to our society and to young, impressionable individuals as it’s treacherous cousins, fat-shaming and obesity worshipping. We wouldn’t dream of publicly tweeting about how someone’s organs must be bursting at the seams because of their large size- it certainly goes both ways. I understand the many of these tweets were meant with no malice and as throw-away comments, not to be broken down on little old me’s blog pages, but it’s not individual comments I want to concentrate on. With hundreds of women taking to social media to praise and fawn and critique and judge the body of a woman who spends a good proportion of her time championing the fact she is more than her body and image- I’m curious, What is it about the female body which leaves us obsessing over each other’s biological being?

There were men at that Gala. Many men. I did not see one tweet commenting on their bodies. I mean jeez, these guys turn up to the hottest fashion event of the year with the theme being none other than ‘CAMP’ in a black suit, and have fan girls Worldwide drooling over them. These women turn up in a gown they’ve spent months designing, going to fittings, HOURS in hair and make-up, and their bodies are immediately scrutinised under a microscope, from the way they’ve parted their hair to the colour of their toenails. It is rare that these men are subject to the vast amount of scrutiny, or validation, over their bodies as their female counterparts. The female anatomy has, for many years, been a pawn for society. Used as a weapon in this game that we call life to belittle, or give currency in the form of validation, to women who fell under it’s spell.

From a young age, I have been fully aware of the body I am in; How it looks, it’s flaws, it’s, it’s highs, it’s lows. I remember shaving my legs at around the age of ten and taking a chunk out of my ankle (who knew you’re not supposed to shave your ankles?). I remember lying to my teacher that I had my period so I wouldn’t have to take part in swimming lessons and have the boys in my class make comments about my growing breasts, at the age of eleven. I remember hating my chunky thighs and how they looked in my football shorts, at the age of twelve. I remember shaving half my eyebrows off too look like tadpoles at the age of thirteen, because I thought the ‘bushy’ bit was too bushy. My teenage years were tinged with a dark cloud that loomed over it, in a constant state of worry from my feet, to my earlobes, of the way my body looked. But perhaps most telling of my shift towards full awareness of my body and it’s acceptance within society- and why terms that are applauded on pro-anorexic sites like #concave trigger me- is that by age 17, I frequented these sites too.

What ironically started off as a sixth form project where I had to investigate a topic and write a diary following my journey and my findings (honestly, I’m dumb-founded how this was ever signed off by my teachers) turned into a regular habit of me browsing pro-ana sites and eventually engaging in content. Starting my interest in body image and Feminism young, I chose to explore the pressures on young women and whilst searching for individuals I could interview, I came across a forum which included teenage girls praising each other for not eating that day; posting pictures of them looking extremely skinny and other girls commenting underneath how jealous they were of their bones sticking out. Aha! I had my subjects. I browsed these forums regularly, chatted with girls on there, lifted exchanges and comments and embossed them into what was probably the hardest-hitting Welsh Baccalaureate essay the school has ever seen (probably?). But as I studied the behaviour on these sites I soon realised after a few months of anonymously engaging, I kind of…. wanted in? I posted a couple of pictures my friends had taken of me celebrating the end of my exams at the beach where my ribs sort of poked out, and waited for the replies. And they flowed in thick and fast. Girls fawned over my boney physique, sharing their jealousy and how they wish they looked like me. It was bizarre, and strange and a time in my life where I was very, very, unsure of who I was and what I was doing. I kind of tried not to eat much, but I wasn’t very good at it. Luckily, I was not a victim of an illness but just an impressionable teenage girl and once I had finished school for the Summer I was lucky enough to have my attention directed away from these sites and towards a boyfriend and my friends. And I’ve never visited them since.

I’m absolutely not taking anything away from those who suffer from the debilitating and evil illnesses such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or any other eating disorders, and I am no way in a position to begin to share what it must feel like to suffer from those diseases. But what I can and hope to do is highlight how impressionable we are from a young age, and throughout our life, and how the habits and opinions of others when it comes to body image and the way we look can invigorate, embody and overtake us for all the wrong reasons. How do we possibly begin to combat this epidemic of obsession over the way we look, that has been drilled into us by society from a young age? I don’t have the answer for that. But a good place to start would be to eliminate the currency in relation to our body image, the idea that the way our flesh and bones are formed make us any better or worse of a human. Any more or less worthy of love and respect. The admiration of others, the judgement of others. The shaming. The praising. The fact that a women’s stomach is Worldwide news.

Roughly ten years on and I still have a very up and down relationship with my body. I’ve worked in an industry which profits solely off of my body. I’ve profited off my body. This means I’ve had to pay very close attention to it’s weird and wonderful shapes, it’s reoccurring dimples and stretch marks. I’ve put on weight. I’ve lost it. I’ve had people comment I look too slim. I’ve had people comment I look too chubby. I’ve filled bits out (literally), and I’ve wanted to take parts away (also literally). Do I still look at my body in it’s undressed state every morning in the mirror and subconsciously evaluate it? Yes. Do I allow myself to be validated by my body anymore? I’m working on it.


For more information and statistics about mental health awareness week and this years theme click here .

If you, or anyone you know, have been affected by any of the issues discussed in this blog , you can contact BEAT, Beating eating disorders, for help and support here .

For mental health support and advice, contact MIND, at https://www.mind.org.uk 7

Advertisements

I am not a body, I am somebody.

I am not a body, I am somebody.

Staring into the mirror I prepare myself for another pep talk as the overwhelminginly familiar curtain of doubt and fear of pre-judgement draws down upon me once again; “You are more than just a pair of tits”.

This might sound like a crazy ritual but being able to distance yourself as a person, from your job, is an art in which I find difficulty in mastering; Not for reasonings on my own part, I possess full self-belief in my abilities and who I am as an individual (Well if you can’t love yourself n’ all that….). But once people learn of my job as a Glamour Model, it’s difficult for them to see anything else. Unlike many jobs where you get to clock out at 5pm and go back to being “Just John” who lives at Number 12, I don’t have a job- I am my job. Or so people think.

As a naive 18 year old to the big wide world of the internet, the thought of thousands of images of my boobs being available at a click of a button was not exactly something I gave much thought too. And it’s definitely not something you give a lot of thought too when you don’t see anything wrong with your job in the first place. “What name do you want to go by?” My agent asked as I enthusiastically signed my first modelling contract. “Erm, just my own?” I answered innocently, not foreshadowing the collective of cold-shoulders which awaited me in my years to come. Fast forward eight years and the realisation that people can judge me by one google search is a terror which haunts me every time I meet someone new. “What’s your name?” Are three words which send a shiver down my spine. My heart drops into my stomach every time I’m asked to note down my social media handles at an interview. Most people with hundreds of thousands of followers (barf- subtle brag) would be eager to boast to potential clients about their following, riding the wave of influence and outreach, but for me it’s just another hump in the road. Another chance for someone to see my body and link it to the idea that I must be a terrible person and incompetent at succeeding. I jump at the chance of meeting people in the flesh, where they get to encounter the real me, rather than the image they’ve curated in their head from a posed picture online. All of this has led to me having a love – hate relationship with my bosom; Thankful for the opportunities that have risen from being #blessed, but bitter at the stereotype they’ve forced upon me. So much so, that when I started the transition to working more behind the scenes in the industry, I decided to change my name. I set up a fake email address and a new Instagram account, full of crippling dread that a client I email could see my lady lumps online and never want to work with me, or the brand, again. I began to live a lie, pretending to be someone I was not all because the fear of rejection for being who I really was. I felt like a fraud. Being ashamed of my job, of my body, was not what I stood for and yet I was feeding into it out of terror of being criticised by the World.

I’ve recently started watching The Secret Diaries Of A Call Girl (I know I’m ten years behind but stick with me here) And something resonated with me in the way that Hannah is forced to live a double life. She’s petrified her family may find out about her job, unable to share her career with her friends and feels shame and unworthiness when it comes to finding a real partner to date, and yet she feels all of this whilst loving the job she does. Now perhaps comparing myself to a prostitute is not exactly the angle I’m going for, but the stigma which surrounds females who make a living out of their body- be it glamour models, escorts or webcam girls, is outdated and does not represent the woman behind the role. What the show did so well was expose us to the other side of Belle- the motherly, caring and witty friend, daughter and mentor. She was so much more than just a call girl.

And I know what you’re thinking: “You’ve put yourself out there; You must expect people to judge you for posing for topless pictures” But expect and accept are two very different things. I’ve unfortunately come to expect the judgement, but I don’t accept the stigma given to me because of it. Where my torment lies is in the rationale that I don’t see anything god-awfully wrong with making money from shedding my clothes. I chose to become a glamour model because I find empowerment in the human form in it’s natural state- my human form. The same way many other women do; The same expression which sees many other women applauded for their ‘body positivity’. The shame in which I feel has been involuntarily placed alongside me, like a ball and chain constantly dragging me down whenever I attempt to break free and fly. But after compromising my character for long enough I decided I was done with the pretending, the fake name’s and the hiding. If I am going to make it as someone, something, I want to do so as me, and not someone everyone deems as more acceptable to be. And if I’m going to fail, then I sure as hell am not going to go down quietly. Or fully clothed for that matter.

I am not my boobs, I have boobs. I also have arms, and legs, and compassion, and ambition, and over-sensitive tear ducts when it comes to watching something mildly sad on TV (Don’t tell me you’ve never cried at an episode of Jeremy Kyle). I am not my body, I am somebody. I’m a glamour model. But I’m also a daughter, a sister, a granddaughter, a friend, a Bachelor of Science (of course I had to get that in there, it cost me £28k), a writer, a yoga enthusiast (albeit not a great one), and an extremely embarrassing drunk dancer. If you can look passed someone‘s job as an office worker, and see the glorious dishevelled, unique individual which lies behind them, then you can see passed me for “just” being a glamour model. I am so much more than a pair of tits. I am me.

Feature image copyright Anna Bressi https://annabressi.com

Body positivity: Can it outlive the turnaround of fast-fashion?

Body positivity: Can it outlive the turnaround of fast-fashion?

So you have a body. And you’re positive. Congrats, you’re body positive. But I want to delve deeper into this public display of acceptance which is sweeping Instagram and leading brand campaigns, and see if body positivity can outlive the cut-throat turnaround of Fast Fashion, or if it is just another trend to be cast aside to the bargain bin with stretch chokers and disco pants.

The fast-fashion industry is currently riding a wave of self-acceptance, with industry power houses Missguided and PrettyLittleThing taking the lead with their inclusive campaigns. Featuring “plus” (I won’t dive into the irony of celebrating “everybody” whilst listing them as plus size aka bigger than “normal”) sized girls and those with “imperfections” (Are freckles really a flaw?) these brands promise to encourage you to “Keep on being you”, but what happens when the trend runs thin, does the acceptance and positivity disappear too?

This isn’t a straight topic, and it doesn’t have a black and white answer. I know the counter-argument will be that the hope is these brands will continue to move forward with their inclusivity, and the trend will never die. But this is fashion. And what’s hot right now will be more, not, in a couple months time. You see, my issue is- I struggle with the authenticity of the body pos’ movement within the fashion industry, and how they claim to represent all women and men, whilst well, not representing all women and men. Is that even possible? And is the industry venturing into murky waters- making fashion all about the models, instead of the clothes they’re wearing?

The inclusion of models who are a variety of sizes is and should be- welcomed in fashion, and in all aspects of advertisement for that matter. But there is a salty-ness in the air towards the models who have traditionally been represented. Get this girlfriends, we can lift ourselves up without putting anyone else down. Sounds crazy right? The example which stands out for me on this dates back to when I was watching the Lorraine show a year or two ago. She had Hayley Hasselhoff, a “plus” sized model on who was discussing her career after recently attending one of the many fashion weeks held Worldwide. Both women gagged and cackled at how “those other models look like they need to eat” and that “they were probably starving backstage!” All the while whilst championing body positivity and applauding women for their confidence. In typical “millennial being offended by everything” style I sent out a tweet highlighting the irony in their display, in which Hayley replied something along the lines of how “it wasn’t intended like that”. And I’m sure it wasn’t. But here’s where it get’s confusing. Body positivity is not engrained in us. Society has not raised us through generations to look at every body as being beautiful. To look at our bodies as being beautiful. Subconsciously, we forever lift one ideal up by stamping on another. Comparison and competition is within our blood. And a couple of money-making campaigns encouraging us to “feel good” is not going to knock the ancient judgement out of us. Is it really possible for us as a society to embrace and accept our bodies as beautiful?

A more recent example of this is US-underwear brand Knix and Simply Be’s “We are all Angels” campaigns who, using ‘plus-sized’ models, launched a press campaign alongside the annual Victoria’s Secret show which took place last month. The problem with this statement is: No we’re not. And that’s okay. We don’t all need to be angels or held at that standard. We are after all, more than our bodies. This may be controversial, but there is a reason that these women are positioned on a hierarchy on this specific platform- they work fucking hard for it, their whole career’s, to walk that one show. The VS brand is built on striving for the out-of-this worldly looks of the angels, it was never created to be relatable or to represent “real” women (That expression in itself grinds my gears- you identify as a woman? You’re a real woman. Simple as) As their head of creative Ed Razek controversially stated, the show is intended to be a 42 minute “fantasy”. Now, this absolutely does not mean I don’t think there should be a more diverse representation on the VS catwalk; And for Ed Razek to argue that “no one had any interest” in seeing plus size girls in the VS show because of an unsuccessful attempt to cast over a decade ago is out of sync with the industry and it’s new direction. However I’m just calling for models to be cast because they’re good at their job (HELLO Ashley Graham and Iskra Lawrence as perfect candidates for this!), instead of using models to fulfil and push a political agenda that doesn’t adhere to their brand image. I also strongly believe that VS should never rule out using transgender models because these women are fucking taking over the World right now, and Carmen Carrera would slay those angel wings. However, this time of year always see’s “pro body pos'” brands come out to attack the angels with counterpart campaigns and it just does not sit well with me. We can all feel beautiful and accept ourselves for who we are, without quaffing at the achievements of others in return.

Lane Bryant’s “I’m No Angel” Campaign

Another side note to this is the argument that these VS models represent an unrealistic body image. Being 5ft 11 inches, with long legs and a 30 inch’ hip width is unrealistic to me. As is the opposite end of the spectrum. But this doesn’t mean it is unrealistic to every single person out there. Being impeccably ripped is unattainable for me, because I won’t put in the hours to achieve this, but it’ not unachievable. Someone out there will put the hours in, and will achieve and attain that body image. It just won’t be me. And that’s fine. We need to be careful with who we alienate and who we are putting down when we are attempting to applaud multiple beauty ideals. Seriously, what do you mean by a real woman? I fucking hate when people use that phrase.

Another one of my issues with the body pos’ movement is its representation of sizes. You have your slim (size 6-8) and your “plus” (size 16-18), but where the fuck is the middle people? Where are the women that me and my friends can relate too? Yes, it’s time to get out your tiny violins folks and check my priveledge, but in all seriousness the industry seems to ride this body pos’ wave for profit by using one extreme representation to another. These brands drill into us that we are all beautiful, whilst ignoring an array of sizes and heights and shapes and curves. And I’ll be damned if I see a 5ft 4′ girl with huge tits, or a pear-shaped “plus” sized girl grace the campaigns of these brands. SURE they’re using females who are more shapely than the traditional castings, but these women are still models. They’re still perfectly in proportion and fit into their sample size whilst being 5ft 11′ with perfect teeth. Of course they’re fucking beautiful. That’s their job. We sit at home scoffing in excitement that a brand uses someone with stretch marks who’s face was carved by the Gods and forget that although we can relate to these small flaws, these women were picked from an agency who accepted them onto their books because of their model-esque beauty. I’m not saying this is wrong. There is a reason models are models. But the way these brands capitalise on “normal” peoples’ insecurities whilst using ridiculously beautiful women seems hypocritical to me. Just don’t mention it, and use them as the norm. Make them as aspirational for us as consumers as any other model used is, instead of attempting to make us relate to these goddess-like females on a “we both have stretch marks” level to sell a couple of GRLPOWER tee’s.

And lastly, my question is HOW? How do I feel beautiful in your clothes when they’re still too long for my short stumpy legs? How do I feel confident in your tops when my boobs poke out the bottom? How do I “make my mark” when I can’t get these jeans up over my hips? You can throw all the two-minute body pos’ campaigns at me in the World, and I’ll still feel shit about my rolls and how your sizing is off, forcing me to buy a size bigger and feel even shitter about myself than before. Cater to what you’re trying to achieve, we are begging you. So what happens now? Where do we go from here?

Savage X Fenty are leading the way with their body positivity and creative direction

A brand who I believe is leading the pack when it comes to body pos’ right now is Savage X Fenty by Rihanna. Their debut fashion show showcased women of all shapes, sizes, skin colours, and even some heavily pregnant models. The show withheld an aspirational and inspirational ideal of beauty and fashion whilst representing all females. The products and design element were not pushed aside for a political agenda and the creative aspect of the catwalk was simply iconic. If anyone needing schooling on how to empower all women to feel sexy, then this is the brand for you. However even Rihanna can’t bypass criticism when it comes to this movement. The brand has been criticised for promoting their products using ‘plus’ sized girls, whilst their sizing only goes up to a DD. And some of the images used to promote their underwear has seen women’s boobs poking out the bottom of the bra’s and overflowing at the top, begging the question are they really catering for all women, or pushing this as an agenda to drive sales?

The issue with body positivity, is that you can’t please everyone. It is impossible to represent every single shape and size and height and imperfection in the fashion industry. And whilst diversity should be applauded, no amount of fashion campaigns can make me love my cankles, or make me not have to turn my trousers up for being too long. Brands make these bold statements preaching how we should all love ourselves, without giving us the steps on how to get there. And of course they haven’t, they’re fashion brands, not our therapists. But when claiming ownership towards our feelings through their campaigns, these brands need to take some responsibility of the sheer volume of the task they’re putting upon us. Self-love is not a cash cow, and there’s no quick fix. I hope as the industry continues to evolve that the inclusion of diversity in all forms expands and that the underlying sentiment of these campaigns are of good intentions, and not a trend that will be cast aside along with our feelings when the Kardashians decide to claim curves are out next season.